By Jacob Roosendaal

 

TRIGGER WARNING: Bullying and Suicide

 

Be kind to one another. That is the thrust of this article and the reason I am sharing my story. Be kind to the candidates; be kind to currently serving Councillors and Office Bearers; be kind to everyone who is throwing their hat in the ring; and be kind to everyone who is not. It is of fundamental importance to keep this mentality at the foreground of how significant issues surrounding elections are framed. Having recently voted for our Guild representatives, it’s a good time to reflect on our election culture and how we treat one another. Let’s be supportive to each other, and especially our newly elected representatives, because they have a big job ahead of them.

Campus life at UWA has been strained by deficits in trust and integrity. Whether it’s the University’s cuts to staff and courses, the secrecy of peak decision-making bodies, or the reportedly hostile arena of student politics, it seems that trust and kindness are an especially scarce commodity.  Tertiary education in Australia is in a crisis that has been decades in the making, and for which our universities are woefully underprepared. During Guild election season, this issue was brought into especially sharp focus, and with greater urgency than ever before. It is during these times that students running for Guild should have our wholehearted respect.

By temperament, I am an introvert.

During my school years, I was heavily bullied and constantly overlooked and ignored. At the age of fourteen, in year nine, one of the only people at school to treat me with any measure of decency hanged themselves on a soccer goalpost at the school – and I was one of those who found him there. Those of us there made frantic efforts to get help and to keep younger students away from the site.

After this deeply traumatic incident, I felt betrayed by Guildford Grammar School. I felt they had abandoned me after what they had exposed me to and left me to fend for myself. Put simply, I felt the school failed dismally in their obligations to protect the students entrusted to their care. To this day, I continue to experience night terrors about that day, flashbacks, insomnia, and find it extremely difficult to form close relationships with other people.

For a long time I felt wracked with guilt over the lingering question of whether I could have done anything to prevent what had happened. Following an intense and draining period of personal advocacy and near-ceaseless fighting, I was lucky enough to be granted a happy ending to my schooling days when I was moved to the high school I graduated from and continue to identify with closely: Christ Church Grammar School.

For many years I carried a deep anger at having been betrayed by people I trusted to protect me, and felt like I was in some way complicit in what had happened through my failure to prevent it. I promised myself that I would always try to do everything in my power to protect others from suffering in the same way. I sought to use my own lived experience, of the best and absolute worst I had witnessed of figures in positions of authority and power, to give every person and club what I felt my fourteen-year-old self deserved, and what everyone is entitled to.

I started like most, swearing off elections or club involvement at all costs before eventually getting roped into an election as a fly-on-the-wall paper candidate when my twin brother/genetic copy ran for an Office Bearer role. A couple of years later, more by accident than design, I found myself serving as Societies Council President and responsible for 165 student-run clubs and a budget of more than $135,000 of SSAF money. I gave all I had to ensure that UWA’s Clubs and Societies remained safe, inclusive spaces for all students, and to do everything humanly possible to make sure that they were adequately supported whenever difficult (and often unforeseeable) problems arose. I grasped with both hands the opportunity to get involved with the Guild because it felt like one of the few times in my life that my voice and opinion meant something, after having been made to feel the opposite for years.

I was not always successful.

I made many mistakes along the way. Throughout this journey, I did all that I was humanly capable of to not fail anyone as others had failed my younger self. Whether or not others think I did a good job is irrelevant to me. I know in myself that I gave it everything I had, and I know that like many before me I have succeeded in leaving UWA’s Clubs Culture better than I found it – and made some truly incredible and lifelong friends along the journey.

So, why do I share this story?

As far as elections are concerned, it is not for the faint of heart. People who run put themselves through what is an extremely stressful and draining process. When we label someone a “hack” we rob them of the ability to articulate why they are running, why they care. We simply chalk them up as egoists. But in reality, we don’t know who is behind the friendly face at the booths, or what personal experiences motivate them to engage in this thankless process. The least we can do is give them the right to kindness and respect that we ourselves would expect.

It is crucial that we elect student representatives who can advocate for our rights and best interests (especially those serving on the Senate and Academic Board), who we can trust to back their words up with action, or, at the very least, not sell us out when we need them the most. However, we can achieve all of this without bullying or feeding into awful narratives that make us forget we are all human beings.

The need for solidarity among students and staff is greater than it has ever been in recent memory. Solidarity is built on and cannot exist without trust and kindness.

Your vote is your voice – and that is a right that we cannot ever take for granted.

Declaration: Jacob Roosendaal was STAR’s Societies Council President in 2020. He also ran as an Ordinary Guild Councillor candidate for Launch in 2017.

By Pelican Magazine

Pelican is one of the oldest student publications in Australia and the only independent paper at UWA. If you like having opinions, writing, drawing, and/or free tickets to local events, then Pelican is the place for you! We print six themed issues a year, and run a stream of online content.

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