Why I’m beginning to regret choosing UTas

With every day that goes by, UTas shows itself as an even more cynical and disillusioned institution. It seems utterly intent upon disenfranchising students and depriving them of the opportunity to obtain a good quality education.

Just today, we have had an announcement that nominations are open for the Student Representative Council, which included the information that elections are to be held from the 6th to the 8th of November. This is right in the middle of the exam period, a time when students are pulling all-nighters and skipping meals in order to ensure that the past thirteen weeks of their lives have not entirely gone to waste. A major problem in past SRC elections has been dismal voter turnout, a state of affairs which many of the candidates for the State Council positions (elected some weeks ago) actively campaigned to change. In addition to the (frankly outrageous) timing of the actual voting period, we have had the announcement that “all face to face campaigning is strictly prohibited from Monday 22 October, 2012, onwards.” This is, allegedly, an attempt to prevent students from being distracted from their exams.

UTas is actively trying to stop the people who will soon be our elected representatives from engaging with us. How can they hear our concerns if they are not allowed to speak to us? How are we to make an informed choice about the kind of people we want to have advocating for our interests if we are not allowed to hear them speak? And how on earth are we meant to understand their policy platforms when they are restricted to advertising their candidacy with posters no larger than A3 size, posted only on TUU noticeboards, after receiving the TUU stamp of approval?

The fact that SRC elections are a farce is only one element of UTas’ gross contempt towards students. Starting in 2013, the Faculty of Arts is undergoing a major restructure, allegedly designed to increase ‘efficiency’. This includes reducing the previous ten schools of discrete disciplines down to three schools, in which the old disciplines will be subsumed (without entirely losing their identities, of course). While there are obvious problems with amalgamating schools and depriving them of their individual identities, it was not immediately apparent how this would impact upon the teaching of the various disciplines, and I thought it might be justified if it really would reduce bureaucracy and administration costs.

However, it has now emerged that in addition to being stripped of their autonomy and identity, each of the original ten schools will be permitted to run only 14 different units of study in a given year. This is down from as many as 45 units per year in some schools. Education is not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. Students must be allowed to follow their passions, to explore new areas, to diversify their learning, and to specialise into particular fields. This restriction of units on offer deprives students of the choice we all deserve at this level of education, not to mention the fact that it significantly reduces the amount of work available for teaching staff. UTas has said time and again that it is trying to make itself more attractive to students in order to attract more people to study here. If that is the case then why are they actually reducing the number of opportunities that they provide to study and learn?

Currently before the Tasmanian Legislative Council is legislation which would reduce the number of student representatives on the University Council from two to one. The University is literally seeking to reduce the amount of input students are able to have into the way that their education is structured and run. I don’t know as much about it as I would like, but I know that UTas is also treating its academic staff with contempt. If we invest in our teachers and researchers, UTas could be a world-class university. Instead, staff are kept in the dark, with the threat of redundancy looming large, while their schools and faculties are restructured and downsized around them. A University is a place of learning, not a place to make money.

UTas is trying to silence the student voice, alienate us from one another, and reduce the quality of our education. There have been plenty of token gestures which purport to be listening to the student voice. Actions speak louder than internet surveys. Educational institutions should not be run like businesses. Have some respect for the intelligence and integrity of your students and your staff. We will not stand to be treated like this for much longer.

Information about the SRC elections can be accessed here.
Some information about the Arts Faculty restructure can be found here.

Why I Love Sociology

I don’t make new friends very often, which is sad… but that is a subject for another post at another time. So, when I do meet new people, it’s kind of a big deal for me. Recently I met someone new and we got to talking. Among other things, he challenged me a few times to justify what it was that I found so compelling about the discipline of sociology. I declare my love for it often and loudly, but when I tried to explain to him the basis of this love, I seemed to come up short. Perhaps this was because I was inebriated at the time; perhaps it was because I seem to steadily be losing my ability to accurately express myself. Regardless, it has been bothering me for some time now, and I think I’ve come up with an answer that I’m happy with.

An acquaintance of mine once said that she joined the ALP because she simply couldn’t bring herself to believe that ‘poor people are poor because they just haven’t worked hard enough.’ Forget about the political affiliations and the debates we could be having about that statement: the truth is that this is exactly why I like sociology. I refuse to believe that we are a product only of our ‘choices’. We are shaped as human beings by external factors, to a huge extent by the society and the culture in which we live. I love people, I find them fascinating, and I love trying to figure out why they are the way they are.

Each of us is shaped by the choices that we make in life. But the choices that we are given – the opportunities that we have access to – are shaped by much larger forces. I was born into a middle-class family with loving, supportive parents; I have had numerous and wonderful opportunities provided to me, not least access to a very high standard of education.

