Representing Race

16 May 2016

Constitutional changes have been endorsed by the governing body of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) to establish a department aimed at representing students of colour on campus.

In early 2016, the UMSU Students’ Council passed funding for a People of Colour Collective at the University. The People of Colour Collective’s aim has been to engage students of colour and ensure their interests are represented and advocated throughout the University. Currently there are talks which could conclude with the opening of a permanent People of Colour Department within UMSU.

In order for the People of Colour Department to be established there will need to be a Special General Meeting held, at which point students will vote whether to amend the constitution to incorporate the Department. Due to the lack of an existing autonomous department, the Welfare Department has so far been pivotal in establishing the collective. However, if the motion is carried following a student vote then it will become an autonomous and permanent department within the Union. According to the definition put forward at Students’ Council, ‘people of colour’ refers to “people who identify as African, Asian, Pacific Islander, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Latinx, Arab, Multiracial or other non-­white background”.

As outlined in the proposed constitution, it is hoped that having a department for People of Colour will actively increase visibility and awareness about issues faced by students of colour. If the department is successfully established, the People of Colour Students’ Representative on Students’ Council must also identify as a person of colour.

With multiple Departments that are dedicated to providing similar services for all, some attendees at Students’ Council expressed concerns over whether or not this is simply a ‘token’ department. However, others argued that race can play a large part in a student’s life and many students could benefit from the continued advancement of the collective into a department. “Increasing the representation of people of colour on campus has been incredibly important in the last two months,” said UMSU President Tyson Holloway­Clarke, referring to recent hate-inciting chalkings on campus.

“This is absolutely an area for growth within the organisation and an opportunity to increase our capacity to represent students”.

The proposed changes were taken to a constitutional working group in which students discussed the establishment of the department for the near future. However, a student vote will be vital for whether the People of Colour Department is established.

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