Hearts, Minds and Laws
Why Holistic Social Change Is Needed For Student Equality At UWS
The University of Western Sydney Student Representative Council has passed a motion at its March meeting advocating equal rights for students from oppressed minority groups. The resolution formed the culmination of a contentious debate within the representative structure, which largely focused upon the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. While the discussion underscored several passionate clashes of opinion, the measure was passed in its generalised form unanimously.
As former President of The Hive Student Union, the predecessor to the current SRC, and a vigorous proponent of equal marriage it is my intention to outline the impetus behind this course of action and the direct relevance to UWS students. While this insight is informed by my representative experience, it remains my personal perspective and not an official representation of any institution.
By officially binding in support of minority rights, the SRC has dispelled several misguided notions regarding the relevance of queer rights (the term “queer” having been positively reclaimed and reappropriated to refer to those who identify as part of the GLBTQI community) and the role of student representation. This clear and unambiguous rejection of heteronormative discourse is premised on the affirmation and recognition of the maligned position of queer youth.
The virtue of this resolution has been criticised by detractors who deny the importance of equal marriage, offering that civil unions form a sufficient alternative. I unequivocally reject this reasoning. Prohibiting equal marriage is symptomatic of a divisive culture. By classifying relationships based on innate traits such as sexual preference, we are creating a subordinate, social underclass.
It is a scene reminiscent of the darker days of the 20th century, where parts of the world segregated their schools, transport and even bathrooms based upon skin colour. By preventing queer Australians access to the institution of marriage, the current legislation has appropriated this concept of ‘separate but equal’ to the insidious and unavoidable end of perpetuating cultural subordination. As such, the influence of the equal marriage ban on social views is as significant as the marriage proscription itself. It is unsurprising that discrimination remains endemic in our society, when it has been institutionalised by our government into law. Consequently, the relevance of this exclusion to the UWS student body is immediately evident.
In accepting this resolution, the SRC has discarded the argument that equal marriage is too broad an issue to be considered by a University SRC. This suggestion, while aesthetically pleasing to those unwilling to venture outside the UWS bureaucracy, ignores the sustained effect on queer students. In 2010, a report by Suicide Prevention Australia exemplified the prevalence of discrimination and subsequent fragility of mental health within the queer community, including the tragic finding that suicide attempts by queer teenagers are between 3.5 and 14 times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts. These figures reveal the actual effect of structural inequity on the psyche of these individuals and accordingly, the necessity of ending legally-codified bigotry in protecting the mental welfare of the UWS queer community.
The resolution has also dismissed the ludicrous idea that the SRC should remain neutral given the polarising nature of queer rights. This insufferable premise, which defies consistent polling data revealing that a majority of Australians support equal marriage, is indicative of misguided conceptions of the historical advancement of social justice movements. Our own short national narrative is rife with monumental progress, as subjugated Australians have sought equality of suffrage and self-determination. In the United States of America, a civil war was largely predicated on the inability of certain groups to accept the abolition of slavery. While no one, save the fringes, would seek to deny the efficacy of these changes now, they were vigorously opposed by many at the time.
However, in each circumstance moral progression was not tempered by the prejudice of dissenters. The right to autonomy and equal freedoms of these oppressed groups were prioritised over fear and intolerance of the privileged classes. I would contend that the SRC resolution adopts this reasoning and continues a strong tradition of social justice by recognising that the right to equality should greatly outweigh any attempt by another to restrict the extension of basic human rights based upon their own personal beliefs.
The motion accepted by the UWS SRC is simultaneously the end of representative equivocation and the beginning of a grander movement within our University. It recognises that discrimination based upon a birth trait is inappropriate and unacceptable by any modern standard. In supporting the rights of the oppressed, the SRC has reignited the pursuit for egalitarianism in the hope of dissipating the remnants of prejudice in both the UWS student body and Australian society. It is my sincere hope that this decision signals an end to pedestrian observance by our student representatives and energises a grassroots campaign that not only promotes tolerance and acceptance of our queer community but also seeks to have these values enshrined in our laws.
Robert Coluccio was President of The UWS Hive Student Union from 2010 to 2011. He was also elected as a UWS delegate to the National Union of Students in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He currently serves as the Undergraduate Student Member of the UWS Academic Senate and a General Member of the Parramatta Campus Council.