A spectre haunts the UWA cyberspace – have you seen it? Save Campus Culture is its name. While many of you liked it hoping for new and fresh university life memes, you’ll find nothing but hard Guild politics and ANGRY reacts.
Let’s start with an overview of the current Guild-Club/student relations. Controversy surrounds the new Arts Union and their highly politicized activities. Science Union, Leisure, UDS have had their club rooms removed from them in a dubious fashion, and still no one really knows what the Guild does. Enter Save Campus Culture. A recent addition to the UWA politics landscape, they specifically mentioned Leisure and Science Union in one of their posts, showing a failed motion brought by Launch member Michael McKenzie in a guild council meeting on 22 February. The motion had 2 parts – Part A proposed that the Guild “Recognises the vital role that Leisure and Science Union play in contributing to campus culture and as a representative body for students, respectively”. Part B proposed that the Guild “Overturns the decision of the Tenancy Committee and reinstates the Club Rooms for both Leisure and the UWA Science Union”. Part A and Part B were considered separately, and both parts failed to pass. It is odd, but not entirely surprising that in their facebook post Save Campus Culture only mentioned Part A.
With Science Union and Leisure specifically mentioned by the Save Campus Culture page in a supportive light, and the Arts Union mentioned in a derogatory one (there’s a video shared on the page of a Sky presenter calling the Arts Union present at an anti-One Nation protest, “idiots trying to make a point”) there does seem to be some politicking going on, driving a further wedge between an already divided and separated Arts Union and the general club landscape.
I met with Michael McKenzie – one of the page’s creators. He said that the page is not of any particular political affiliation. In fact, he’d like the page to have a variety of voices participating from all across the political spectrum. To him, it’s a representative body that fields its own insight and gets as a diverse range of students as possible involved.
“The areas we want to target are ones which predominately target student engagement… The Guild should be the body that doesn’t say ‘what can you do for us?’ to these clubs, the Guild should be saying ‘what can we do for you?’”
But whose culture is it anyway? In its current form Save Campus Culture is very reactionary. McKenzie claims to want to move beyond this, but a recent post on the Confessions at UWA page was a laughably transparent attempt at astroturfing, reading like a damsel in distress from a bad superhero movie – the top comment was a link to the Save Campus Culture page, with 42 likes at the time of writing.
It seems odd to specifically mention only Science Union and Leisure in a motion recognising the role of large clubs in contributing to campus culture, so I questioned both Ivan Roncevich, president of Science Union and Clare Metcalfe, Vice President of Leisure. Roncevich stated that he and McKenzie are good friends, and that McKenzie came to him before presenting the motion – he was notified that Michael wanted to mention Science Union by name and Roncevich didn’t oppose it. Metcalfe said that she trusts McKenzie and, Leisure is more than okay with being mentioned by name. Despite this, both claim they have no affiliation with the Save Campus Culture page.
Just how perfect are these clubs, though? Is there really nothing to criticize? If member of these clubs and societies are all friends, have the same committee members, and the same general members, they tend towards a specific bubble of values. Metcalfe told me that Leisure has the Social Vice President for Science Union, the President of PHAC, the music Vice President of EMAS and the Vice President of Zoology on their committee as generals:
“…so there is a lot of networking there… My best mates are in Science Union and UEC and from a club perspective, SU and UEC have just always been close with Leisure, we always help each other out.”
This was in response to a question on why Arts Union seemed conspicuously absent from a fresher social outreach program she conducted through Leisure during the first 3 weeks of semester that included Science Union, UEC, ECOMS, EMAS and Sober. She (and Leisure in general) doesn’t have any real ties to AU – understandable, but with nearly every FacSoc represented, it’s hard to believe there was not even an attempt to reach out to Arts Union.
The same crossover that allows these clubs to network and help one another can also create an environment where they are unapproachably cliquey, and hard or impossible to get accepted into if you don’t share similar views or lifestyles. “I’m a third year, but no one knows me,” an Economics student complained to me, expanding by saying even though she’s tried to fit in at events, ECOMS only want big first year numbers, and if you don’t get in at the beginning, they don’t care. This is not to suggest that there shouldn’t be friendships and connections between clubs and societies, or that such connections aren’t necessary – it’s simply important to note which clubs tend to stick together, even to the point of (perhaps unknowingly) ostracizing students and other FacSocs, through an overly clique based committee that is further entrenched by current election rules. They also lack a strong and proactive political voice – Arts Union at least responds to things like the UWA restructure. The students need someone to stand up for them to a lazy, secretive and, yes, also cliquey Guild committee that enforce shady decisions on students and clubs (like the room debacle) and refuse to actually stand up to UWA on important issues that decrease the quality of our education.
This resistance needs to come from our FacSocs specifically, and it needs to come not just when it suits them, like when their common rooms are taken away. Whether the Save Campus Culture page will also push for this kind of pro-student engagement, or stays a loosely defined, reactionary establishment, remains to be seen.
Words by James Brooks