HS: So what is your name, pronouns and degree?
MS: My name is Madhullikaa Singh, Madhu for short, my pronouns are she and her, and my degree is Arts and Advanced Studies. I’m doing my major in theater, performance studies and international and global studies.
HS: And what is your campaign color and slogan?
MS: This election, my campaign color, or lack thereof, is black. And my slogan is Madhu for You.
HS: And who is your campaign manager and faction?
MS: So my campaign managers are Alana Ramshaw and Isla Mowbray.
HS: And what faction are you aligned with or are they aligned with?
MS: Are we aligned with Switch? Yes.
HS: Are you a current member of any political parties?
MS: No, I’m not.
HS: And how long have you been a member of Switch for?
MS: I’ve been a member of Switch for the last two months.
HS: How would you characterise the role of the USU?
MS: How would I characterize the role of the USU? The USU is here for students to make the student experience better for everyone who comes into USyd. It is a union, but doesn’t particularly function as one. I think the USU can be best characterized as for the students and, and the staff as well, and by the students.
HS: And how would you characterise the role of student unionism more broadly in society?
MS: I think student unionism is best represented in the SRC, as compared to the USU. It’s, uh, it’s not bureaucratic.It’s democratic and obviously the USU is not-for-profit, but there are elements of neoliberalism and capitalism and white hegemony that still need to be addressed there.
Whereas, student unionism is really buy-in for the students, that we see in the SRC. And it’s, it’s very grassroots level.
HS: So what motivated you to run for USU Board?
MS: What motivated me? I was one of the late entries and that’s because I was just wrapping up a USU event this one night and I saw the first five candidates coming in and sitting down to have their training.
And I looked at all the candidates and I did not feel represented. I felt confused as to why there weren’t any international students running, any truly progressive women of colour from performing arts societies running. And I think also seeing people from, not from my sort of political viewpoint running kind of fired me to run. That is what motivated me — the lack of representation. Yeah.
HS: And how would you describe your politics?
MS: My politics, if I were to describe it is left-wing, of course. I think I bring in my progressive values and ideals that truly come from a space of wanting everyone to have fun and to feel safe. I think for me, it’s about platforming consistently marginalised communities and groups on campus, specifically, and I think left-wing politics perfectly helps that and is able to actively sort of bring these people to the forefront and let their voices be heard and let them be seen. So I am progressive and I would describe my politics as being left-wing.
HS: What is the one political issue you’re passionate about?
MS: One? Hm.
From a personal take. I think anti-racism is something I’m really passionate about. Not because I want to be, but I have to be, because it’s something that I unfortunately, and people of color experience, very often. I think racism is something that has and will continue to exist. It just takes different shapes and forms.
And it’s important for us to sit down and reflect on how we can truly decolonise spaces and truly make spaces safer, culturally, for people of color. And that’s something that I’m really passionate about because as an international student and as someone who could very easily be othered in a white institutional space that is not even in her country. I think I found a lot of solidarity with performing arts communities that allowed me and gave me a safe space to creatively express myself. And so I have tried in my capacity to give back to those same communities that gave that impact, that empowered me.
So whether it’s about directing POC Revue or producing it this year, I think it’s very important to me to create those spaces for people of color, to take up space and to be.
HS: So what is your experience with clubs and societies?
MS: My experience with clubs and societies, again, as an international student, I think it was something that I could focus on because I was away from family for so long, thanks to lockdown as well. So I really invested a lot of my time, energy and resources into performing arts and cultural clubs and societies. I’ve been part of the SUDS (Sydney University Dramatic Society) Executive as a Social Secretary and in that role, I think I championed, again, inclusivity because that is inherently a white space and needs to be decolonized actively. I directed POC Revue the same year, which was one of the most rewarding experiences I had. And so I decided to produce it this year. And as the President of the POC Revue society, I think I have, I can, I never stopped learning and growing.
We just had our camp. We had these meaningful conversations with everyone, with our cast and our crew. I think being able to listen to each other and create that space, we actually carry that with us, you know, and yeah, that is my experience. I sort of have given my heart and soul into creative productions.
HS: And how does that inform how you’ll approach working with clubs and societies, if you were to be elected?
MS: That informs how I will approach working with clubs and societies very, very well and insightfully because I have very good relations with Womn’s Revue and Queer Revue and other faculty revues.
