At midday today, the University of Sydney Women’s Collective (WoCo) held a snap rally in protest of ongoing sexual violence on campus. The protest, which took place in front of Fisher Library, preempted the release of the long-awaited 2021 National Student Safety Survey (NSSS) which will be released tomorrow on 23 March 2022. The NSSS ran across the Australian university sector in late 2021.
USyd SRC Women’s Officers Madeleine Clark and Monica McNaught-Lee held an open mic for the protest, which drew a crowd of around 20 students. The demands of the Women’s Collective included the dismantling of residential colleges, better resources and funding for survivor support on campus, and supporting feminist demands in the National Tertiary Education Union’s (NTEU) log of claims to fight for better working conditions for women and non cis men.
“We don’t need a survey to tell us these statistics. We’ve been telling the university for many years that sexual assault is rife on campus, particularly on [sic] the colleges,” said Clark, highlighting the long-held frustrations of campus feminist activists across the continent who have been demanding that universities take meaningful systemic action to end sexual violence.
The first NSSS, released in 2017, found that 1 in 5 university students have experienced sexual violence in a university setting.
Additionally, Lee says that the 2021 NSSS will not make any recommendations, in a similar fashion to the 2016 NSSS.
“If the University actually gave a fuck about students we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” said Lee, who pointed out that there have already been several investigations, including the Red Zone Report released by End Rape on Campus in 2018, into sexual violence on university campuses which have all had similar findings.
“[Universities] repeatedly ignore and sweep under the rug things that students say.”
The snap protest drew attention to WoCo’s long-standing campaign to dismantle USyd’s residential colleges and repurpose them as safe, affordable student housing. Speakers argued that colleges reflect the worst of rape culture and privilege on campus.
SRC General Secretary Alana Ramshaw also criticised privatised student accommodation providers such as Iglu and UniLodge as “the neoliberalism of education and housing manifest.” In particular, Ramshaw highlighted the “egregiously financially exploitative” nature of private student accommodation, which also “predate on international students as some of the most vulnerable students on our campus.”
“Management at UniLodge has flatly refused to give [residential assistants] adequate support or training for responding to disclosures, because they don’t care about students and they don’t care about women. All they care about is profit,” said Ramshaw.
Following a two year delay in the wake of COVID-19, the 2021 NSSS was commissioned by Universities Australia as part of the Respect. Now. Always initiative. This is the second survey to be released as part of the Respect. Now. Always initiative, with the first survey released in 2017 being criticised by feminist activists on university campuses for its methodological errors, reliance on quantitative data and lack of recommendations to tertiary institutions.