The university is a microcosm of the broader world at large. The anxieties which shape our relations outside of it do not necessarily leave us within its bounds. We carry our day-to-day struggles into its fraught spaces. We carry our ambitions, expectations (both our own and of those we hold dear), uncertainty and hope about the future, on our shoulders. Alienation is not unknown, whether in terms of curricula, discriminatory experiences and uncomfortable exchanges with others. Making sure our voices are heard in these circumstances is no easy task. Creating spaces and opportunities for ourselves to flourish where they are lacking, and seeking the support we need when it is not always available or visible is trying. Community-building becomes imperative, creating our own structures of support so we are not left wanting, and so we can speak with and learn from others who have faced similar trials to ours and are open to forming bonds of friendship.
The African Students’ Union looks to facilitate the building of these relationships between students of African descent and allies looking to stand in solidarity with us as we each play our part(s) in bettering the world and this institution as best we can. It looks to foster greater understanding of African peoples and our cultures, as well as the histories and contemporary circumstances which have informed our lives and where we find ourselves today, including at this university. It seeks to challenge and undo false narratives about marginalised peoples by privileging unheard voices and the invaluable knowledge they carry. In order to create strong communities, respectful understandings of each other must be cultivated. Over the past couple of years, the Union has struggled to maintain a strong campus presence and support network for its membership, falling short of its aims. But this is what fresh beginnings are for!
The recent announcement of 300 staff cuts by the university’s administration highlights the need for strong student organisations and organising to direct life in the academy in the direction(s) we desire. Such assaults on our education and the wellbeing of those who provide it severely impact the most disadvantaged and marginalised of us, within this institution and society more broadly. It diminishes the possibility of effective institutional changes that would redress imbalances in power, and that would respect and uphold the wellbeing of students, staff, and diverse voices beyond the status quo. In recent memory, the Gender Studies major (amongst others) was also cut; presently it is only available to re-enrolling students. The lack of a concerted effort by the university’s administration to promote Indigenous Studies and a culture where these studies can flourish further emphasises the crisis UWA finds itself in. The devaluation of subjugated, gendered and racialised groups’ experiences and knowledge at this university (and many others) is indicative of a lack of care for producing sound research which properly accounts for the political economy within which we live and the differential treatment and quality of life available to people therein. And it remains to be seen what the full effects of the re-structuring the university is undergoing will bring. So, it is with these challenges in mind that we are re-launching the African Students’ Union; a new beginning for a stronger Union.
Beginning this year, the Union will be working in collaboration with the Africa Research Cluster, established at the university in July 2015, hosting events promoting Africa-focused research and creating space for stronger African Studies research at UWA. We will also be hosting many social events for you to meet, talk, and learn from a range of people outside your usual social circles. African postgraduates may rest easy knowing there will be representation for you within the Union to help with any of your concerns, including bringing professional development opportunities to your attention. The Union will also be doing work to foster strong African-Indigenous solidarity, the importance of and need for which cannot be overstated. To help us do this, we will be launching our magazine SCATTERed this semester. Through the publication of this magazine we hope to bring people from all walks of life together to build a truly strong community able to support its members. We also hope to be able to expand our reach across Perth universities and to see greater involvement with the Union from students thereof. With your involvement and contributions, we will surely achieve all we set out to. Help us to make this university a place that you are proud of.
Words by Tinashe Jakwa