And I think being able to engage with them and support them. I think revues is, is a very supportive group of societies that come together and again, are able to just be, especially the identity revues. I think I have the insight needed and the experience of what these revues really need.
I also think because of COVID, the performing arts have really been impacted and there’s a lot of fear around COVID and performing arts. It is, it is something that we need to think about — giving, providing support packages to performing arts societies, COVID support packages and free RAT tests before performances to make sure that everyone is safe and feels safe. Safety for me is important, psychological safety, physical safety, of course.
And I think I understand what revues need. I also have friends in the revues who I communicate with actively, and I think I know how to bring that to C&S and especially in the last few months I’ve worked within the USU as a Campus Activity Coordinator, and I’ve seen the other side of the email chain and I’ve seen how hard the USU staff works to try to deliver good student experiences to students and clubs and societies. And I’ve really taken note of how both people on both sides of the email chains want the same thing, but there’s something missing. There’s this gap in communication because oftentimes clubs and societies feel like they’re working against the USU.
When in reality, they need to feel like they’re working with the USU. And I think I understand what can bridge that gap. I really want to have more forums with staff and student clubs and societies executives, where they actually meet each other and see who the human is on the other side of their emails.
But also collaborate on USU events because I think USU events need to be run and controlled by students more. And that is what the USU staff does want. It’s just a matter of more dialogue, more communication, more reaching out.
HS: We’ll explore some of your revue and performing arts based policies later, but just a few more questions on the politics of the USU more broadly, what is one thing you think the USU has done well in the past two years? And what is one thing you think it could have done better?
MS: One thing that USU has done well is being representative of a left-wing student body. I think I also think given my insight into what happens within the USU offices, I think they really, really care about students and they put in their heart and soul into every event. It brings them joy to see students enjoying themselves.
So I think the USU has maintained that spirit and brought it back to campus after a very long break due to COVID. I think with the Welcome Week and with events like the Manning Party, there’s a lot that has been done. And I just want that to continue happening and engaging students. Obviously we need to reach out more to students who aren’t getting access to this, like international students, for instance, but I think it’s a great, great start. Started with a bang this year.
What has to be improved is, I think I’m going to talk about the article [on USU fossil fuel investments] that Honi Soit released last night. I think there has to be an increased transparency, which has been spoken about for years, but it has to be done. It has to be enacted. I think it needs to begin with obviously the USU being transparent with the Board Directors. I think it is appalling that the Directors had no idea about the portfolio and they had sort of just seen the slide ones, but hadn’t really gone into the details. I think the Board of Directors need to be informed as soon as they get onto Board of what is going on, where student money is going, how it’s being invested, what are the consequences?
There has to be that awareness because what is the point without that? I think it’s very virtue-signally to have, like, EnviroWeek and then also let’s invest in fossil fuels. It’s not okay. And it needs to be that… we need to step up. I think students have been saying this for so long. We’ve had so many climate strikes. It has to be reflected in what the Board is doing and the decisions that are being made and in where our SSAF money is being invested.
HS: We may move now to like sort of policy statement questions and questions about your personal politics. So, you joined Switch not long before nominating for USU. Why did you decide to join?
MS: I think wanted to be supported by a left-wing faction. As an international student with a full-time study load, I haven’t had the capacity to be involved with activism as much as I would have liked, and I do bring it into the work I do in creative spaces, as much as I can, but I really did not have the time to be part of a faction because that is a commitment that I would have to have sacrificed other aspects of my life, which were equally important to me. So when I did, when it did occur to me that I wanted to run, I thought of the people I wanted to support me and most of them were part of Switch. And I obviously already reflected a lot of the values that Switch holds. That is why I decided to join Switch.
HS: So it was sort of, just to gain clarity around the situation, to be clear, were you approached by Switch to join in order to run for Union Board? Or did you approach Switch because you wanted their factional support for your Union Board campaign?
MS: It was a synchronicity moment where, when I was wrapping up the EnviroWeek event and I saw those campaigners, I was like, oh wow. Like I was quite loud about it, and I was like, I need to run. And as you would have it, Alana and Lauren were at the event and they were like, you should run. And I was like, I should run.
And that happened like back and forth. But it was a very, in the moment sort of a situation, I don’t think there was like an approach that happened.
