<p>The University of Melbourne’s Newman College has taken steps towards greater inclusivity of its queer students, with efforts being made to improve their wellbeing and representation.The Dean of Newman, Genevieve Leach, has been a resident counsellor at the college for over a year, and oversaw the formation of a queer group for Newman students. She was also involved in updating the college’s student conduct policy.</p>
Content warning: homophobia
The University of Melbourne’s Newman College has taken steps towards greater inclusivity of its queer students, with efforts being made to improve their wellbeing and representation.
The Dean of Newman, Genevieve Leach, has been a resident counsellor at the college for over a year, and oversaw the formation of a queer group for Newman students. She was also involved in updating the college’s student conduct policy.
“I’ve been very much involved in a revamp of what used to be called the Fair Treatment Policy,” she said.
The new policy, referred to as the Sexual Misconduct Prevention, Advice and Advocacy, Fair Treatment, Equality and Equity (SAFE) policy, outlines the college’s expectations of students and staff members, as well as proposing measures to effectively prevent and respond to “Discrimination, Bullying, Victimisation, Serious Misconduct and Criminal Behaviour connected with the Colleges”.
The policy came into effect on February 19, shortly after the University of Melbourne’s colleges conducted a review into their misconduct policy in October last year. The SAFE policy is in accordance with Recommendation 4 of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Report on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at Australian Universities (2017).
The president of the Newman College Students’ Club William Kabira said that Dean Leach “is a staunch supporter of the LGBTQ community,” and has “put effort into advocating Newman as being a safe space for Queer students.”
“There are students who she has helped this semester to ‘come out’,” he also said.
President Kabira said there are other supports and events that have been arranged for queer students at Newman, including movie nights, and an “intercollegiate queer picnic [which] was also well attended by members of the LGBTQ community at Newman.”
As for progress among the rest of the colleges, an intercollegiate “Queers of the Colleges” group has been developed, which is made up of queer representatives from the University’s colleges.
Kabira said the intercollegiate college community is made up of “some colleges that have strong, active queer support networks and others, like us, who have only recently established it.”
Dean Leach did not know why Newman was one of the later colleges to have an intercollegiate queer representative, but she is “very much for making Newman as queer-friendly as possible.”
“We plan on introducing a second official queer representative so we have one male and one female queer rep next semester. A date has also been set for a diversity dinner which is being financed and supported by both the students club and the administration of the college,” Kabira said.
Despite the efforts of Dean Leach and her colleagues, there have been rare cases of homophobia at the college. In January, a Newman student was accused of comparing a queer pride march to a far-right Nazi event.
The event page for the Midsumma Pride March was shared on ‘The Quad’, a Facebook group for undergraduates at the college. An argument ensued after a student questioned whether it was appropriate to publicise a queer march in their discussion group.
Farrago contacted the student who made the comments, who said, “I stated that ‘I compared a far right nazi event to ALL events.’ Everything that is an event is comparable with one other in the sense that they are all events. A similarity between a ‘far right nazi event’ and a ‘pride march’ is that they are both events.”
“I am personally against the public parading of sexuality and some of the goals of the pride march I disagree with,” they also said.
The former student did not wish to explain why they were against the public parading of sexuality, nor elaborate on which goals of the pride march they disagreed with.
The Newman Students’ Club General Committee runs the Facebook group. Their decision to delete the comments and remove the responsible student from the group drew criticism from some students, as well as the original commenter, who accused the student moderators of restricting their freedom of speech.
The Students’ Club General Committee was contacted for comment. They responded with a joint statement, saying that they “removed the individual from ‘The Quad’ Facebook page as soon as he made the post, because he breached SAFE guidelines.”
“Based on student feedback after the aforementioned post, the 2019 Students Club page was created with specific criteria for online conduct, and if any posts violate our guidelines, the post will be removed,” the General Committee said.
Dean Leach said that the student who made the comments “Withdrew from Newman in June 2018 because they weren’t enjoying their studies.”
Asked what penalty would have been handed down to the student, Dean Leach said, “It would be hard to say… since the student is no longer at Newman we cannot penalise him because it falls out of our jurisdiction.”
Dean Leach and the General Committee insist that the student’s comments were an isolated incident. “I’ve only been here 12 months,” Dean Leach said. In that time, there have been “no other online cases that have had penalties.”
In the event there were other incidents in the future, Dean Leach said, “it would not be taken lightly” by Newman’s administration.
Full statement from the Newman Students’ Club General Committee below:
- The relevant Facebook page is administered by the Students Club, not the College administration.
- Hence, action was taken by the Students Club General Committee. As students felt the issue was dealt with, no complaint was made to Newman College administration.
- In the event that a formal complaint is made to the Newman College administration, we have mediation processes. Last year, as we have for many years, the College has operated under the Fair Treatment Policy, an intercollegiate policy designed to create processes for dealing with inappropriate actions and behaviours such as bullying, harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct.
- This Policy has been replaced with a far more comprehensive SAFE Program, which has two policies. These are the Discrimination, Bullying & Victimisation Policy and the Sexual Misconduct Policy & Procedures. The Dean of our College, Genevieve Leach strongly supported this change. The Dean of our College is our SAFE Co-ordinator.
- In order to be enrolled at the College, students must accept and sign the SAFE Policy, which clearly states unacceptable behaviours. This includes the behaviours presented by the individual’s post, and because of this the post was deleted promptly.
- Current members of the General Committee removed the individual from ‘The Quad’ Facebook page as soon as he made the post, because he breached SAFE guidelines.
- This year, prior to being contacted by Farrago, and based on student feedback after the aforementioned post, the 2019 Students Club page was created with specific criteria for online conduct, and if any posts violate our guidelines, the post will be removed.
- The Facebook page in question is a channel with a participatory nature from all students and is used to boost cultural, sporting, and other opportunities. Or usually, ‘does anyone wanna go to Smiley’s for pizza?’ is a frequent post.
- If you want to gauge LGBTQ student life at Newman, we have a strong Diversity Committee filled with wonderful people, including our Intercollegiate Queer Representative.
- On behalf of the Students Club, and the Diversity Committee, we believe that an article published on the evidence of one individual’s homophobia and presenting it as symptomatic of the culture here will make queer students or students questioning their identity, who are new to the college, feel falsely unsafe. The safety of our students is of utmost importance to us and we would appreciate this shared concern.