Tharunka spoke to UNSW’s candidates for Students with Disabilities Officer, Conroy Blood, who represents Left Action, and the joint candidacy of Geoffrey Zhen and Timothy To, who represent Revive and will share the role if elected.
Blood, a member of the NSW Greens, is a newcomer to student politics at UNSW, and says he hopes hoping to implement six key policies to improve quality of life for students with disabilities at the university.
- Full implementation of the recommendations made by the Disability in Higher Education Report, which was released in November 2022
- Affordable and non-privatised student housing, with a mandated minimum 20% of rooms being wheelchair accessible.
- Industry-specific peer mentoring for disabled students by disabled professionals.
- Amplification of university services to the disabled student community with a focus on ease of access.
- Introduction of undergraduate education about disability policy and advocacy
- A buggy service for students that operates between upper and lower campus.
In order to achieve these policies, Blood aims to “organise meetings, create a detailed agenda and make a pitch in the way that is most likely [to encourage] the University to go towards these things.”
In the wider scope of student politics at UNSW, Blood has expressed that he feels there is a disconnect between the SRC and the student body that it represents.
“There is a perception, and rightfully so, that some people go on the SRC to use it to platform themselves into parliament or some sort of political job,” he says.
“To make the SRC more relevant, it needs to focus on issues that are materially relevant to students, such as the cost-of-living crisis.
“The way forward is to make clear what’s from the SRC, and to make sure that SRC policy is relevant to the lives of students.”
Timothy To is the current Students with Disabilities Officer, and he was appointed to the role earlier this year after the position was made vacant.
To, along with his running mate Geoffrey Zhen, are representing Revive, and aim to share the responsibilities of the role.
“It’s good to have another person’s perspective in a role,” he told Tharunka.
“Working in that position by yourself can get overwhelming at times because you’re balancing other responsibilities.”
To’s main running points include:
- Improving the Equitable Learning Service through streamlining of the application process.
- Introducing a long-term counselling service for students beyond the standard 6 maximum sessions that most students receive before being transferred to another counsellor.
When asked by Tharunka about student perceptions of the SRC, To agreed that the relationship needed to improve.
“A direct line of communication with the rest of the student cohort through outreach events and programs [may help students] get informed about the ins and outs of what it’s like to represent students of your background.
“I would ensure that there is a clear line of communication and access to information through meeting minutes happens as quickly as possible.”
Geoffrey Zhen, a second year Arts/Law student, is a newcomer to student leadership at UNSW In his interview with Tharunka, he expressed his wish for the Disabilities Collective to present a strong voice for advocacy.
“It’s really important that students who want to see change in the university actually get it, and it’s also important that we have strong advocates on the SRC to really push the envelope, and push university management to actually achieve outcomes.”
Zhen’s top priorities include:
- Ensuring awareness of disabilities services group on campus. To expressed that there is a lack of understanding and awareness about the various support services and groups available for disabled people on campus.
- Streamlining of the Equitable Learning Program application process, which he currently believes gets bogged down in ‘bureaucratic hiccups.’
- Ensuring that people shouldn’t have to renew their ELP every term.
“I’ve had my ELP for two years now … nothing changes in the ELP from term to term, but if I don’t do that process, then my ELP is not renewed.
“For a lot of students, when you’re going through things, that might fall through the cracks [and] there doesn’t seem to be a genuinely good reason for this process.”
Zhen believes that the barrier between the SRC and the community that it represents can be fixed with the right amount of time, effort, and energy.
“UNSW has proven that it has the ability to [raise awareness] for a range of other things.”
“Seeing physical change definitely helps. Seeing physical items that you can look at and point at … that’s what a lot of students might be able to relate to.”
When asked about whether the University really cared about its students, Zhen had this to say:
“I really do think that the university has the best intentions of students at heart, but sometimes outcomes fall short, and that’s where the voice of students actually get to have that input.
“We have a plan for realistic change, and we have a plan that is going to make concrete changes for you that you are going to see.”