After years of campaigning from its students, one university is taking steps to ensure it’s queer community feel supported and accepted.
The University of South Australia announced the introduction of the Ally Network this week, a move wholly welcomed by the UniSA Rainbow Club.
The point of the group? To create a culture that respects and celebrates sexual and gender diversity.
President of the UniSA Rainbow Club, Natrydd Sigurthur said it was an indescribable feeling to see the idea come to fruition.
“It took so long to do, and there were so many times we didn’t think it was going to get off the ground,” they said. “I am feeling so much relief. The impetus for this was that over the years students came to us about incidents that happen at the university and we are not professionals. We are just students passionate about queer rights… We needed an ally network.”
Natrydd said they sent a strongly-worded email to a member of staff and got a response the same day, which kickstarted the three-year process.
Brendan Hughes, director of student engagement, said that in 2017 the university was contacted by the UniSA Rainbow Club.
“They approached us through the student engagement unit to discuss several things to help improve approach inclusivity,” he said.
Mr Hughes said a focus of the university is on liaising with students and responding to their feedback and concerns. He added the Ally Network is living proof of this.
The network will work by providing a point of contact for – both staff and students – who identify as LGBTQI to direct them to the university’s processes.
“Allies and campus areas display the pin to show they are someone who can talk or that it is a safe space,” Mr Hughes said.
The university has established a working group – comprised of staff members and student representatives – to develop and oversee the network.
Mr Hughes said a couple of factors show the group is about enacting real change rather than becoming a passive committee.
He added when someone nominates to be an ally, they complete training and then begin the process.
“Not every person who puts their hand up will become an ally… it’s about finding the right people,” Mr Hughes said. “It is about having an ally network that contributes to the university’s efforts to be more gender-diverse inclusive and having more equity and accessibility.”
Mr Hughes said another factor was that by working with the UniSA Rainbow Club to create the network, they received the Athena SWAN Bronze Award from the Science in Australia Gender Equity initiative.
“We had to work for that, and that was a result of this,” he said. “We are still working to receive Gold accreditation. It is very exciting news. The world needs as much good news as you can get these days.”
Natrydd said they have faith the network will be more than a “corporate, box-ticking exercise” as members of the UniSA Rainbow club will ensure to keep it accountable.
“This was a student-led initiative … but we have strong allies at the university,” they said.
“We want to make sure everyone has a positive uni experience.”
Natrydd added that for any students looking to make a change, they have one piece of advice. Sit down with someone and have a conversation.
“Find a staff member within the uni and have a chat with them,” Natrydd said.
“You need to talk to people in power, yelling at them that doesn’t work. It’s about sitting down with people and finding a middle ground.”
By Annie Lewis