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‘Consent’ Isn’t Just a Campaign Slogan

Sydney University Wom*n’s Collective on how to make campus a safer space during student elections.

Sydney University Wom*n’s Collective on how to make campus a safer space during student elections.

Harassment should be taken seriously, but is not during election season. It is expected that campaigners will approach you on your way to university, when you are rushing to complete an assignment or just trying to enjoy a conversation with a friend. Not only will they approach you with their broad smiles and garishly coloured t-shirts, but they will attempt to entice you with the commonly recited phrase ‘if you vote now, no-one else will harass you.’ Either you cast your vote in order to put an end to the harassment you are experiencing, or you are harassed more —democracy at its finest.

For groups that campaign on tickets fighting for ‘student welfare’, ‘sex positivity’ or a ‘safer campus’, it seems bizarre that their campaigning methods rely on intimidation and harassment. Consent is rarely a concern for a seasoned campaigner ––every undergraduate student is a vote, whether they want to be or not. Of course, this is not the first article to decry the unsafe environment created by elections. There have been many written in the pages of Honi Soit, but each year they are read, acknowledged and ignored for the next election. We want to change that, so the Wom*n’s Collective will be proposing electoral regulations and pushing for broader SRC reforms to create a safer environment for students on campus.

With student politicians in our ranks, we know that this behaviour is not always designed to intimidate and isolate students, but intention stops being relevant when this behaviour is repeated campaign after campaign despite clear opposition. There are a number of different behaviours that need to be addressed. Among them–– targeting vulnerable voters, like students who clearly do not speak English well and ‘spoiling votes’ ––a term used to describe the process of campaigners mobbing a voter so that they are intimidated into not voting. A lot of this behaviour is entrenched in the system of student politics, so the Wom*n’s Collective will be proposing the following reforms to help address them–-

1. All campaigners should have to seek active consent before campaigning. This would involve simply asking a student (as is commonly practised anyway), ‘do you mind if can I talk to you about the student elections?’. Unless a student explicitly says ‘yes’, the campaigner cannot proceed to talk to them. Responses that do not equal ‘yes’ include ‘I’m in a rush’, ‘I’d rather not’, ‘I’ve already voted’. Any campaigner who breaches these regulations should be penalised as a campaigner would be for any other breach––stepping over the voting line, lying about their campaign etc.

2. The Executive of the SRC should make and have available at the voting booths ‘I’ve voted’ SRC stickers, funded from the Executive’s discretionary budget. A sticker should not be a bargaining tool for campaigners and force students to vote. It also means that students who do not want to disclose their vote, for whatever reason, do not have to.

3. The Executive should also print stickers for students who do not want to be spoken to with, ‘Please do not campaign to me’. These can be distributed by the SRC and also by campaigners. That way students who do not want to be spoken to do not need to repeat their request a number of times before they are heard and listened to.

The reasons these reforms are important are pretty self explanatory, especially for a group of people (student politicians) who largely consider themselves ‘left-wing’. Harassment can trigger experiences of sexual harassment, make students with mental illnesses feel uncomfortable and on a basic level, undermines the autonomy and safety of students.

The SRC does important work and so do the campaigners who fight for positions on the SRC Council every year. It is a discredit to the work of the SRC to continue to win votes like this. It is not democratic, it is not fair, and must change.