Earlier this week news broke of a controversial workshop entitled “How privilege manifests in tutorials” run at the University of Melbourne by the Student Union’s Environment Collective. Those running the workshop argued that “white males” and students that look like “Liberal voters”, should be discouraged from speaking to provide more space for women and non-binary people to contribute during tutorials.
The University of Melbourne failed to condemn this sort of racism. A spokeswoman from the university has merely said “This is a workshop run by UMSU,” and “What is discussed is not university policy.” This is a pathetic response. If the student union preached discrimination against anyone else other than “white males” the university would treat this matter seriously and launch an investigation rather than merely ignore it.
What is worse is this is not the only example, we saw similar inaction from the University of Sydney when the union debating club released a system of quotas that actively discriminated against white male students.
Demanding that people “that look like liberal voters” must remain silent reveals the true intent of those running this workshop and pushing this agenda. It is not a means to achieve equality or end discrimination, but rather a quest to silence political dissent, an attempt to quieten the rebels and iconoclasts pushing back against the enforced intellectual consensus prevalent on campus today.
Apart from being incredibly sexist and racist to white male students, it is hard to see how this identity politics is at all empowering to young women. This policy is incredibly patronising and insulting to women. This workshop, whilst in a rush to paint all white men and conservatives as the enemy, also implied that women attending higher education are so fragile, such sweet delicate flowers, that a male simply sharing their ideas in a tutorial would scare them into silence. This is not empowerment; it is condescending puritanical nonsense that belongs back in the 19th century.
The contradictions are also apparent. The point of this “affirmative-action” style discrimination is to empower women, but what if a woman happens to look like a “Liberal voter”. Presumably that means that they must join their fellow white male deplorables in silence. This would also be true of non-white Liberal voters, though the organisers probably view the world in such a blinkered and racist way as to not allow for the existence of such an individual. Identity politics wants everyone to fit a stereotypical mold.
The workshop was organized by the University of Melbourne Student Union and forms part of a broader push to silence alternate views on campus driven by the National Union of Students.
The real outrage is these radical student activists are funded by an enforced tax on students in the form of the $294 Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF). Introduced by the Gillard government in 2011, the SSAF amounts to a concealed form of compulsory student unionism. It would have been politically impolite for Labor to reintroduce something as draconian as compulsory unionism, so instead they draped it in the legitimacy of a “services fee”. The pretense is only skin-deep, for the money is flagrantly appropriated to political purposes.
In 2017 at the University of Sydney student funds were used to purchase a giant inflatable rat for a protest attended by the more radical staff and students, the “service” being to push a divisive agenda many students disagreed with. And in 2016, again at USYD, SSAF money was used to purchase 50 pizzas to “show solidarity” with the activists Place de Republique, in Paris. The examples are endless, the radical left union spends student money with impunity, even using it to pay off parking fines for their higher ranking members, and they will continue to do so if we do not return to a system of genuine Voluntary Student Unionism.
The SSAF has led to a situation where white male students pay a fee for workshops that actively discriminate against them. Conservative, Christian and Libertarian societies pay a fee to have the union ban or protest their events. It is true that other groups can get access to the SSAF funds but not without the union’s permission. All clubs, groups, events that use shared spaces and funds for club events must be approved by the student union. While they continue to make frivolous purchases.
This is not to say that student unions don’t have every right to run workshops on whatever topics they choose, even if they are full of repugnant and discriminatory identity politics. But not when these funds are taken from students compulsorily and then denied to those presenting minority opinions. There is plenty of hope for the future as many students are pushing back against the enforced consensus, but we need to remove these artificial barriers so that the free intellectual debate that so enriches the university experience can be fought out on a level playing field.