Mediawatch | John Sandeman
Sometimes the old way of getting news, on newsprint, allows for stories to smash into each other on the page. Sometimes it is deliberate. And page ten of today’s Weekend Australian is a good example I suspect of two stories deserving to be placed right next to each other.
We’ll start with the story that spills onto page ten from the from page: “Catholic club told faith’s academic” which reveals that the Catholic Club at the University of Sydney is also the victim of an attempted ban by the University of Sydney Union (USU) along with the Evangelical Union: both groups have been told that asking members to sent to a faith statement is discriminatory and that they will be deregistered- and miss out on access to USU facilities. The Catholic Club has been told it will miss out on funding – the Evangelical Union, Eternity understands has routinely knocked back funding.
The other half of this deliberate juxtaposition is another instalment in a Queensland University of Technology saga, where students are being sued in a “racial vilification row”, following their Facebook comments after being asked to leave a computer centre known as the “Oodgeroo Unit” set aside for indigenous students.
In Queensland the university authorities are arguing in favour of a “culturally safe space”, a computer lab set aside for students with a particular racial background. The Queensland University of Technology’s director of equity, Mary Kelly’s sworn affidavit is reported in The Weekend Australian:
“I would not expect to see a male or non-breastfeeding woman in the private room set aside for breastfeeding, unless by invitation, and nor would I expect to see non-religious students in the prayer room.
“For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there is a particular and specific historical dimension arising from the colonisation of Australia without a treaty, resulting in the differential and negative treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders since that time.
“Aspects of the differential and negative treatment include the dispossession of indigenous people from their land, policies or practices of annihilation and assimilation, the forced relocation of groups, the forced removal of children from their families and the use of indigenous labour without payment or proper payment.
“Thus, having a culturally safe space for indigenous students … is considered to be an important element.”
North of the Tweed, providing a space for the use of particular cultural, religious, even gender based groups is supported by a university director of equity.
Over the border, the USU is asserting that to allow student groups to self identify as having a particular religious identity, as a means to use a space on campus, is rejected as being discriminatory.
On the page ten spill of The Australian’s “Catholic club told faith’s academic” story, the response of the Sydney Uni Muslim Club is revealed by Caroline Overington’s in depth reporting. It seems they wish they had taken the same strong stand as the Catholic Club and the Evangelical Union. SU Muslim Society President Shahad Nomani told Overington “We have been going the line saying that you don’t have to be Muslim to join our executive, but it is actually ridiculous. All members of our executive are Muslim but we are not allowed to say they must be Muslim.”