The level playing field is a myth: even before we are born, we have differing chances in life. The location of our birth and the socio-economic status of our parents are some of the most determinative factors in our lives. Children who fall behind in health status or educational development in the first six years of their lives are unlikely to ever catch up. Having parents who work long hours or are otherwise unable to help with learning, having parents who are drug addicts, having parents who are unable to afford adequate healthcare, having parents who can only afford to live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods is never the fault of the child. But it will significantly affect the opportunities that are available to them throughout their life, and it will affect the choices that they make.

I could probably use sociology to explain why it is that I wear the clothes that I wear, or read the books I read, or like the TV shows that I like, but I won’t. Suffice to say here that people are not simply a product of their personal choices. Society may be an abstract concept, but it is an important one. By understanding the ways that society affects individuals, we can start to change the structural barriers that exist to prevent everyone having the same opportunities to live their lives that I and my friends have had. Knowing what we’re up against in terms of disadvantage and discrimination is the first step to overcoming it.

Fear and Gender

One of the strangest things that has ever happened to me occurred a few days ago. Once or twice a week I go for a jog through the suburbs near my house. Occasionally people stare at me from their cars for a little longer than is appropriate, but I have never felt unsafe. On Wednesday, as I was jogging along the road – with my headphones in, I might add -, a man stopped his car, got out, gestured towards me and, when I reacted, began speaking to me. I don’t remember ever seeing this man before in my life, but his first words to me were “you work at [my workplace]!” I affirmed that yes, that was true. He then began a long-winded story in which he alleged that someone I had been in a car with the week before had said something nasty about him, which he knew because he had the ability to lip-read.

Without stopping to allow me to confirm or deny this observation he had apparently made, he went on to tell me about his rare and confusing neurological condition and the effects it has had on his life. He continued to assert that he wasn’t crazy, he wasn’t trying to be weird, that he’s actually a pretty intelligent guy, that he’s not paranoid, that he doesn’t take things personally any more… All while he appeared to be trying to politely berate me about the fact that I shouldn’t stand for it when other people say unkind things about him.

All I could think about while he was speaking to me was ‘who will hear me if I scream? If I go missing how long will it take someone to notice? Can I run faster than this guy? Could I hurt him badly enough that I would be able to get away if he tried something?’

I don’t think that he stopped me on the street because I’m a young woman. He certainly didn’t make any kind of sexual remarks or advances. But my mental reaction to the situation was absolutely gendered.

This is what happens when, instead of teaching boys and men not to sexually victimise others, we teach women a culture of ‘risk management’. Don’t go out alone at night, don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t drink alcohol or take drugs: basically, live your life in fear (or not at all). This doesn’t just disadvantage women, it disadvantages men. How many men are there in the world that have been looked at with suspicion, brushed off, avoided or been otherwise adversely reacted to by women – even when their intentions were completely non-sexual – because of the way we talk about things like sexual assault? Every man becomes a potential threat if you keep telling women that they might become a victim at any stage.

I wish I hadn’t felt threatened by this man, but I did. It was clear to me that he didn’t have the best social skills, and it’s certainly unfortunate that any person thinks that they can just stop a stranger on the street and talk at them for fifteen minutes. That’s just bad manners. But the thing I hate the most is that I’ve grown up in a culture of fear that makes me wary of people who are otherwise perfectly nice, just because they’re one gender and I’m another.

Day 20: Home

I am home now. This is a great relief and means that I no longer have to type with an awful iPad keyboard and can take a shower in my own home and straighten my hair! I haven’t slept for about two days now, but it’s not even 7pm here yet and I still need to go to the supermarket before I can go to bed. So that I have something to eat when I wake up tomorrow morning/afternoon.

I spent about 12 hours in the Hong Kong airport yesterday, during which time I wrote an epic tumblr post about the last few days but which was inexplicably lost forever in the interwebs because of shitty free-internet computers and awful error screens.

I really liked Valencia; I got to splash my feet in the Mediterranean (the water was very warm, and there were hundreds upon hundreds of people at the beach, and many of the ladies weren’t wearing tops) and we went to a very cool aquarium (‘oceanografic’). When I’ve had some sleep and gone through all my photos, I might post some someplace on the internet for you all to see. .

In Barcelona, there were many many people and it was very hot. The train from Valencia to Barcelona was meant to take three hours but it ended up taking five, because we stopped due to technical trouble of some kind. It was all in Spanish so we really have no idea. On the Metro, some woman tried to steal things from my mum. That wasn’t so pleasant.

On the way home I consumed many milligrams of Valium, and everything was okay. Now I am about to fall asleep on my keyboard, so I must go. Maybe I will post more things later.

Day 8: London

things I like about London
– cute boys
– cute boys
– cute boys

Ha no I’m joking. Things I actually really like about London:
– people here speak my language
– the weather is great (no I’m not joking – its been like Hobart in summer, warm and clear but not debilitatingly hot)
– accents
– cute boys
– delicious food
– people don’t look at me judgementally when I wear sneakers and short shorts out and about
– people generally seem much more friendly and relaxed (except on the tube – see below)
– parks
– finding the TARDIS

things I don’t like about London
– the ‘tube’ is expensive, crowded, smelly, stuffy, confusing and generally fucking awful. Especially after coming straight from the Paris metro system, which is wonderful.

