After two years of collective efforts, the first unit of its kind is offered at Western Sydney University. The elective unit, We Are the University: Students Co-Creating Change, invites students from all disciplines to partake in creating change and resolving real issues within the university.
Students now have the chance to have a say in major issues and potential changes to the university. The unit is one of the successful initiatives by the 21C project and WSU Student Partners. It paves the way to get more students involved within the university, and to give credit to student volunteers for their efforts.
“Rather than getting them [students] to do heaps of more stuff for free, we thought it would be nice to try to wrap that learning in a unit,” said Dr. Peseta.
Dr. Tai Peseta is the Academic Lead of the 21C project. Among several crucial roles related to curriculum work, she contextualises and implements the initiatives developed by the project.
The approach of the unit encourages open discussion and mutual exchange of ideas. The dynamic of the relationship between academics and students is not centred around the wants or needs of students, rather on finding common ground and working in collaboration to achieve results that advance the university as a whole.
“It’s a completely different way of thinking about the work. You’re not just a student in this unit, you’re actually helping make the university, so you’re leaving a legacy for other students,” said Dr. Peseta.
Nine weeks after its release, the unit is receiving mixed reactions from the first round of students. While some saw this as a golden opportunity for change, others became overwhelmed with the responsibility.
“Some of them have said to me I hope this unit never ends, some of them have said this is massive what you’re asking for here that I’m so overwhelmed with the responsibility of doing it well. Some love the idea of helping the university,” said Dr. Peseta.
The students involved in co-creating the unit say this has been a life-changing experience, one that evolved the way they perceive education, the university, themselves and others.
Ashley Beathe, Maria Manthos and Chinnu Jose expressed their appreciation of the project and hopes for the unit. The three WSU Student Partners have been part of the 21C project since its establishment in 2017.
At the beginning of the 21C project, Chinnu said that she was not confident about her skills, however, she soon realised that her role was to offer a different perspective as a student.
“I always felt that the academics and staff appreciated the different perspective because it’s obviously one that they don’t have. But also, I learned a lot from them and what life around the university looks like for them,” said Chinnu.
Maria adds that the creation process was challenging, and many ideas went back and forth. The aim is to include student insight, and so all that was required was to engage in the relevant topics as students.
“That’s something I always tried to remember whenever I felt overwhelmed or out of place,” said Maria.
At the end of each semester, students will pitch their proposals to the Senate Education for a chance to see their ideas come to life. While the proposals will be tailored towards WSU, these will be accessible to a national and global audience. This means that successful projects could also be implemented anywhere in Australia or around the world.
“What I’m trying to do is get our students in the unit to feel like they belong to a global community of student partners,” said Dr. Peseta.