Kyol Blakeney was elected President of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Sydney last month and the makeup of the new council promises a fresh approach to student politics.
Blakeney’s election win marks the first Grassroots and non-Labor candidate to run the SRC in 14 years. One of his main aims as president next year is to create more affordable living circumstances for students.
Tertiary students face looming attacks from the government on cost of living and student debt due to proposed fee deregulation legislation. Blakeney said he aims to make living near campus cheaper for students, particularly for Aboriginal students and students coming from regional areas.
“I know that the university has plans to create more houses with subsidies for [people coming from regional areas]," he said. "I’d like to see the subsidies drop further because when you’re making that big move down to Sydney, it’s not livable on $175 to $200 a week.
“Our Housing Officers that are coming into the SRC will hopefully be able to expand places like [student housing co-op] Stucco and also ask the [vice chancellor] to create more of those houses down in Glebe."
Blakeney also has plans to work towards creating a scholarship for students coming from regional areas that is not based on academic performance.
“The alternative entry scheme that I came through was the Gaddigal program, which doesn’t really take your current merit into account but looks at what you can do and what potential you have to succeed. I’ve proven academically that that can happen and a lot of other students have proven that as well,” he said.
As a former Indigenous Officer, Blakeney said he hopes to continue with his work in promoting cultural competency and reliability within the university as well as work with the SRC’s new Indigenous Officer on these tasks.
“I would like a lot of the focus to be on our cultural competency in the university," he said. "So, there’s a lot of people here that can be quite ignorant — not knowing what the significance is of an acknowledgement of country. We don’t fly the Aboriginal flag.”
The campus needs raised cultural awareness so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are not disadvantaged throughout the semester.
“There’s little cultural knowledge of [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander] ceremonies, as well as weddings, funerals and sorry business when it comes down to things that happen throughout the semester.
“A relative might pass away and then [Aboriginal students] have a cultural obligation to fulfill with their families when that happens. For a lot of students, unless their lecturers and their tutors are culturally aware of those kinds of things, it’s very hard to get special consideration for extensions for assignments and allowing for absentees.”
The other change that Blakeney and the SRC will be trying to bring in is an increased level of student participation and use of the SRC’s facilities. He said students should feel they are able to access the facilities including case worker support, challenging marks or even just suggesting ways to improve the university.
“There’s case worker support if you have stress or anxiety or mental health issues. One in three students here suffer from mental health issues and they can range depending on their severity and depending on what’s happening at the time in that student’s life.
“The student representative counsellors are also there for you to go up and talk to them and say this is what we want in the university now and this is what needs to be improved.”
Blakeney, as an activist working on campaigns such as the Redfern Tent Embassy and the successful campaign to keep open the Koori Centre, will be continuing to use the SRC as a platform to encourage student activism.
“I really only got into the SRC at the beginning as a platform for my activism,” he said. "So, I ran on a platform that involves things like direct action to make a public point about things. I’m a very transparent person."