Dear Institution, you have failed us.
Students, on behalf of The Institution, I am sorry.
UoA, AUSA, Student Groups, and (some) societies will be collectively referenced as ‘the Institution’ throughout this article.
2021 inherited sizeable shifts of social conscience, awareness, and behaviour accountability. The Black Lives Matter liberation movement, the end of LGBT+ History Month last month, but most recently on March 10th, the tragic death of Sarah Everard in London all highlighted, resonated, and captured common experiences of students here on campus.
Image Courtesy of Alan Findlay
I have watched as these movements became sources of power and liberation. Black students have been empowered to expose microaggressions and discrimination on our own campus, LGBT+ students have challenged misconceptions and creatively filled gaps in campus education, and this week (closer to home) I have watched the symbolism and death of Sarah Everard become a source of liberation for women sharing their testimonies of sexual assault and harassment. It was this week that I decided The Institution has ignored minority students for too long, and it is time they stepped up.
Considering that our students are such a rich source of passion, experience, trauma, and strength, current efforts from The Institution are not enough and, to be blunt, students deserve better. It is the Institution's role to engage with this Opine and do the work and follow up to become a better representation of students that they deserve because there are huge discrepancies between the effectiveness of the (limited) work done so far and the results received by students. Since, if these institutions are not run-on passion, tangible effectiveness, and vision, they should not be run at all.
I will no longer listen to AUSA to play the victim card of student apathy and disillusionment when as an organization that claims to ‘support, empower and represent’ students (at the time of writing) they have failed to post any direct resource, welfare support or information for students searching for help, awareness or solidarity with the events following the death of Sarah Everard via accessible means students can engage with them during Covid-19 - on Facebook and Instagram.
Similarly, I have witnessed as BAME and LGBT+ students have looked up to AUSA during times of difficulty and waited to be seen, supported, and inspired by a voice (with a potentially huge influential platform) that represents them consistently. And most recently AUSA has not been a voice for women on campus when they needed them most. So, AUSA, next time you question low student turnout in AUSA Elections - remember we disinvested in you because you did not invest in us.
With AUSA Elections this week, I can only hope that elected representatives who baselessly threw words like ‘inclusivity’ and ‘education’ during the AUSA Election Q&A will bring weight and tangible change through their roles. Otherwise, the cyclical apathy and discrepancy between your perceived effectiveness and actual results received by students will continue embodied in a useless organization.
Regarding, the legacy of Sarah Everard, your silence this week has been deafening and is a stark contrast to tangible support/work being done by anonymous student armies year-round such as @/ABDNSurvivors (Thank you for your hard work, you are fantastic). Their no jargon, direct and effective work (Institution: Take notes), being part of a larger movement has sent shockwaves through campuses across the world, highlighting an anonymous student population who are hurting/healing in silence. AUSA, how have you ‘supported’, ‘empowered’, and ‘represented’ students this week and previously? I cannot see it, and from their testimonies, they surely have not seen it either. But, instead, what they can see is AUSA Jargon and incessant posts to run and vote in the AUSA Election to represent an organization that fails to represent its student body when they need it most. (To any Survivors currently reading, I am so unbelievably proud of your strength and courage against all odds). On the behalf of the Institution, I am sorry.
There has been similar deafening silence from the overwhelming majority of sports and general societies to discuss the symbolism of Sarah Everard's death - with little provisions or information for populations in your society who are less likely to read up on the issues at hand. This extends also to society-specific issues regarding BAME and LGBT+ inclusion throughout the year. Sorry to burst your bubble but a half-hearted Instagram quote about equality and inclusivity with no elaboration or invitation to the wider discussion does not constitute a representation, unfortunately.
What does effective support look like? To put into context, through consistent awareness, educational resources, and support - Health societies have the ability to inspire the 2nd Year Black Medic to set up a University-Based Health Initiative, the 3rd Year Men’s Football player may feel supported and respected enough to finally be able to come out the closet as Bisexual, and the Fresher who was sexually assaulted after a night out may feel her testimony is valid, that she is supported and that she is able to reach out for University support and counselling while key student populations are educated about oppressive systems that underpin these raw and important testimonies.
This is what The Institution should look like. Changing student’s lives tangibly. No jargon, apathy, and pretty hashtags. Students have looked up to The Institution during times of difficulty and waited to be seen, supported, and inspired by a voice that represents them for too long. However, when the University itself does not set an example, how can we expect student groups?
Aesthetic and visual appeal is more consistent for the official Aberdeen University Instagram page than the representation and acknowledgement of their students. With social media being a primary port of call for students, and onlookers internationally, the lack of consistent and visible support is disappointing. This week’s University communications email about Gender-based violence and support was a welcomed first step but is not exhaustive of the work the University should be doing. We have seen this before, with Black Lives Matter awareness, a statement or communication email which is sent with little follow up, no tangible impacts for students, a lack of knowledge of initiatives implemented which all undermine the effectiveness of the limited work being done.
Why can’t the University approach gender-based violence, inclusivity and social awareness with the same passion they approach branding their University as visually aesthetic and appealing? Surely these two things could work alongside each other?
It is ironic that after a sizeable focus on International Women’s Day and the University program of events that the symbolism of Sarah Everard's death a few days later is sent into email boxes but receives no other stage. It should not take an International Day of Awareness or tragic event to stand in solidarity with our Female, BAME, and LGBT+ students.
What do I think we need? More accountability, higher expectations, the Institution to understand the demand for higher quality student support through accessible social media, more passion, more conversation, and importantly more consistency.