RMIT University's Student Wellbeing and Inclusion team.
Riley Edwards, Advisor, Diversity and Inclusion
While research and statistics indicate that participation and achievement from students of diverse genders, sexes and sexualites (DGSS) is increasing, the number of students engaging with University services and events is still significantly lower than heterosexual and cisgendered students.
To enhance inclusion for DGSS students, since 2016 RMIT has implemented its DGSS Action Plan, to:
RMIT has been recognised for its whole-of-university commitments and achievements for students and staff, as highest-ranked university in the Pride in Diversity Index in 2018. Proudly RMIT University has been awarded Gold Employer status in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) for a second year in 2019.
In 2019 and just the last five months, RMIT has signalled support to prospective staff and students by again participating in Midsumma Carnival and Parade. We have also sponsored and partnered with the Melbourne Queer Film Festival to collaborate on a special film screening celebrating local early career Australian filmmakers and Minus18 to support their annual Queer Formal attracting up to 500 young people and sharing the message that RMIT is a welcome and safe place to study.
As an example of our work at RMIT, in May 2019 we celebrated Pride Week. When it comes to celebrating pride in DGSS, the most well known approach is to create a space for members of this community, but it seems this is not enough and to remove further barriers, DGSS events must consider the experience of the ally. This was the focus of Pride Week in 2019 and through shared experience between allies and members of the DGSS community, we saw strength in representation, collaborations leading to shared accomplishments and engagement from new audiences. Here we reflect briefly on just four of the nineteen programmed events.
Pride Week launched with a Welcome Morning Tea to formally acknowledge the University’s commitment to DGSS inclusion. The space was draped in rainbows and pride merchandise, overflowed with both staff and students all in attendance for one common thread, to share a message of welcome. Events such as this may be simple, but they are catalysts for conversations and growing visibility of underrepresented communities.
On Tuesday, the Brunswick campus brought together some local designers to discuss The End of Gender in Fashion and how defying conventions can influence the work of our early career designers. Shifting from the mindset of the customer to express feelings through shapes and push the boundaries of design considerations. In this space, we saw students and staff from our fashion school releasing their boundaries, one tutor announcing that their next assessment will focus on non-binary patterns. Shaping the future learning of prospective students.
Midweek we collaborated with Red Pocket Press on a zine workshop from a QTIPoC (Queer Trans Intersex People of Colour - pronounced cutie-pock) lens where attendees worked together to make their own zines about their favourite foods. Fortuitously all participants identified as people of colour confirming that there is a need for more safe spaces for people of colour to challenge their unique cultural expectations of what it means to be a DGSS person. We are grateful that our pride is intersectional and that we were able to make space for this workshop.
On Thursday our Pride Week After Party signalled inclusion in a holistic style through sports and games. Engaging with our clubs and societies we provided opportunities for staff and students to ‘have a go’ in a round-robin format of basketball, volleyball and futsal. Sports spaces can be complex playgrounds for DGSS people and in facilitating an inclusive space for this activity, we aimed to reconceptualize the relationship between sports, gender identity and body image.
As is with many of our events, our goal for Pride Week was to bring allies and DGSS folk together in a celebration of diversity, to increase participation and enable individuals to feel comfortable bringing their true selves to work and study. The events discussed affirmed a need for safe spaces, the positive impact of signaling support, the growth of engagement and increasing commitment from both students and staff across the University.