HS: Right. So both you and Onor Nottle are representing Switch. How do you feel you differ as candidates?
MS: I think by virtue of being a woman of color, it’s just different. Um, yeah.
HS: So, so the intersectional life experiences…
MS: Yes. And yes, international student. I think we both have a lot to offer, but also in terms of the areas of campus that we occupy as well, I think she has a lot of insight from SULS and I have from performing arts societies. I think we both would be pretty valuable on Board for our left-wing values that we both reflect.
HS: Do you feel that being an international student has shaped your approach to stupol?
MS: Absolutely undeniably. The way I had to learn about the Australian political scene within six months of coming here, because I was like, why are Young Liberals conservative? Why do they have the word liberal? Like it was, it was a lot. It was also very fascinating for me because I’d always imagined uni life to be a certain way and I’d always imagined a majority of, I actually had imagined everyone at uni to have the same values as I do. But it was very confronting and also fascinating, I think, to see the diverse political range within uni. To be able to reevaluate my values and where I sort of want to be. It was easier as well, I guess, because I was away from family. I think it must be hard for people who have that familial influence consistently. But yes, absolutely it does because it’s very different and very nuanced being an international student as compared to being a domestic student.
HS: Do you think previous international student representatives on the USU Board have succeeded?
MS: I do think so. I think in their own right, they have.
HS: And who are some previous Board members that you think of?
MS: I think the first person who came to mind was Benny Shen because I’m in awe of him. I don’t know him, never met the person. But there’s something about him genuinely wanting people to have fun and also focusing on international students, because there’s that element of being othered when you’re an international student. And I think I want the USU to have the international students as their target audience because they will truly add to the culture at university and benefit from it so greatly.
HS: Do you feel you’re well-placed to critique the college system given a lot of the feminist movement on campus is focused on the campaign to dismantle the colleges and that sort of thing. Do you feel you’re well placed to work with those activists or do you have a different approach to critiquing the colleges? What’s your sort of political position on that?
MS: Yeah. My experience with college has been a complex one. I came in as an international student. I’m on scholarship with the University, so I could afford living at college. It gave my family back home a sense of peace of mind that I was safe because I was at an all women’s college, which is so ironic because I also read the Broderick Report of sexual assault on campus and made sure that I never went to any of the college events because safety comes first for me.
I think my experience within college has been nuanced because I’ve met wonderful progressive women and men, and have had very meaningful interactions with them. At the same time, I’ve had microaggressions being committed against me, being a minority in an all sort of white institution that is made for white privileged students to come in.
And I have a lot of respect for some of the staff. I do think they do try to make the space as inclusive as they can. I do think it needs to completely… The scene needs to change. There’s so much, so much, that needs to be done for colleges to be safer for women. I have had friends who unfortunately have experienced sexual assault, in college campuses.
The bureaucracy that goes into filing a report and getting justice and the time that it takes is so exhausting and psychologically painful. It’s really sad and it has to change. I think there has to be professional sort of help that is given immediately, as soon as the report comes through. The cross questioning and the victim blaming obviously needs to stop, but I do think the staff also need to be empowered to take more initiative and to be less afraid of what Honi Soit thinks of colleges and what other people sort of think. I think there was a lot of, like, “oh, what we need to protect our image”. But it has to, the focus has to change to what’s actually going on inside.
HS: If the women’s collective stance is to dismantle the colleges and replace them with needs-based housing for students, would you align yourself with that stance?
MS: I think that would help with eradicating the college-specific rape culture. Yes. Um, so if that is the goal, then yes. However, I don’t think that is a feasible solution because these are students of privilege and they inherently have the power. Be more defensive and get worse. I think there has to be more dialogue and more communication and genuinely more change and empowering them because they really need help.
It’s not, it’s not a situation of them sort of knowing what’s going on and like having any sort of control. It really depends on what the outcome we want. Do we want, do we really think that we can dismantle the colleges because I’ve been part of that institution and it is frighteningly colonial and powerful.
HS: So in your policy statement that you say transparency at the forefront of all major decisions being made by the USU is a priority of yours, what would this policy actually entail?
MS: I think this policy would reflect what many left-wing candidates before me have been talking about, about the USU’s basic, and all, decisions being given to the student body, because we have the right to know. Whether it’s the meeting minutes or the investment portfolio I think having that information just on their website for everyone to be able to look at and understand what they are putting their money into is important.
