It might surprise some of you to know that I was never the best student. I have been educated in the under resourced public sector, primarily in the poorest suburbs of Adelaide, and this comes with a set of challenges that are difficult to understand unless you share my experiences. I was sometimes a difficult student if I was bored or had missed some of the fundamental lessons in classes such as Maths. I still do not know when to laugh when my academic friends tell jokes about grammar and punctuation.
After moving to a small school in Country South Australia I began to benefit from smaller class sizes and thrived in my phone lessons, especially Women’s Studies. I received some of my best grades in this topic and applied what I had been learning in every other subject. I had always wanted to go to university and had been set on attending the University of Adelaide. However, when I attended open days at each of the three South Australian universities I felt sense of belonging that drove my decision to attend Flinders University instead. My decision was set in stone once I realised that I could continue studying my favourite subject, Women’s Studies.
I distinctly remember how excited I was to attend my Women’s Studies classes because of how inspiring and stimulating they were. I had finally found a way to frame my experiences in a way that made sense. I had always been a feminist, I just didn’t have the language to explain it. I understood that my experiences with domestic and sexual violence were common and gendered. I realised that I could spend my life doing something about the issues that had structured my life. I was inspired by the work that my teachers were doing and I began to see it as a possibility for me. My teachers helped me to see this possibility in myself and to realise my potential. I saw that I could defy the expectations for someone like me and succeed. I applied for Honours and began the path to a PhD.
I was fortunate enough to have a supervisor who understood where I came from, where I was going, and could see possibilities for me that I had never even dared to imagine. My supervisor, Heather Brook, would push me to do my best, backed up by her unwavering support and incredible expertise. Heather is the kind of academic who can change the world through teaching, research, and community work. She made me believe that I could be that too.
Flinders University has since decided that Heather is not the sort of academic that they want to be a part of their institution into the future and have made her position redundant. Heather and a long list of other academics who embody the community-minded, social justice, forward thinking spirit that Flinders has become known for will no longer be a part of the university once the latest restructure comes into place at the end of January. I am saddened at the thought that other students from backgrounds like mine will not have access to the inspiring teachers that I did and will not be supported to see the same potential in themselves and possibilities that I was afforded.
Since Women’s Studies was established at Flinders University, more than 30 years ago, it has pioneered intersectional feminist research that has produced innovative work across gender, class, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and global location. This work has filtered through to local and international governments through the community service and consultancy work that the dedicated staff take on. This discipline is an incredible example of academic work that impacts far beyond the classroom, like it has for me. The proposed plan to remove 2 of the 3 existing positions in Women’s Studies at Flinders University can only downgrade the potential for Women’s Studies to continue impacting on students like me through teaching and research.
The unique qualities that Flinders University can demonstrate stem from its history as an institution with a focus on social justice. This focus is at the core of its local and global reputation and must be protected and maintained into the future. The strength of institutions is in its people and Flinders University is recognised for its forward thinking, world leading, change making academics and students. I am worried about what the future would look like without disciplines like Women’s Studies, people like Heather Brook, and other academics who inspire people everyday.
Find out more about the restructure and the movement to Support Women’s Studies at Flinders by reading any of the linked coverage and following Say NO to Flinders ‘Academic Restructuring’ and Support Women’s Studies at Flinders University on Facebook.