By Michael Wright:
Note: This article deals with transphobia, violence and bullying. It also contains expletives.
Update (18/04/17): W’SUP has since learned that the university has decided to step in. CLV will now allow both Harry and Charlie to end their contracts.
Transgender students at Western Sydney University’s Hawkesbury campus believe that it’s only a matter of time before they are physically assaulted by their peers.
One student, Charlie*, told W’SUP that they’d been threatened with weapons by a group of fellow students.
“I had people come into the place I was living, with pots, and pans, and bats … it was pretty serious.”
A number of students have come forward to W’SUP regarding what they say is systemic transphobic bullying on the campus.
Western Sydney University Village at Hawkesbury has been the scene of these violent outbursts, leaving students feeling trapped in their on-campus accommodation.
“I’m scared to leave my house half the time,” says Harry*, a trans-male student who lives on campus.
“You live in a 300 metre radius from these people, it’s not something you can get away from.”
The on-campus student residences are operated on behalf of the University by an external operator, Campus Living Villages (CLV). University policy dictates that any allegations of violence, including at residences, should be dealt with under the Student Misconduct Rule. W’SUP understands that these issues were not referred to the University by CLV, however, and were addressed internally.
“The solution was to give them a written warning,” says Charlie, referring to the students who allegedly threatened them with weapons.
“There was nothing beyond a sort of slap on the wrist.”
When W’SUP approached the University regarding the allegations, a spokesperson denied any knowledge of the incident, or any other instances of transphobic bullying at CLV.
“This has not been reported to the University, and if other students are aware of this type of behaviour, it should be brought to the University’s attention.”
Harry stresses that when he discussed feeling unsafe with Village management, he was told there were only limited options available.
“They told me that all I could do when it happened was to call the RA [Resident Assistant] or Security. But I’m not confident that security will do anything … and the RAs are just other residents, … there’s not really a lot they can do.”
Mr Steve Tucker, General Manager of Western Sydney University Village, says that they have policies in place for responding to any allegations of bullying and harassment.
“We work extremely closely with the University support services, who are the experts, as the name suggests, in providing appropriate support.”
“Where breach notices (official warnings) are issued for behaviour, these are forwarded to the University for further consideration.”
In regards to allegations of physical threats, Tucker says that these would likely “constitute a criminal matter.”
“If reported to CLV staff, [threats by armed students] would be reported to the police at the time of reporting.”
Charlie, however, says that they believe CLV never involved law enforcement.
“There was no ‘you should contact the police or security’… They don’t really give any advice.”
Charlie notes that while only a few of their fellow residents were involved in the physical threats, a number of others had harassed them both verbally, and online.
“There’s over 100 people living on res, pretty much majority of them had said something to me on social media. [The posts were] really negative. I got a lot of slurs, ‘tranny’ … ‘trap’, stuff like that.”
Offline, the attacks are often more venomous, sometimes taking the form of threats.
“They said to me, to my face, that they wanted to bash me for being gender confused,” says Charlie.
Harry details an incident that happened in early March, days before he spoke with W’SUP.
“I had a threat against me, going ‘we should burn you, we should kill you.’”
While both Harry and Charlie continue to experience verbal aggression, there have not been any physical incidents since early 2016. On that occasion, Charlie says that certain fellow students came home from a night out, and intentionally intimidated them.
“[The other students] were pretty much yelling … and bashing against my windows at like 2 a.m. in the morning.”
While both students suggest that heavy drinking and rowdy behaviour is a regular occurrence at the Hawkesbury CLV, they believe that this particular incident was targeted.
“[The group] had actually taken the bathroom signs, stolen them from one of the lodges, and they’d stuck the female one to my window.”
“[It] was [a] very direct, transphobic sort of thing.” says Charlie, who identifies as non-binary. This means that Charlie doesn’t identify as either male or female, and instead uses gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they’ to refer to themself.
Hawkesbury campus has had a number of issues relating to its drinking culture in the past. The on-campus bar was closed in 2012, with then-Vice Chancellor Janice Reid telling students that the move was made “in light of a number of recent incidents.” W’SUP understands that at least one of these events allegedly involved patrons assaulting bar and University staff.
This hasn’t completely resolved the issue however.
“Every Thursday night [a group of students] go drinking, to the extreme.” says Harry.
“They do pre-drinks on campus, and then about nine o’clock they get a limo, which is supplied by The Clarendon.”
“They’ve been kicked out of every other bar.”
Charlie says that the alcohol definitely emboldens the aggressors.
“The violent attacks against me have all been when they have been drinking, so they’ve all been on bar nights.”
“Is it a matter of time before they get drunk, or even if they’re sober, for something to happen?” asks Harry. He believes he’s waiting for the inevitable, and that while he lives on campus, he won’t be safe.
“I don’t want to be living here, I don’t want to be near these people.”
Due to the wording of their contracts however, Harry and Charlie look to be stuck on campus until at least the end of the year.
“You either have to pay out the rest of your contract … till December – or to go on a waiting list for someone to take over your contract.”
Harry says that neither are feasible options, as he cannot afford the former, and the latter is impractical.
“[Village management] could probably just give you 24 hours’ notice to move out. I would have no-where to move to.”
Mr Tucker says that although the contracts are legally binding, CLV is committed to the safety of residents.
“There are provisions under which we can authorise early release without continued financial obligation, however claims regarding personal safety or any other grounds would need to be evidenced and substantiated.”
In Harry and Charlie’s minds, moving off campus is the only solution.
“[Your home’s] supposed to be a safe space; it’s supposed to be your space. You can’t really feel safe when there’s people who want to hurt you for being trans.”
Both Charlie and Harry believe that the University could be doing more to help queer students like them.
“Being at Mardi Gras is a very superficial sort of ‘oh, look, we support our Queer Students,’” sighs Charlie.
“There have been those few staff members who have been really good with us [the Queer Collective], but beyond that, it’s really difficult.”
However, the University has stepped up its focus on LGBTIQ+ issues in the past two years.
According to a spokesperson, there are a number of initiatives “promoting respect and inclusion of LGBTIQ young people.” including the soon to be released Sexuality and Gender Diversity Strategy 2017 – 2020.
“The Ally Network is conducting a campus climate study to measure the homophobic/transphobic experiences of students and staff on campus, called the Diversity and Safety on Campus Project.”
Any students who have experienced verbal or physical aggression are advised to contact security on 1300 737 003. If you are in immediate danger, contact Police on 000.
If you need to speak with someone regarding this article, contact details for several services can be found below:
The University’s FREE counselling service can be contacted on (02) 9852 5199 or via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you need urgent support, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, LifeLine on 13 11 14 or QLife Australia 1800 184 527.
If you have questions about what it means to be queer, or want to learn more, the ALLY Network are happy to answer your questions. Visit westernsydney.edu.au/ally for more info.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy