Yesterday, students from across the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) went on strike from their classes, gathering on the Quad lawns to hear speeches before marching to the F23 Michael Spence Building, to protest changes to Gender and Cultural Studies (GCS) under the vehemently opposed Future FASS proposal.
The University is proposing to move the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies from the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry into the School of Social and Political Sciences and demote the Department to a discipline, which students and staff fear will threaten the independence and radical nature of GCS.
Third-year GCS student Misbah Ansari said that “GCS has always been interdisciplinary, focussing on the personal as the political, identity, and with several units questioning the conventional academic structure. We need this Department’s integrity now more than ever.”
Ansari outlined how the Department arose out of a 1974 protest for an independent Women’s Studies department, focussing on the philosophy of feminist thought, and reminded the crowd how this radical history and philosophical focus is intrinsic to GCS.
“The massive unit cuts might also lead to job losses for casuals, a lot of whom focus on anti-racist political thought and challenge this institution [the University] as the white academic entity that it has always been.”
Ansari criticised the University for wanting to cut Units of Study in FASS with less than 24 enrolments, rather than questioning why there are not many students studying them in the first place, which she attributed to the neoliberalisation of higher education.
Ansari said that this encourages students to “keep learning what the environment wants us to, rather than having safe spaces and proliferating our knowledge for bigger, further actions that we can organise.”
SRC Women’s Officer and Gender Studies major Amelia Mertha said that “if anything, GCS should grow. It has so much beautiful and radical potential, it’s not perfect yet,” they said, echoing Ansari’s critique of how white feminism has long dominated the field.
Mertha explained that the units were “critical to the politics and theories of liberation and change” in feminist organising on campus, “whether it’s learning to trouble binary gender, understanding reproductive justice outside of mainstream reproductive rights, whether it’s disability justice, sovereignty, learning to challenge hegemonic whiteness.”
They also noted that GCS is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry because of the leftist, feminist organising that brought it into existence, quoting SRC Education Officer Maddie Clark in Honi Soit: “As student activists today, looking at the success of the strike can give us hope and inspiration for what collective action can achieve.”
“That’s what we’re doing here today,” Mertha said. “Future FASS my ass. We are the future!”
Third-year GCS student and organiser of the Hands off GCS Campaign, Ella Haber, said that the proposal meant “we would lose casual jobs, we would lose our courses, our Department would lose its autonomy … and it would put power into upper management’s hands to supervise the content that we should be in charge of. So fuck that.”
Haber also spoke to how the theory taught in GCS is important for movements against oppressive power, criticising former FASS Dean Annamarie Jagose for describing student protest chants as sexist:
“The idea that queer theory can be deployed by the boss to attack the worker is a queer theory we want nothing to do with. It’s not sexist when people who are less powerful than you stand up to you, Dean Jagose.”
“The only form of queer, feminist or anti-racist theory that we truly view as liberatory as GCS students is one that sides with the most vulnerable, with the precarious casual workers who you refuse to protect, so many of whom are women, people on visas denied parental leave, superannuation and job security,” Haber said, to resounding calls of shame from the crowd.
SRC Education Officer Tom Williams addressed the “lies that have been peddled” by the University in the 13-week Future FASS consultation process: “You can’t dress up shit and have anyone believe it’s gold.”
“There are two very obvious things the Dean has been hiding: the GCS merger and the whole Future FASS proposal is an attack on our education and we don’t want it!”
“Decimating postgraduate studies, unsurprisingly, isn’t good for postgraduates. Cutting staff hours, increasing workloads and laying off permanent and casual staff, unsurprisingly, is a terrible thing for staff and also for students. The substance of the whole Future FASS proposal is abhorrent.”
Williams said that the University was “extracting astronomical profits from an entire Faculty and setting it up as a money-making machine for years to come.”
“It’s all justified because there’s some speculative, far-off crisis in profit. The real crisis is not in profits, but in education, in Gender and Cultural Studies and Arts education broadly.”
Speakers called on students to attend the Student General Meeting to oppose the Future FASS cuts and restructures on 27 October, which needs over 250 attendees to reach quorum.
“These cuts are so broad, so clearly unnecessary and with such opposition, that we can and we will win by uniting!” Williams said.