As well as transparency in terms of the more C&S related things, whether it’s how to apply for SSAF, awareness around that, awareness around what C&S needs to do, a more streamlined training so that it’s not always the clubs and societies struggling to get information and struggling to get things done because the USU hasn’t replied to their emails.
There has to be transparency around how it’s functioning, how clubs and societies need to get what they need. What are the processes, as well as on a larger scheme of things, what the USU really stands for and the actions that reflect their values.
HS: Separate to the communication of USU processes, with the transparency of the state of the USU and a lot of USU decision-making, a lot of previous USU Board Directors have been constrained with confidentiality requirements that prevent them from holding the board accountable. How would you balance your legal obligations with the transparency you commit to in your policy statement?
MS: How would I balance my legal obligations with the transparency I commit to?
I think I am very strong in transparency because I think anything that needs to be hidden needs to be re-evaluated. So if there is something that the Board of Directors do not want to let out into the public eye, it’s probably something that needs to be out in the public eye. And I really, I really believe that the legal system is, is good enough, to acknowledge that.
So if I do have to breach fiduciary duties and reveal something to the public that could risk my time as a Board member, I will do it.
HS: So just confirming, you would, in an instance you find justifiable, break your fiduciary duty?
HS: Do you think the Board generally has a culture of opacity and how do you plan on addressing that, if so?
MS: Do I think the board generally has a culture of opacity?
I don’t think it does as much as I would like to see. I think it’s interesting to see how students elect Board members and it’s this amazing process of democracy, et cetera. But once they get on there, it’s very distant from USyd students. And I think there has to be more transparency and accountability for the people who have elected these Board members, and more communication.
I think it becomes very insular, at least from a third-party perspective. Once people get onto board, it’s like, where it’s not on campus anymore. It’s somewhere else, in an office somewhere. Which I think can easily be changed and needs to change.
HS: So you talk about it in your policy statement, you’re wanting to create spaces for Indigenous students on campus, and creation of a club or society for Indigenous students on campus. How would this differ from the Indigenous student space, which already exists in the Woolley Building or the Indigenous Collective in the SRC?
MS: I think it’s important to note that there is a lack of Indigenous and Indigenous students integration within uni life. And I think that is reflective of a systemic problem. I think the Gadigal Centre in Woolley is a wonderful space for Indigenous students to come together, and to occupy and to feel safe. However, I do, I do think there can be more done with the Gadigal Centre and the SRC as well as the USU to really allow and create spaces in C&S and in the throes of campus life for Indigenous students to come in and celebrate.
HS: In terms of specifics would that look like an Indigenous club and Indigenous Revue? Um, like a room in Manning, like any sort of material things and a plan to execute them?
MS: I am a strong believer in not speaking for communities that I don’t have experience from. And I think in my power as, in my capacity as a Board Director, I would want to platform and allow Indigenous students to themselves see the options they have and come up with what they really want and need, because I, I, as much as I would love to, I can’t really tell you what Indigenous students need. I think my policies come from a point of view of why, why aren’t they visible on campus?
Why aren’t Indigenous students visible, where I sort of frequent, and why if, there is a problem and we have the capacity to change that, we have the capacity to address it and to allow them to address it and allow them to tell us what is wrong and how we can help and change things. So, whether that means having an Indigenous space in Manning, having an Indigenous Revue absolutely down for it.
I think it does have to come from the Indigenous students, however, and not something that’s sort of imposed on them. I do, I am passionate about that because I’ve really, it’s disheartening to not see a single club in society for Indigenous students. And even with the SRC, not having an Indigenous Officer, I think if the spaces are made and actively sort of championed for marginalised groups and communities, they will come and they will take up that space, but it’s, it’s easier said than done, and we need to do the work.
HS: Just on that you mentioned, on the importance of Indigenous students, championing it, in a sort of autonomous way. I think that it’s important to note that Indigenous Australians only compromise, roughly 2% of the higher education population in Australia. So do you see ways to, get around the fact that there is such a small number of Indigenous students, and perhaps that might be part of the reason that some of these spaces aren’t getting filled up.
MS: I do acknowledge that that is one of the, I guess, a major reason why, however, I have been invited into the Gadigal Centre spaces a few times and I have seen how joyous Indigenous students are and how much potential they have.
