Vol 12, Issue 10
My name is Max Bergh, I am currently the Women’s Officer on the GSA. The GSA, or Graduate Student Association is the student representative body responsible for the interests of all graduate students at the University of Melbourne. My time as an office bearer has been extremely humbling and challenging.
Within my role I often have the opportunity to assist with matters of crucial importance to the women’s graduate student body and to engage with a diverse array of incredible and talented students from various cultural, socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. I am exceedingly appreciative for the lessons this office has taught me, namely, governance practises and procedures, organising events from conception to implementation and the development of various interpersonal and professional skills. It is with great excitement that I am currently undertaking two disparate initiatives. Firstly, following the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) sexual assault and harassment survey, I have had the privilege of working within the immensely adept Respect Taskforce. Secondly, I am in the process of coordinating the upcoming ‘Women’s Health Day’ event.
In late 2016 the University of Melbourne, along with 38 other Australian universities, participated in a national student survey of sexual assault and sexual harassment conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The questionnaire sought information from students on the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual assault and harassment.
In response, national and institution-specific sets of data were produced. In short, 1.5% of respondents reported being sexually assaulted at university during 2015-2016; higher proportions of respondents reported being female than male, local students rather than international students and undergraduate students rather than graduate students. 50% of Melbourne respondents reported being sexually harassed at university or elsewhere in 2016. 27% of respondents reported being sexually harassed at university over the same period, including on transport to and from university; notably if travel is excluded this drops to 20%. The University of Melbourne’s data is overall reflective of the national findings, however, our data varies significantly in two respects. Firstly, the number of respondents reporting harassment on public transport is higher than the national average. Secondly, an overwhelming majority of Melbourne respondents indicated they had little or no knowledge of University policies in this area; of where to seek assistance; and of where to go to make a complaint. The Respect Taskforce was established in order to formulate an institutional response to the issues raised within the survey. Membership of this Taskforce includes academic and university staff-such as Jenny Morgan MLS Deane, Elizabeth Capp Director of Students and Equity and Professor Richard James Deputy Vice‐Chancellor and Deputy Provost, various experts and student body representatives –including UMSU, UMSU International and GSA. Our work thus far has been promising. The attitude of the Taskforce, including university staff, towards the findings was not to emphasise the fact that Melbourne’s responses were in line with the average, but rather to reiterate that even one instance of sexual assault or harassment is unacceptable. The Taskforce comprises of a collective of individuals devoted to the improvement of conditions at Melbourne and whose aim it is to produce a cultural shift at an institutional level, so that our Zero Tolerance policy towards sexual assault and harassment is understood and embraced by all those whose path brings them into contact with the University.
Thus far, the following primary action areas have been developed as a method through which this change may be achieved: First, raising UoM community awareness by increasing visibility of the issues, values campaigns and ongoing maintenance activities: proposed activities in this area include the introduction of ‘zero tolerance’ videos to be played during lectures at the beginning of semester, as well as competitions or incentives for students to produce their own material regarding sexual assault and harassment at university (ie. VCA films or Law essays). Second, improving support and response: increasing awareness of available support, knowledge of reporting options and understanding of procedures and processes. Third, improving training: for staff and students, this training may surround consent, first responder, bystander and alcohol and drugs training. A potential option to improve student training may be the introduction of a mandatory online consent program for undergraduate students. Fourth, reviewing and renewing policies and procedures. Whilst yet in its infancy the Taskforce has the capacity and desire to effect real and enduring change within the University sphere. If you would like to be involved in discussions regarding the Taskforce, have any questions about our work or would like to express any suggestions or comments about how you think Melbourne could best achieve this change, please feel free to contact me.
Women’s Health Day
We have been working long and hard to pull together a suitable and enriching Women’s Health event during Mental Health Week, to be held between 1-3pm on 10th October at Gryphon Gallery, 1888 Building Grattan Street. This event seeks to highlight the importance of checking one’s health and balancing the demands of study, with the need to ensure mental and physical wellbeing. We will be providing several stalls in which students can have their blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar checked. We have been very lucky to secure the services of myDNA, an Australian genetic interpretation company, to provide a personalised report, which ‘decodes the information’ in one’s genes and which can assist one to make informed decisions about medications, diet and exercise. Additionally, we have engaged several speakers, including a nutritionist, Health and Wellbeing representatives and a representative from Safer Communities, to discuss the best ways to manage stress, a healthy diet and lifestyle, maximising personal time and methods to improve mental wellbeing. I am very excited about this event and am extremely hopeful to see as many of you there as possible. All the services mentioned above, as well as lunch, are free and undoubtedly worth the short walk to main campus!
Max Bergh is a second-year JD student at the GSA Women's Officer
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