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UniQ President Alex Mark and VUWSA President Jonathan Gee recently met with Pam Thorburn, Director of Student Academic Services, to discuss queer support at the university.
Mark had raised concerns about the lack of queer support at Victoria University in contrast to the comprehensive support provided at Otago and Auckland universities, in an opinion piece in Salient.
Mark wrote in the piece, “there is no structural queer support provided by the university… no network of queer staff and students exists. No mechanism for listing preferred names and pronouns is available. There are no rainbow groups in each faculty. We have no permanent space.”
The piece came in the wake of student backlash against the university for seeking out queer students to take part in a photo shoot, and using their graduation hoods to make a coloured rainbow.
UniQ and the VUWSA Women’s Group heavily criticized the measure as a publicity attempt by the university to appear inclusive, while not providing adequate support to its queer students.
The Women’s Group said that the university “still use trans students’ deadnames on their records which can force these students to out themselves in class,” as an example of their lack of queer support.
They would be willing to reconsider their condemnation of the university’s PR request, “when the university starts giving queer students the support they need, including providing a queer space.”
Mark said that shortly after publishing the opinion piece UniQ was contacted by VUWSA President Jonathan Gee, and they both met with Pam Thorburn.
Mark said Thorburn apologised for the rainbow photoshoot attempt, and listened to their ideas for changes the university could implement “to create the kind of supportive environment that would enable them to have such a graduation photo without being shitty and tokenistic.”
UniQ continues to press for queer networks (rainbow registers that would allow queer students and staff to find each other), structural student support (including safe doctors and counsellors who are proficient and supportive of queer issues), funding for trans name changes (as provided at Auckland University through a dedicated fund), and a permanent queer space on campus.
“We aren’t getting a permanent space any time soon,” Mark said, as the university is pressed for space (anyone else notice this?). Mark is glad that UniQ are being listened to, although they are “at the start of a long road pushing against an institution that doesn’t really see the need for change.”
A follow up meeting between Mark, Thorburn, and Gee has been scheduled for early September to check on what progress has been made.