Radical Education Week Recap

17 June 2019

The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Environment Collective held their third successive Radical Education Week during Week 7, from April 15 to 18. The week was a cross-campus event exploring radical ideas about education within and beyond the classroom.

The UMSU Environment Collective conducted one- hour workshops at the Rad Ed Hub on South Lawn throughout the week. They also invited UMSU’s Queer and People of Colour Departments, and external activist groups such as Earthworker to run workshops around the theme of radical education.

“Grassroots activism at the University of Melbourne is very much alive and kicking,” said UMSU Environment Office Bearer (OB), Will Ross. “This is a week where we come together.”

He identified promoting student discussion in tutorials and encouraging tutors’ engagement with students as two key ideas that emerged from the workshops.

Lucy Turton, 2018 Environment OB, said that there was also a strong theme of environment and sustainability throughout the week, headlined by the Student Sustainability Forum on April 16.

Turton was a panellist on the forum, which brought students and staff together to discuss issues such as divestment, waste management, and sustainability.

Sue Hopkins, Sustainability Engagement Coordinator at the University, said that waste emerged as one of the most important issues for students in last year’s Sustainability Survey.

She pointed to the plate reuse service at the Wednesday Farmers’ Market as a positive sustainability initiative, preventing thousands of single-use plastics and paper plates from being thrown away on campus. The program was set up by the student-led organisation Fair Food Challenge through a Student Services and Amenities Fee grant, allowing them to buy bowls and plates for wash and reuse at the market.

Hopkins described the program as a trailblazer for the new dishwasher hub in Union House. An old tenancy has been refurbished to house the hub, which will provide a number of sustainable tableware options for tenants, as well as pick-up and drop-off stations for students using the tableware.

“No other university has a reuse scheme like this on their campus,” Hopkins said. “They’re all very green with envy.”

Turton and Ross agreed that there have been many positive initiatives developed on campus in recent years, especially in Union House.

“We’ve got a mug wall, which is fantastic,” Ross said. “If you forget your keep-cup, it’s no big deal—you can get a mug … and then just pop it on top of one of the bins and it gets washed.”

He said that the sustainable campus team have a strong collaborative relationship when it comes to waste, but added that messages from students do not always cut through to the University.

“To actually feel listened to is very rare,” Ross said.

Turton echoed Ross, describing the University’s low student satisfaction ratings compared to other Australian universities as a symptom of its poor engagement with students. She wants to see this collaborative mindset extended to other areas of University policy, including curriculum and divestment from fossil fuels and weapons manufacturers.

The University of Melbourne’s $2.4 billion investment portfolio is managed by the Victorian Fund Management Corporation (VMFC). Turton said that the University’s Sustainable Investment Framework (SIF) came about after five years of students relentlessly campaigning for the University to re-evaluate where its funds were invested.

The SIF assesses whether the VMFC are factoring climate change into their investment decisions on a case- by-case basis.

However, an audience member at the forum said that the SIF misses the point of divestment by “stating [climate change] as a risk problem rather than a social responsibility.”

Ross said that Rad Ed Week is all about solving local issues such as waste on campus, while fighting for larger reforms, such as divestment.
The week did, however, draw the attention of conservative media, with commentator Andrew Bolt claiming that a “ban on ‘white males’ speaking during tutorials” was suggested during the workshops.

Ross dismissed the claims as unfounded, adding that “The ideas that we’d actually prefer people engage with weren’t mentioned in the article.”

He urged students and critics alike to engage with Rad Ed Week in the future. “We will smack ourselves in the middle of South Lawn and make it bigger and more visible next year.”

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