And I don’t think that’s an excuse. We’re not creating more spaces for them. I think there’s an element of them being set apart within campus. And that’s the only space that they can get, feel safe, feel psychologically safe and feel like it’s theirs, which is abominable. This is their land. And I think they should walk around uni with that confidence and that sense of entitlement.
HS: In your policy statement you write: “the USU’s vested interests represent those of the student body, therefore the student body must be consulted for the same”. What do you mean by consulting the student body and what mechanisms do you have?
MS: I think with regards to consulting the student body, there have been surveys that the USU does put out. I think it needs to be more formalised. There need to be more forums that the USU holds where students can actually come in and talk to staff and tell them what they really want. I think yes, surveys, polls are so important, but there has to be more of a mobilisation of university students telling the USU what they want from various communities. And I think that can only be done with an increased amount of communication from the staff and C&S execs, um, as well as the SRC.
HS: So you speak about consultation in quite an abstract sense, looking at the issue of divestment of USU investments, what kind of mechanisms do you have in place for consulting students on how the USU invests?
MS: I personally would divest from the investment, but however, there are students on campus who for instance, would have a completely different view on what is going on with the investment in fossil fuel companies. So I think having a general poll where students can come in and vote and be informed of what is going on is important.
So, whether it’s us getting an email from the USU explaining the situation and telling us this is what’s going on, this is the information we have, and this is where you can, you know, send us an email or fill out this poll. I think having, asking students is important, what they need, because what tends to happen is a few students get concentrated, in terms of their communication with the USU.
And it’s not representative of the USyd student body. But also sometimes we just don’t listen to the students. And we’re just not thinking about how important things like these are, because this is about our future. So having more student voices, I think if there were more students who were aware and we were talking to the USU about it, they would have, this would’ve come out a lot earlier. It wouldn’t have taken an Honi Soit investigation to come out.
HS: So would you commit to sending out an email referendum on divestment?
HS: Cool. So obviously you come from the revue and from the arts community. A lot of candidates in the last few years have noted the pretty poor relationship between the revue community and the USU. As you would know, people in the revue community have a pretty broad distrust of the USU, policies have been things like, an appointed revue coordinator, improving the relationship with Seymour, all that sort of thing, but none of it’s ever really come to fruition. This year, yet again, we’ve seen increased ticket prices at Seymour and revue prices are becoming more and more inaccessible. One of the things you call for in your policy statement, is an increase to the number of revues, given the increase in price of tickets at Seymour… Do you think that there’s sufficient demand for this to benefit the revue community rather than just be a financial burden?
MS: Very interesting question. I think the revues that I want personally to be added are bringing back the international student revue. I think that is practical because international students have come back into uni and I think they have this unique experience that they really want to express.
I know that a lot of international students came to POC Revue. And it’s lovely to sort of experience, like, to resonate with them, given my experience as an international student as well. But I do think having an international student revue would be very, very good for the international student community.
HS: Because there’s a bunch of other reviews, like Jew Revue, Education and Social Work Revue, Engineering Revue we have all seen kind of drop off. Do you think there’s sufficient demand for those to return as well?
MS: I’m not sure if there is sufficient demand for those to return as well.
HS: Would you seek out creating that demand?
MS: I think I would get in touch with the clubs and societies that, and cultural societies that, have those communities in the majority and speak to them about it, a hundred percent. I do think because of COVID the demand for revues definitely did get concentrated to the main sort of faculty revues and the three identity revues that were left out. I think that can definitely change and more revues is something that I’m going to spearhead with a passion. Yeah.
HS: People involved in identity revues often express grievances about how early the identity revues are on in the year, given the small amount of time it gives people to put a show together, sell tickets, all that sort of thing. And people in faculty revues also complain that it’s like a weird time in semester. Would you seek out any kind of changes to the revue calendar? Do you think it’s ideal to have them so far apart? Would you want them further together?
MS: I think having the identity and faculty revues put in the semesters is efficient. It gives people enough time to prepare, especially the faculty revues enough time. I do think it does put the identity revues in a really tough situation because they have much less time, especially if they’re the first identity revue going on.
So I think there has to be either an AGM that’s held to elect the exec members earlier than what is currently, which is October, September. So that they start working on it earlier and they have their auditions in Semester Two, then they can lead on to Semester One. Um, obviously the drawback with that is that new first-year students won’t be able to come in.
