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Introducing: UNSA Equity Guilds

🗓 7th March 2023
👤 Written by Ruby Walker (VP Welfare & Wellbeing) & Georgie Cooper (UNSA President)

  • Summary:

The UNSA Collectives are evolving into a new structure: the UNSA Equity Guilds. The same five equity groups will be represented (Women, Queer, Parents & Carers, Accessibility and First Nations), however a new structure is being developed in consultation with students and stakeholders to ensure that these communities are being effectively advocated for, and to provide safe and inclusive spaces for students looking to connect with their community.

  • What are the Guilds?

The UNSA Equity Guilds are dedicated student-led advocacy platforms for our five equity groups: Women, Queer, Parents & Carers, Accessibility and First Nations. They serve the purpose of providing support and a safe space for members of these communities to discuss, raise awareness of and advocate on issues affecting them, both within the University and in broader contexts.

The Guilds are made up of members that identify with the Guild’s represented community. Membership is open to current students for free, to alumni and staff for a $5 fee and to Community outside of the University for a $10 fee.

The Guilds are led by their respective Equity Officer (previously known as Collective Convenor), which is an elected student position. Equity Officers sit on the UNSA Student Representative Council (SRC) where they are tasked with raising community issues, concerns and perspectives. The Equity Officers will work closely with SRC and UNSA staff to address key issues, achieve their goals as well as carry out other responsibilities. Through this important relationship the Guilds will have access to support with their advocacy, initiatives and funding, as well as building their profile and membership.

  • Key Changes:
  • The Collectives are now called Guilds
  • The Guilds will place a stronger focus on advocacy for their community
  • Collective Convenors are now called Equity Officers
  • Collective Office Bearer roles have largely become Advisor roles
  • Equity Officers will receive specific training for their role
  • Equity Officers will receive additional supervisory support from the VP Welfare & Wellbeing in addition to UNSA’s Student Representative Support Manager
  • Membership has been expanded to include alumni, UON staff and community members for a paid fee. This will help to expand the Guilds’ membership, in turn increase informed input, provide opportunities for mentorship and increase Guild funds.
  • This year Equity Officers will be recruited via an expression of interest (EOI) process. In subsequent years Equity Officers will be elected during the wider SRC elections, with voting being open to all students. This will help ensure that all SRC positions are filled before the start of each year and increase accountability of Equity Officers to all students as members of the SRC.
  • UNSA will be working to provide a dedicated shared space for Guilds on campus

  • What’s staying the same?
  • The Guilds will still provide a platform for advocacy for the five equity groups, as well as a safe space for students to connect with others in their community
  • Student membership is free
  • Guild members and Equity Officers must identify as a member of the respective equity group
  • Equity Officers must be current students
  • Equity Officers sit on and report to the SRC
  • In recognition of their efforts, Equity Officers will be eligible to receive honorarium payments from time-to-time, as a thank you for volunteering their time to UNSA and the community they serve
  • Guilds will still have access to funding through UNSA for initiatives and advocacy-focused events

  • Why the change?

To understand why we have made this change, its important to first understand that the Collectives structure was originally formed and run by the previous student association (NUSA). Under NUSA the Collectives faced numerous problems including internal politics which led to these spaces becoming problematic in several aspects. When UNSA was formed we wanted to maintain a dedicated advocacy platform for our equity groups. For this reason, we attempted to continue the Collectives concept under the rationale that previous issues could be resolved under a new Association.

However, over the past two and a half years a number of issues have arisen with the Collectives space, despite the best efforts of previous Convenors and members, who are not at fault for these. One of these issues, which has contributed strongly to the current change, was recurring student feedback and reports of feeling unsupported or unsafe in these spaces. Upon further investigation of this feedback, we discovered a range of factors contributing to these sentiments, which have been drivers for this change (noting that these applied to varying extents across the five Collectives):

  • Issues with Collectives building and retaining strong membership
  • Minimal student interest in Collective Convenor roles
  • The separate, internal election processes leading to delayed appointment of Convenors, resulting in missing key induction with the SRC. This would occur due to lack of interest in positions or as a result of lack of UNSA resources to conduct these separate elections on time.
  • Lack of resources for Collectives: specifically of physical spaces for most Collectives, training for Convenors on advocacy and leadership, and funding.
  • Lack of dedicated and tailored support for Convenors. This was due to operational challenges which left UNSA without key staff and resourcing to support past Convenors.
  • Unclear direction from UNSA to Convenors on their role and the function of Collectives, largely due to lack of integration of the Collectives with UNSA since its inception
  • Funding for Collectives not being used effectively

For these reasons the Collectives have largely been unable to fulfil their function as a strong advocacy platform which informs the SRC on issues relating to the five equity groups. As a result, UNSA has acted to rectify these issues. In doing so we have determined that the best opportunity to ensure longevity of these groups and in order to move away from previous, inherited issues, a rebrand and fresh start was crucial. As a relatively new organisation, we want to be able to ensure that the voices of the equity groups are appropriately supported, amplified and accounted for moving forward. It is also absolutely essential that these spaces allow all students from the respective communities to participate, feel safe and empowered in them.

  • Why the timing?

These are changes which could not be made previously for two key reasons:

  1. The full extent of the issues outlined only became clear in recent months
  2. UNSA has not had the capacity or the resources to make this change until now. UNSA underwent an extensive operational restructure in 2022 which demanded priority focus of all resources to carry out. It was necessary to ensure UNSA was able to operate effectively before undertaking this next process.

These changes are being made now that we have appropriate resources to do so. It was also important to advertise the Guilds from the start of this year to avoid advertising the Collectives only for them to become redundant very quickly, so we could give the Guilds the best opportunity of having a strong foundation early on.

In hindsight these are changes that should have been made from UNSA’s inception back in 2020, however that was not what occurred and hence we are addressing this now.

  • What about consultation?

Throughout our two and a half years of operation, UNSA has received recurring feedback that the Collectives in their previous form prevented a substantial number of students from being involved. We also heard strong feedback from Collective members & Convenors on the issues outlined above, with requests for these to be resolved. Since launching the Guilds at O-Week this year, we have received positive feedback from students who previously felt unable to engage with the Collectives expressing that the change has helped address their concerns.

Plans for the Guilds are still being finalised and will very much be shaped by members and Equity Officers. Officers and Guild members will be closely consulted and given the opportunity to modify the Guild structures to suit the needs of their community, informing the new Terms of Reference which will then be formally established.

The implementation of these changes has also received unanimous support from the UNSA SRC.

  • What happens next?

Updated information on the Guilds will be available on the UNSA website, as well as new membership pages for students and community members to sign up. Expressions of interest are also open now for the Equity Officer positions – please contact us for more information.

Meet & Greet sessions for each Guild will be held on Thursday 30th March in the Shortland ClubSpace to provide further information and to seek student input. We encourage you to attend these sessions and to contact unsa@newcastle.edu.au with any further queries.