I live in a university town – in fact Dunedin’s uni is the oldest in New Zealand. So on the 5th of July (during the middle of school holidays) the executive decided to hold a referendum to see if students wanted to downsize their student association (OUSA) executive.
The argument goes is that the student association is big business – millions of dollars to manage – and with 17 people on the executive it’s too “dysfunctional”. So they want to cut it down.
Instead of offering students a choice of models of how a downsized exec might look they picked one model and asked students to vote on it. In this model the exec gets cut from 17 members down to 10. A more “manageable” number.
In this model we lose the Women’s Rep, Pacific Island Rep, and Queer Rep, and the Maori Rep’s role changes significantly. In conclusion we lose representation for already vulnerable, disenfranchised groups.
Through a series of incredibly bias posters, and manipulation of student apathy, the referendum passed. Albeit by a mere 78 votes.
This would be somewhat ok if OUSA really was merely a business. If it was only about managing assets, putting on shows and making money, money, money.
But, it’s not.
OUSA is responsible for representation, for student welfare, and for making political noise. It’s the group of young leaders that we go to: it is our voice for systemic change within the university, within the city and to the big fella’s in the government; it provides us with advocacy and support spaces; it campaigns for our rights; it represents us in all our diversity.
And we’ve just lost the voice, representation and visibility for Women, Pacific Islanders and Queer people.