The All-Wom*n USU Election Results Curated Exclusively with Minion Gifs
WORDS BY SALINA ALVARO
The University of Sydney Union has been kickin’ on since 1874 so I didn’t expect the recent election to be overly newsworthy and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about it … except that it absolutely was and here I am. All those who bunkered up in Manning Bar last Wednesday experienced an important outcome for Chinese international students, record-breaking quotas, significantly increased number of votes overall, and an all wom*n-identifying result.
Despite being a government major, I don’t really like talking about student politics publically. So I thought I would soften my first foray into the field the way I soften all situations – with minion* gifs. Let’s go.
If you managed to avoid Eastern Avenue since the beginning of the month (I’m looking at you, Cumbo campus), here’s a super quick run down of the election season.
These members were nominated and set off on the campaign trail:
· Dom Bondar
· Grace Franki
· James Gibson
· Cameron Hawkins
· Yifan Kong
· Sam Kwon
· Esther Shim
· Vanessa Song
· Courtney Thompson
These members were elected to board:
· Yifan Kong
· Esther Shim
· Vanessa Song
· Courtney Thompson
· Grace Franki
Coming out on top with not only the highest number of first-preference votes in this election but with a new record high proportion of quota in the last 8 years of election analysis was Yifan (Koko) Kong. If that wasn’t enough of an achievement, Kong also ran in an election that saw almost a thousand more voters than last year (totalling 4,711), is the first international student elected to Board since Ruchir Punjabi in 2007, and is one of the first Chinese international students to nominate, let alone take out the top placing.
She also received an impressively high number of votes that just put ‘1 Koko’, then no one else – the majority of these "1st vote only" votes were at the International Student Lounge and Merewether polling booths, traditionally quite small numbers booths which suggests that Koko has tapped in to a totally new pool of votes that usually do not vote.
Current USU Vice President Liv Ronan, identified “the absence of an authentic and empathetic international student perspective” as the most significant consequence of not having international students represented on Board for a number of years. When the Board was approving the upgrade of the International Student Lounge in conjunction with Iglu sponsorship, for example, Ronan commented, “it would have been invaluable to have had an international student on Board”.
It is also the first time that all the elected candidates are wom*n-identifying. Ronan, along with newly elected board members Vanessa Song and Grace Franki, all evaluated the importance of wom*n being represented on Board as “paramount” and “incredibly important”.
Current Wom*n's Portfolio Holder Tiff Alexander, speaking with the passion appropriate for her portfolio, says, “I don't think there can be an overstatement of how important it is [for wom*n to to be guaranteed representation]. In a society where positions of power are vastly dominated by men, the perspective of wom*n is missing in the mainstream.”
But with the all-wom*n result, some have questioned the relevance of the USU’s affirmative action (AA) policy despite the need for its existence most recently in the 2015 election.
The AA policy states that “Five Directors shall be elected during years ending in an even number and six Directors shall be elected during years ending in an odd number provided that in any year ending in an even number, two, and in any year ending in an odd number, three such elected Directors shall be wom*n-identifying”.
None of the wom*n interviewed thought it would be appropriate to abolish AA, Song stating that the latest result “does not set an automatic precedent for years to come.” Franki argued a “safeguard against patriarchal oppression” is still necessary despite this year’s “unusual and very, very exciting … success of wom*n against the odds.”
Ronan described the suggestion that AA is no longer necessary as “patently absurd and hugely irresponsible” and rather would like to see it extended “throughout all governance levels of the USU, such as for the Executives of larger Clubs and Societies.”
When asked about whether she felt disadvantaged running for board, Song recognised the additional pressure of having “questions relating to how well I could complete my role … framed in a gendered way.” She also noted “the tendency for students and potential voters to be less likely to listen to what I was advocating for and speaking about because it was not being presented by the same gravitas or charisma that comes coupled with masculinity.” Alexander noted similar situations where wom*n are disadvantaged in regards to on-the-ground campaigning, such as “being intimidated by approaching male presenting students to campaign to them or not feeling as safe unaccompanied on campus late at night.”
Both Song and Alexander thought it particularly necessary to maintain AA in order to promote gender equality in broader society. Song believes that the USU’s positive stance “can set a precedent for other organisations,” Alexander backing up her stance stating that maintaining guaranteed representation is “an amazing grassroots way to change the power imbalances for our generation.”
While the attitudes towards AA for wom*n’s representations were all in strong support, the benefits of developing AA policies for other identities as suggested in Honi Soit for those “who struggle to either be elected or put their hands up for election: people of colour, postgraduate students, people with religious beliefs, engineering students” did not bring such a clear consensus. Song noted that “it could definitely be useful. However, extensive work and research would have to go into determining which identities should or shouldn't be prioritised over others.” Alexander recognised that it could be beneficial to develop policies for other identities, albeit complex “but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.”
Ronan identified a queer affirmative action policy as one “there is definitely room for arguing in favour of,” while she has gathered from conversations she has had “that argument seems to favour a people of colour affirmative action policy more than, say, a postgraduate one.” She also suggested that the time constraints faced by some students, such as those undertaking postgraduate, Engineering or Science degrees, may be addressed by altering the candidacy process as opposed to implementing an AA policy “for example, minimising campaigning time or restricting hours in the day during which campaigning may occur.” Franki acknowledges that “there is scope for extending the AA policy” but would like there to be consideration in identifying whether there is an “engagement problem” or oppression, noting “the difference between an oppressed minority and an underrepresented group.” Franki supported Ronan’s sentiments for alternative pathways to increase engagement such as increasing “consultation with these underrepresented groups, through mechanisms like the Interfaith Council.”
Just as this was about to go to publish, current Honorary Secretary Shannen Potter and President Alisha Aitken-Radburn both got in contact to express their enthusiasm about the freshly elected board members. Aitken-Radburn said “it's fantastic to see five women elected this year, I'm sure they will do a fantastic job and I can't wait to work with them.” Potter predicted “an amazing year for women of the USU,” confident that “each of Board Directors elected will bring a dynamic and diverse perspective to the boardroom.”
Song describes her fellow elected board members as “amazing and capable wom*n … whose hard work truly inspires me.” Alexander affirmed her confidence that the “five wom*n will make incredible contributions.” Ronan says she is “optimistic” and “pleasantly dethroned.” It will certainly be interesting to see how a board with significantly increased representation of wom*n influences the decisions made
Despite my resistance to peer into the weird and wonderful world of student politics, after speaking with such gratuitous candidates, election season doesn’t seem so daunting after all. I’m finishing this article with less hesitancy to write about student politics, a thorough knowledge of available minion gifs, and you, PULP readers, with one final gif. Who knows, you might see me painting one of those darn A-frames someday.
*my not so sincerest apologies to those who dislike minions. It’s a minion world, you’re just living in it.