So that is something to, I think, speak toSeymour as well. Cause they have a calendar that if we need to change, needs to be done this year. But that is something that is important to look into simply because we need to give identity revues enough time, which the first identity revue that goes on, usually never gets, and it’s always sort of struggling.
And coming back to your question about the revues having an exhausting sort of communication with the USU, that’s something that I did have to experience firsthand directing POC Revue as well as producing it. And I think that the USU has started making changes, but it is not enough. I do think the revues need to have a streamlined training. And, even if it’s over Zoom for all the execs to come on there and to understand what steps they need to take and how it needs to be done, because oftentimes the handovers from execs happen too late or don’t happen at all sometimes. And the USU needs to sort of bridge that gap and make it easier for the execs to know what’s coming.
HS: And just one more question on the kind of revues and performing arts stuff. Some people have credited revues struggling a bit more last year with the general loss of Theatresports jams, kind of dwindling after moving from Manning, comedy society doesn’t really exist anymore. Open mic comedy nights haven’t really been happening. Do you think that, rather than immediately expanding the revue season, the USU should be investing in things like Theatresports, and open mic comedy nights to kind of increase the demand for revues.
MS: Absolutely. I think my experience working with the USU in the beginning of this year, our lovely programs department has already organised a comedy night that happens every third Tuesday, and it isn’t marketed enough and that is something I will look into in terms of really bringing it out to student performers. However, we are bringing back comedy on campus and Theatresports has to come back. It simply cannot go away. So there will be more comedy at Hermann’s and more trivia, bingo as well. It’s called TBC Tuesdays.
HS: Are you promising a return of Theatresports?
MS: Yes. Yes I am. Absolutely. Absolutely.
HS: Many of your policies for creating safe spaces for international students involve a lot of campus centric initiatives. How do you plan to support international students who are still studying offshore?
MS: That is a very good question. I think having alternative events that are held online, which has already been something that is happening. So for instance, we had the USU day trips for international students, which was a wonderful opportunity for the international students to get around campus and around Sydney. We had an online version of that as well. That was organised when I was working with the USU. And I think people coming in online also valued those experiences a lot, especially international students who do want to be connected to campus. So always thinking of an alternative in the time of COVID with online events is something that I will champion.
HS: So who are two candidates for this election that you would most like to work with on Board?
MS: I have an intellectual crush on Naz Sharifi. ‘ve never met her, but I really do want to. I think I would love working with her and learning from her. And Onor Nottle, of course, because she reflects my left-wing world values.
HS: Who would you like to work with the least?
MS: Who would I like to work with the least? Are there any Geminis running?
There’s Liberals… Ooh, the Geminis of the political spectrum.. I would not, uh, I would not like to work with anyone who puts profit over people. And I think, not to generalise, but I think, most of the Liberals do tend to value money over human beings. So yeah, not Liberal.
HS: Do you know who the Liberal candidate is in this election?
MS: We have two for sure, if I’m not wrong, it’s Maia Edge and Nicholas Dower. I’m not, I haven’t personally ever spoken to them about their political alignment, so I could be wrong, about what they identify as, however, that is what I know.
HS: And who would you vote for to be Board President in the executive election if you were to be elected?
MS: I think someone who reflects my values and cares about students and what they really want and need as well as staff who I think are very, very important and keep the USU running.
HS: Who are the people you have in mind?
MS: Off the back of my head, I have Isla Mowbray, Telita Goile, and Cole Scott-Curwood.
HS: Are you engaged in any preference deals for this election?
MS: No, I have left all of the candidates who’ve messaged me on read and that’s because I have been busy with POC Revue. I’m sorry.
HS: Do you intend on engaging in any preference deals
MS: You’ll have to wait and see.
HS: Is there anyone that you would be unwilling to sign a preference deal with?
MS: Yes. The Liberals.
HS: Um, is there anyone who you would want to sign a preference deal with?
MS: Naz Sharifi.
HS: Cool. In one sentence, why should students vote for you over any other candidate?
MS: Because I have experienced working with the USU, I have the invaluable insight of a queer woman of color and an international student from the performing arts society.
HS: Cool. Is there anything you want to add before we wrap up?
MS: I think I’m good.