This year, two candidates are running for the office of the Humanities Rep – Erin Russell (Left Action Party) and Ridley Love (Illuminate Party). So, as part of our election article series, Grok had the opportunity to interview two humanities students from both parties so that students can get to know more about the people that will be leading the guild in 2022!
Running For Humanities Rep
Erin Russell is a socialist and long-time activist, studying history and art theory. This year she is running with Left Action for humanities representative in the Guild Elections.
What has been your most memorable experience during your time at Curtin?
It’d have to be the protest against Islamophobia that myself and other Left Action activists organised after the Christchurch massacre. We decided that fascism and Islamophobia could not go unchallenged and wanted to show solidarity with Muslim students on campus, so we called a protest with the Muslim students’ society. 300 staff and students came out! It was an incredible moment for hundreds of Muslim and non-Muslim students and staff to unite on campus and chant together against fascism and Islamophobia.
How would you define the role of the Humanities Student Rep?
I think the humanities student rep should be an activist position. The humanities department is often the first department to come under attack when the university executive is looking for places to cut costs. Just look at UWA where the VC is gutting the social sciences and wants to cut the entire anthropology degree. The response from activists over there is the perfect example of the sort of role humanities reps should play: a huge campaign with protests of hundreds of staff and students, big campaign meetings, and they’ve got a bunch of media attention.
What differences can you make to the position you are campaigning for this year?
If I won the position I’d be pushing for the resources and outreach of the Guild to go into protest campaigns against the fossil fuel industry who are destroying our planet, against the Liberals’ moves to allow religious schools to sack LGBT staff and students, for the rights of refugees to settle in Australia permanently and to fight the university if they move to cut staff, courses or in-person learning.
Have you ever been involved in the Guild? If yes, how long and what roles have you played? If not, what do you think of the current Guild?
Yes, I was a Guild Councillor in 2018 and an ordinary representation board member in 2019. I played the sort of role Left Action have argued we would play if we manage to get this position. I went into meetings arguing that information about education cuts should be made widespread knowledge and that we should prioritise mobilising and involving students around these issues rather than sucking up to management behind closed doors. I also argued the Guild should make public statements and help to promote social justice campaigns, like organising students around climate change, opposing attacks on LGBTI people, showing solidarity with the mass movement in Hong Kong and taking a stand against Islamophobia after the Christchurch massacre.
What are the most pressing issues in the humanities faculty for the student community? And what are your plans to improve that?
Education quality is an important issue for humanities students given the cuts to staff and units we’ve seen over the last few years. A few years ago, Curtin raised the possibility of removing the history major. My tutors are underpaid and overworked and it hurts us students as well as them. The government also doubled the cost of humanities degrees last year. I think the corporatisation of the university sector has meant the humanities is increasingly coming under attack and I’m sure we’ll have to fight to defend it in years to come.
In most universities, humanities students are not given the same recognition compared to students from other faculties. How do you plan to change this at Curtin if you get elected?
I think a lot of the undervaluing of the humanities is connected to the corporatization of universities. Vice-Chancellors want to prioritise the areas that will draw in corporate funding, like fossil fuel corporations and weapons manufacturers. But I don’t think students and staff in different faculties should see each other as competitors. We should be uniting to fight against the ‘degree factory’ and for free, fully government-funded education where every faculty can explore ideas and do research for the betterment of society.
What are your 2022 goals?
There will be a lot to fight for in 2022 based on looking around the world today. Students and society more broadly are facing climate catastrophe, a health crisis where profits are being put over human lives, and now the government is ramping up the march to war. This year 1 in 5 university staff members were cut! The Liberals continue to carry out all sorts of injustices towards the poor and oppressed, and many university students fit into those categories. So, my 2022 goals are to fight the Vice-Chancellors and the government, whether Liberal or Labor, as they continue to wreak this sort of havoc on us and our planet.
What do you know about Grok and how would you help promote the affairs of Grok in promoting the voices of students?
Grok is the student magazine for Curtin uni. I think it would be great for Grok to cover the debates happening in the Guild throughout the year (depending on a Left Action opposition member being in there) and have lots of coverage of the sorts of campaigns being run on campus with contributions and debate from Guild reps!
If you could be the vice-chancellor for a day, what would you do?
Decrease the pay of the executive board members to the pay of regular staff members, abolish the position of VC, and use all the leftover money to hire more staff.
What are your thoughts on the current Australian politics and government?
