Good Deed Offends16 May 2016
An event aimed at sharing positive and inclusive messages of diversity was held on Thursday 14 April in response to the spread of Islamophobic messages across campus in the previous week. Yet defacement of an ANZAC memorial has mired the event in controversy.
Islamophobic phrases such as “Ban All Mosques” were found written in chalk across campus on the morning of 8 April. The #ChalkForDiversity campaign sought to counter the previous week’s hate speech with chalk messages celebrating multiculturalism written by students, facilitated by stations set up at various locations around the university. The event followed the success of Respect Week in Week Four and encouraged students to “colour the campus” in celebration of student diversity.
However, the decision of some students to write on the base of the ANZAC Cenotaph outside the Old Arts precinct has caused backlash, with complaints filed to the University and UMSU.
Complainants argue the chalk messages were offensive to Australians with a military service background and called upon the University and UMSU to publicly condemn the actions.
The official response from UMSU states that students were not seen to have engaged in activities that were “treasonous”, or were deliberately discriminatory to the memory of the ANZACs.
However, complainants claimed that UMSU was effectively endorsing the defacement of the war memorial by funding the event and not publicly condemning the text. Some urged for punitive action to be taken against students involved and an official apology to be issued to the student community.
A motion for UMSU to donate to ANZAC charities was moved at a Students’ Council meeting on 21 April as a gesture of support for the ANZAC movement. Two donations of $100 each were sent to Legacy Australia and the Phoenix Australia Centre for Post-Traumatic Stress in order to give direct support to victims of conflict.
UMSU General Secretary James Bashford says the Union’s decision to donate money to charities is not a consequence of the complaints issued to the University.
“I don’t think it was particularly related. This is a motion that comes up every year,” Bashford said.
Bashford stood by the event and UMSU’s efforts to counter Islamophobic sentiment on campus.
“This just reinforces the message we were putting out there, that this is a university community that embraces diversity.”