When given an opportunity to speak in the public sphere, advocacy groups, in particular student organisations, spread as many messages as possible.
A protest against the Victorian College of the Arts merger includes angry activists condemning the Iraq war and Australia’s policies on refugees and gay marriage.
“Days of Action” organised by the National Union of Students to promote higher education reform turn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Likewise, when responding to the violence against Indian students over the past year, the Federation of Indian Students Australia have turned on the media, arguing that “FISA student activists have experienced the Australian media’s indifference for years”.
As a student activist, I can say with confidence that the Australian media does not discriminate when it comes to our plight.
Indifference towards student groups is the norm for the mainstream media and with good reason.
As you can see above, student organisations support and are supported by many individuals with divergent views about many issues.
It’s difficult for students to present a united, easily digestible sound-bite: we’re newcomers to the mainstream media sphere, despite the confidence of growing up with blogs and instant messaging.
Unlike the public, universities regularly have to deal with the melting pot of mixed messages from student organisations.
So where some student activists promote student housing, and funding for youth support workers on campus, others will promote the end of democracy and argue for Trotskyist revolution.
In response to the violence against Indians, however, I’ve found university administrations more than willing to work through the complicated politics of student representative groups to get to the real concerns and problems faced by students.
As an office bearer for NUS, I saw how grievances were dealt with by universities, extending to Universities Australia who came out publicly demanding a national response and advocating for more college-style accommodation with greater pastoral care and more on-campus activities for international students.
This advice is gaining traction with administrators, and co-operative university student housing projects are developing across the country.
Universities Australia also co-ordinated with campuses around the country to adopt an action plan to support student safety, and importantly, enhance programs in health, child care, counselling and employment services.
These are some of the underlying issues that miss out on the attention given to provocative cartoons, among other things.
It’s the universities that are looking to send a message to us, as student activists, to encourage a pro-active role for representing and supporting international students, to enable international students to raise the issues regarding the quality of their student experience.
The involvement of international students at an activist level on campus has been a problem over the past year, with the traditional representative body for international students, the National Liaison Committee, subject to allegations of bullying and illegitimacy.
It is the responsibility of student organisations to promote an inclusive and open environment and realise that angry “kill 10 birds with one stone” protests are not always the most productive means of representation.
Matthew Incerti is the outgoing Ethno-Cultural Officer for the National Union of Students