I think the way the government is handling the pandemic is criminal. Morrison’s national roadmap for reopening is just a way to reopen businesses so they can get back to making money at the expense of people’s lives. It’s going to lead to hundreds of preventable deaths, it will particularly put children, Indigenous people and people with disabilities in danger, and our health system will not be able to cope. The argument that this is about mental health is completely cynical. These people have never cared about our mental health! They just want us to sacrifice ourselves for the economy. It will be terrible for the mental health of people who get sick, who lose loved ones and who have to work in overflowing hospitals.
What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?
Donald Trump is the hideous product of a system that is generating enormous amounts of wealth inequality, systemic racism, where the profits of fossil fuel companies are prioritised over the planet’s future, and where women and LGBTI people continue to lack several basic rights. His presidential win reflects the level of crisis and political polarisation that exists in the US, which is becoming more of an international trend. I think it also needs to be said that Biden is not the solution to these problems, he’s equally committed to wealth inequality, overseeing a racist police force and prison system, helping fossil fuel corporations, and in many ways, he’s even more of a war hawk.
Running for Guild Councillor
Athina Hilman is a second-year student studying Journalism and PR/Marketing. This year she is running with Illuminate for Guild Councillor in the Guild Elections
How would you define the role of the Humanities Student Rep?
A humanities student rep essentially represents the student’s best interest. They are there as a sounding board for students in the faculty and are the first point of contact for any issues faced by students. They are also the representatives’ students go to when they want to give feedback, whether it’s good or bad.
Why should Curtin students vote for the illuminate candidate for this office?
Illuminate is 100% student-focused. The issues illuminate brings to the forefront are issues that affect students and their education. One of the issues illuminates has been pushing for is the return of the second tuition-free week. There are a majority of students who wanted to see the second-week tuition-free returned, and this is what illuminate is trying to bring back. This also goes with cellopark, as it is proving to be too expensive for students on a budget. We used to have parking permits, which was easier and cheaper in the long run for students. These are issues students are currently facing that have an impact on their education. Isn’t Curtin Guild all about fixing student issues? If so, it’s the same ethos illuminate has with all the issues they’re running for. It’s for the students, by the students, and that’s what illuminate is all about.
What new changes can illuminate make to the position being campaigned for this year?
There’s a strong push to make the second tuition-free week a reality once more, which will help a lot of students in the humanities. A lot of the assignments for humanities students are creatively based and having that second week free gives us time to work on our video/radio/writing/art projects. The more free time we can have to let our creative juices flow, the better. We need a student hub on campus, which is something that all faculties can benefit from. Illuminate also wants to ensure that students who suffer from mental illness and or are having issues with their mental wellbeing can seek help on campus without the dreaded wait. There are so many things illuminate is trying to fix and bring to the campus that I believe will make big strides next year.
Have any illuminate candidates ever been the Humanities rep? If yes, how long and what have they achieved so far? I
I’ve only joined illuminate this year but I know Madison has been the humanities rep for the last year. She’s done a lot of workshops, pushed a lot for event engagement and has consulted with students on issues regarding the faculty as a whole. She’s certainly been very helpful whenever I have had any issues.
What are the most pressing issues in the humanities faculty for the student community? And what are the plans to improve that?
I have co-hosted and co-produced Turning Point, a Curtin podcast dedicated to shining a light on humanities students on campus for the last year. I’ve been able to speak to many students in the humanities faculty about what they have enjoyed about their courses and what they wished people knew about them. One of the things they all talk about is the fact that many people they’ve come across don’t understand the importance of the arts. They talk about how many people don’t take the degree seriously, which is something that does deeply affect them because it could not be further than the truth. When talking to some of them off the record they’ve also talked about the importance of connecting with others and having a sense of belonging but unfortunately, it’s been hard to have a place to do it on campus which Illuminate is trying to rectify.
Firstly, we don’t even have a student hub. I don’t think some facilities are available to use for us (i.e., fridge or microwave) on the southern side of campus. Without these facilities, how can we mingle with those in our faculty? Is the creative quARTer pretty? Sure is, but it’s not indoors- so if it’s raining then we’re screwed.
The humanities side of the campus – there is no sense of belonging. Students in humanities are meant to be the creative ones. Yet, there are no areas where our work is being displayed except for sculptures and paintings by Arts students. Where are the videos made by screen arts students, or the work of journalism students on campus? Where are pictures of testimonials from students around our section of campus, like they do at the business precinct? You know, it’s like someone who just started a job. They decorate their office with photos of people they love and perhaps quotes that inspire them. make the office feel more home-like. This is what we should be doing. We don’t have that and it’s a damn shame. I think that’s something we can work with the university in the long run. We can work together to make this a reality.
