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May 1, 2017 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Fear Not!

After more than two years of helping to run UniQ Victoria, we know all too well the queer fear the anonymous writer spoke of in Issue 04 of Salient. Both coming from universities that had considerably more robust queer support structures in place, we transferred to Vic in 2014/2015 and were both shocked by how much work there was to be done on both a cultural and an institutional level.

The silver lining to this scenario? We came in with a pretty good idea of what needed to be done.

Among the first things we did was to move the lunch space to a regularly booked room, both for privacy’s sake and for the ability to hold structured discussions (which were staples at both of our previous universities). Attendance skyrocketed from a handful of regulars to dozens, and through them we were able to start figuring out the collective needs of the rainbow community at Vic.

We discovered early on, for instance, that legal names were used on student rolls despite the existing “nickname” option that was in the enrolment system at the time. This was dangerous for trans students because of its capacity to out them to entire classrooms; for most, legal names are “deadnames” — that is, they are names that are no longer used because they no longer match a trans person’s gender identity.

Following well over a year of navigating bureaucratic red tape on this issue, we actually won. The enrolment system now asks for “preferred” names, which come up on student rolls for lectures and tutorials instead of legal names. We’re still working out the kinks, but it is a huge improvement from the constant risk of being outed that existed before.

Internally, we have also incorporated Te Tiriti o Waitangi into UniQ’s constitution at the 2016 AGM where no acknowledgment existed prior, mandating acknowledgment of tino rangatiratanga by the organisation as a whole and requiring (at a minimum) basic competency in tikanga Māori from UniQ executives.

Meanwhile, expediting any future successes on the university level is the fact that for the first time in history, queer students are recognised on VUW’s Equity Strategic Plan — the foundational document for university-provided support.  Several key goals have been set for the university on our behalf as a result, such as establishing a rainbow network for staff and students, founding a permanent queer space on campus, and generally increasing the visibility and support available to queer students at VUW.

UniQ has also since joined a dialogue with Mauri Ora to help reform its usage of sex and gender in their records and practice, the availability and accessibility of its services to queer and trans students, and to improve education and understanding from medical staff on queer and trans issues that may arise when students seek medical care.

So if you read that column and felt a little pang of familiarity — fear not! There’s been lots in the works and more on the horizon. UniQ’s got your back.

— Alex Mark and Dani Pickering, UniQ Victoria co-presidents


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