Today is a good day. Today the University of Canterbury’s Engineering Society and the UCSA President, Sarah Platt, delivered public apologies and commitments to make changes that do not encourage offensiveness, divisiveness and bigotry. Beyond this, the University of Canterbury’s Vice Chancellor, Rod Carr, also offered an important statement. In particular, he says:
“…as a university community we have not yet fully developed the sensitivity and empathy which are the hallmarks of the open, inclusive, responsive, diverse campus we aspire to be, and as Vice-Chancellor for the last five years, I apologise for those shortcomings and the hurt felt by a number of our staff and students as a consequence.”
What is missing from the statements is a strong moral condemnation of the behaviour and, discussions of how to make things right for those affected. However, in lieu of this, and as cheesy as it sounds, I hope this is a time for fighting to stop and healing to begin. Some of the right words have been said and, as an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that all the right action will follow.
This isn’t the end of what will be an ongoing programme to ensure all students feel included and their voices heard. There will always be idiots out there who think it’s funny/cool/popular to purposefully hurt others. Indeed, I have a PhD student starting soon who is looking specifically at online Trolling behaviour. We may never completely be free from this, but as long as it is not encouraged or tolerated from our student bodies and leaders then we can all hope for an improvement on campus and beyond.
This, in my mind, is a victory for me and the hundreds who have voiced their support for what was a simple gesture. This doesn’t mean it has been plain sailing. Many people have been hurt in the aftermath. My friends have been worried for me – I’ve received some ‘lovely’ messages – people have been focusing on me rather than celebrating Alex Tan (University-wide Lecturer of the Year) or all the other award winners on the night – I have taken up people’s time and, more than anything, I have taken up people’s energy. None of which was intended and I apologise for this. I am, however, still glad that I took a stand because, as today shows, simple people can make simple gestures that have massive effects.
Whoever you are; however you see yourself; whatever you believe in; whomever you love; whatever your ability, you have the right to dignity, love and acceptance. It’ll take time, but we are well on the way.
Students: Focus on your studies – it’s time to kick ass in your exams.
ENSOC Administrators and Members: Well done for taking a stand – I never intended to implicate all of you in the actions and mistakes of a few. I apologise if that’s how it was received and I’ll do my best not to make the same mistake again.
UCSA and Sarah Platt in particular: You have shown courage in face of a situation that you were unlikely ever expecting. Mistakes were made, but by owning up to them and committing to represent everyone you have shown mana beyond your years.
Never be afraid to stand for what you truly believe is right. If you’re unsure, do as I did and run it past a few people smarter than you are. Have them critique you. Have them argue with you and, if after all that, you still feel strongly about it, then stand up and have your voice heard.
I want to re-iterate, again, that despite receiving a lot of love after returning my award I was doing so because it was what I felt was right – I was not representing any club or any society or voicing others’ opinions. No one approached me prior to returning my award. But, I should give a shoutout to those in FEMSOC who started the conversation. You took the flak that allowed me to speak up. This was never meant to be an ENSOC vs FEMSOC issue – I hope you are all encouraged by the result.