Other universities have seen funding for their humanities sector slashed. UWA has seen its anthropology and sociology department practically disband, which has created so many issues for students currently enrolled in that degree. Unfortunately, we live in such a capitalistic society where if something isn’t making x amount of money, it’s deemed worthless. The powers that be put such little emphasis on the arts without realising that culture is what makes everything interesting. That’s why illuminate will continue to fight against the university slashing funding to an arts degree. We’ll always be here to help humanities students know their place, their importance, in our society.
In most universities, humanities students are not given the same recognition compared to students from other faculties. How do you plan to change this at Curtin if illuminate gets elected?
One of the things that I think people hate about politics is all the ugliness that can come with it. I joined Illuminate this year because out of all the parties I could run alongside, they were the ones who would work with students (whether it’s through surveys or in-person catch-ups). For illuminate to continue helping Humanities students, we’re going to start at a grassroots level. You need a faculty rep who is strong, approachable and not alienating. A faculty rep that understands how important the Arts is in society. When you have a strong representative, they should be able to gather a bunch of like-minded people and create a strong caring collective. This is why we want to ensure the person who is elected in the position can do those things. We don’t need someone who is fighting the faculty constantly or refuses to work with the faculty to meet them halfway. We need someone who is a good mediator and that’s one of the illuminates’ strengths. It may not be the most popular opinion socially, according to other candidates, but to collaborate and meet people halfway is not a weakness. We can’t always get what we want, and if we’re constantly battling academics then nothing can get done.
New humanities students have higher HECS debts than those who previously came before them, and the rep needs to understand what a huge load it is. It’s hard to undertake such a high education debt and not be given the same recognition as other students. Fighting social justice issues is courageous and selfless. We will always continue to advocate for that. But we also know that many Curtin students are struggling balancing life, work, social life and university. Many are struggling to get by without also the weight of the world’s issues so we want to help them with their education. Perhaps if they feel more confident with their education, they would be more inclined to come on board and fight for equality for others. But again, we need to fix the student issues first before trying to fix societal issues.
What are your 2022 goals for the Humanities faculty?
I have spent the last two years volunteering my time to ensure that humanities students at Curtin have someone that can help them pursue their creative passions. I’ve been new to Curtin student mentor for first-year students since 2020 and I am also a connect belong mentor for faculty of humanities students. I’m currently the humanities student rep sitting on the MCASi (Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry) school board and I run many workshops with first year and equity students here at Curtin. I feel my experience speaks for itself in terms of student engagement and I’m going to continue to push that next year.
I want to help hold more workshops for students to help them with time management, budget management and many other issues that I know students struggle with. There also needs to be more representation for mature age students, which I want to develop. Many mature age students have returned to campus to pursue their passions and for many, this is their first time in years returning to an academic institution. I want to provide opportunities for them to network and catch up with others because many of them feel that they haven’t been accommodated by the campus.
Mostly I just want to help humanities students find their sense of belonging. If it’s through workshops, a student hub or ensuring that they have easier access to mental health, I’m all for it. It may seem a lot for one person but luckily, illuminate is a student collective dedicated to improving the lives of students on campus. I’m confident the rep, with the help of the team, can help fix that.
What do you know about Grok and how would you help promote the affairs of Grok in promoting the voices of humanities students?
I don’t know much about Grok but would love to support more independent student journalism at Curtin.
How can illuminate make university life better for humanities students?
I think Illuminate policies speak for itself and what I like about illuminate is how their platform issues are here to help ALL students achieve their best results. Some of our policies include returning the second free tuition week. That is important because based on the data gathered by illuminate last year, a majority of students on campus want their student free tuition back. Humanities students, in particular, find this helpful because they’re able to put more finishing touches on their assignments that sometimes have complicated written, visual, and audio components. Many find it difficult to power through uni work without having that break to re-energise. Illuminate will also push to bring a student hub on campus which will help all students, not just humanities students, find their place of belonging on campus.
Illuminate wants to re-evaluate how student wellbeing is being run on campus. They’re pushing to get rid of waiting triage times for counselling, many students need access to mental health help especially after what we’ve experienced with COVID19. During my volunteering work for the faculty of humanities, I’ve come across so many students who were in desperate need of mental health help or just some guidance to better wellbeing. I’m glad this is something Illuminate will fight for next year, so we can ensure our most creative students are given the support they need to continue producing inspiring artwork.
This article is part of a Grok article series for the Guild Election this year.
Learn more about the elections