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Protestors demand end to sexual violence on campus at USyd Welcome Fest

Organised by the USyd Women’s collective, the protest took aim at ongoing sexual violence on campus and at colleges.

CW: Sexual assault and violence

Amidst the din of 2022 Welcome Fest on Thursday, The USyd Women’s Collective rallied against sexual violence on campus. With 12.5% of sexual assaults on campus occurring during Welcome Week each year, such events during this week are an annual practice for WoCo. 

Commencing on the Quad lawns, the protest was chaired by the 2022 SRC Women’s Officers and Women’s Collective Convenors, Maddie Clark and Monica McNaught-Lee. In her Acknowledgement of Country, McNaught-Lee noted that Indigneous women are three and a half times more likely to experience sexual assault. 

Clark spoke on the rally’s demands: an end to sexual violence on campus, on placements, and in colleges; the abolition of USyd’s residential colleges; better resourcing of SASH support services; cops off campus; and to support the NTEU’s upcoming staff strikes.

Misbah Ansari, 2022 ACAR Convenor and Ethnocultural Officer, spoke to her experience of the campaign to save the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies in 2021, noting that the University’s push to merge GCST into the Department of Politics “impacts solidarity and safe networks for women who face sexual assault. In an imperialist institution that favours white, English-speaking demographics, creating academic and social niches … is a task in itself”.

Ansari spoke to the challenge of creating change within universities, stating that “the nature of the system we live in fools us to believe that we live in a utopian world with simplistic solutions to injustices we face. It makes people believe that consent modules no-one reads, tokenistic laws, and changes to our course structures can solve everything”.

Gender Studies PhD candidate and NTEU member Finola Laughren spoke on the importance of solidarity between staff and students, identifying cuts to education as a feminist issue and highlighting the upcoming strikes as a feminist cause. 

“In a workforce that is two-thirds women, precarious work and attacks on jobs and conditions are inherently gendered … We know that increasing reliance on casual work strips women of their rights to superannuation, parental leave, sick leave, and job security. Without job security women will continue to keep quiet about their experience of sexual violence in the workplace, for fear of being dismissed, disciplined, or fired”, Laughren said. 

Following Laughren’s address, protesters marched down Eastern Avenue, parting Welcome Fest crowds and chanting “red tape won’t cover up rape” and “silence perpetuates violence”.

In front of the Madsen Building, 2022 SRC President Lauren Lancaster spoke on the lack of accountability for sexual violence within USyd’s residential colleges. “They continue to fail women over and over again, putting their reputation first and creating sickening excuses for the grotesque, predatory behaviour of their male residents,” she said. 

Lancaster identified the colleges as “bastions of privilege confirmed by the flooring weekly fees to attend”, and as a result, “open only to a rich, homogenous, very white, very upper class group of people”.

Lancaster concluded her speech with a call to fight for a “moment of quiet for women who have for too long suffered under the weight of sandstone and patriarchy”.

The rally concluded with an open mic, through which WoCo members expressed disappointment, anger, and shame at the University’s treatment of survivors on campus.