I think I’ve been to more churches on this trip than in the previous twenty-one years of my life combined. I am not religious, but I really like churches; sometimes they make me feel quite emotional. We went to Westminster Abbey, Westminster cathedral, and St Paul’s today. They were all lovely. The history of Westminster abbey is just amazing.
We went to a place called Gourmet Burger Kitchen for dinner, that was very delicious and I had an Oreo milkshake with my veggie burger. One of the waiters was very cute and probably from Spain, although I think perhaps I only liked him as much as I did because he reminded me of a boy I love back home.

My feet still hurt like a fucking bitch but being in London has definitely made me more cheerful.

Oh, and I went to the Parliamentary Bookshop today and bought some wonderful tea mugs……

Day 5: Paris

Today:

  • lots of beautiful, beautiful hipsters
  • wanting to kill myself because I am just so ugly and fat compared to all the chic Parisians
  • spending more money than I can afford
  • finding a truly amazing second-hand clothes store – as a consequence of trying to go to the Pablo Picasso museum and discovering that it’s actually closed for renovations at the moment – and buying the best dress I’ve ever seen for ten euros
  • still getting funny looks from people on the street and on the Metro
  • learning that the Metro will always smell like urine. Some other places will too.
  • art – even the really famous shit – is near-impossible to appreciate without some sort of context.
  • I really should buy better quality shoes.
  • waiting for an hour and a half to get into the Eiffel Tower only to be informed that the summit platform is closed for the day will make you angry. You will go to the second platform and be impressed anyway.
  • the charming experience of some dude at a market literally yelling out to me
  • apparently it’s not okay to show any skin AT ALL in this country
  • making eye contact with men here, rather than being a dare/test of character the way it is at home (if someone maintains eye contact with me they go up in my esteem), seems to essentially be an invitation for them to come and sleazily hit on me
  • at this stage I’m just using dot points for fun

I’m really hungry and thus going to go demand we go out for dinner now.
Bon soir!

Day 3: Paris

Okay. Things I have learned so far this trip:

  • French keyboards have their letters and punctuation in different spots. This post is going to take a fucking long time.
  • I have exceptional good luck at sitting next to friendly, attractive men on planes (when I don’t have the window seat, anyway).
  • A valium tablet and a glass of wine make flying bearable.
  • So does having the window seat.
  • It is impossible to escape tourists, and touristy shit, in Paris.
  • The French build really fucking nice churches.
  • Hobart is ridiculously full of white people. I’ve seen so many hipster people of colour in this city it makes me wonder what the hell we are doing wrong.
  • You will get hit on everywhere you go; regardless of how you look. People will approach you on the street for no reason, and strangers will declare their love for you. Possibly in three languages.
  • The building of the Louvre is possibly more interesting than 90% of the exhibits inside. Also the Mona Lisa is as small and underwhelming as everyone says, the Venus De Milo looks the same as all the other marble statues, and the entire museum is painfully Euro-centric.
  • You will get creeped on by an old guy on the Metro, and have to make the difficult decision as to whether to tolerate getting felt up by someone’s elbow, or stand in what is basically a sweaty sardine tin.
  • When your airline tells you that the bags that were meant to come with you from London to Paris didn’t quite make the transfer in time, but they’ll deliver them to your hotel by the end of the day, they may not be telling the truth.
  • It doesn’t matter how many times you shower, wearing the same clothes you’ve been in for the past three days solid will still feel nauseatingly disgusting.
  • Everyone in Paris is unfairly attractive, and the ones who aren’t make up for it by being super-stylish.
  • I should have studied a language in high school/college/uni.
  • You will see a woman being chased around a Metro station by a guy clearly trying to beat her up, and no one will really do anything about it. You might then cry yourself to sleep because of how awful human beings are.
  • It’s totally okay to depict penises in marble (a.k.a. on statues) but it’s apparently not okay to paint them. Also, breasts are fine to paint, but they often would only paint it so one breast was uncovered and the other was clothed (any ideas?). Oh, and apparently pubic hair didn’t exist between 1400-1800 either.
  • Cows, Jesus, and babies were all popular subjects for classical European artwork.
  • My feet are so battered from all this walking that they literally bled on a number of occasions today.
  • I really need to travel – or at least sightsee – on my own. Fuck what other people want.
  • Leaving the country is a great way to deal with one’s problems.
  • Things about me:

    My name is Mel, I'm a final year law student from Australia. I'm interested in politics, feminism, sociology and science, among other things. You can find my Twitter account below; I am more active there than here.

    Feel free to share my posts anywhere you like, provided appropriate attribution and link-backs are given. Respectful comments always welcome. I like discussion.

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