By Laura Howden
*Trigger Warnings: this article contains a brief mention of rape and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised if sensitive to content of this nature.*
Two undergraduate students at the April 18 rally on UQ’s St Lucia campus, preparing to lead the march. (Photo captured by Laura Howden.)
“When Gender Studies is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” The chant ripples through the crowd as we march across the St Lucia campus of The University of Queensland (UQ); a formidable assembly of staff and students armed with megaphones, banners and copies of an online petition that amassed some 836 signatures of support. Our final destination is the UQ senate meeting, at which representatives from UQ’s Gender Studies Teaching Committee hope to present evidence against the institution’s decision to abolish the major. Close to a dozen police officers await our arrival at the foot of the building. Requests to allow a delegation from our ranks to enter the senate are refused but, at the last, they allow a copy of the petition and two other documents to be handed through the line of officers and tabled by the board. When we finally disperse the protestors’ anger and frustration is palpable, and it is clear that this issue is a long way away from reaching any kind of resolution.
The April 18 rally was organised in response to an announcement by the university’s Executive Arts Dean, Fred D’Agostino, that as of 2014 Gender Studies would no longer be offered as a choice of major for undergraduate students (with existing students given the option to continue on until 2018). One week prior to the protest event, Mr D’Agostino was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying he “was not aware” of any complaints from undergraduate students – this in spite of the vocal ‘Save Gender Studies’ student collective on campus, which held its first meeting of the year on March 11.
But it has not just been local students standing up and speaking out against the cuts. Director of Gender Studies at Melbourne University, Professor Jeanette Hoorn, spoke both at the rally and at an earlier forum alongside members of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). She noted in each of her talks that UQ would now be the only GO8 university in Australia not to offer a gender or women’s studies program, and urged UQ administrators to recognise its significance beyond the classroom. “I believe you cannot do any gender studies in Iran these days,” Professor Hoorn said at the rally. “It’s a shame you can’t do much in Queensland either.”