Get to Know Blair Williams

Photographer: Em Roberts

Blair is originally from Adelaide and comes from a family of feminist activists. She has a family dog named Bella, a bike named Betty, and a ragdoll kitten named Mochi who she recently rescued from a shelter.

Blair moved to Canberra in 2015 to start her PhD; her research utilises feminist theory to examine why women prime ministers experience gendered and misogynistic treatment in and from the media. In her opinion, feminism is life – it means smashing intersectional oppressions and systems to emancipate all oppressed groups and really create equity for all.

Fast-forward five years and Blair hopes that gender politics will not only be her jam, but her job as well. She hopes to be a political science academic teaching gender politics, media politics or Australian politics, as well as a freelance journalist. Ultimately, she wants to make a difference and improve the lives of Australian women and TISGD people.

***

Blair is one of the two candidates running for PARSA Women’s Officer in the upcoming election. We asked her a bunch of questions so you could get to know her a little better.

Why did you decide to run on the ANyou ticket?

I decided to run on the ANyou ticket because our team will bring a fresh voice to student politics and enact real change. Currently, I and many other students feel disillusioned or disengaged with PARSA and student politics in general because it feels like the same-old same-old.

ANyou wants to re-engage postgrads and re-connect the postgraduate community both politically and socially. ANyou have real plans for helping to combat climate change, prioritise housing accessibility, support mental health and further pressure the university to be active in their campaign against sexual assault and harassment. Our team is also bike friendly – which, as a cyclist, I like.

It is fundamentally important to critically analyse the work of predecessors, to further build on their strengths and to pay special attention to any weaknesses. In your opinion, what were the strengths and weaknesses of the 2017 PARSA Women’s portfolio?

Nathalie did a fantastic job in her role as 2017 PARSA Women’s Officer. Nathalie’s activism regarding the national sexual assault survey is commendable, as was her co-recommendations to the Vice Chancellor.

I think one weakness was failing to properly engage postgraduate women and TISGD students in strengthening our own community. I would like to help foster a community, similar to ANUSA’s, where women and TISGD postgraduate students have the opportunity to connect, support and befriend one another. I think having more postgraduate women and TISGD events would be a good starting initiative.

How will you ensure you adequately represent women-identifying and TISGD postgraduates with disabilities, sexualities, romantic attractions, gender identities, heritages, ethnicities and countries of origin that differ from your own?

I am a queer mentally ill/disabled woman who is a member of the Queer* Department, the Women’s Department and the Disabilities Student Association. As an intersectional feminist, my underlying feminist principles are that of including all women-identifying and TISGD people and fighting all oppressions.

If I become PARSA Women’s Officer, this means that I will seek advice from and listen to people who have different intersecting oppressions than me so I can make the community safe for everyone.

As the old adage goes: “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, then it’s bullshit.”

What are your opinions of the recommendations made by PARSA and ANUSA in response to the results of the Human Rights Commission’s survey into sexual assault on university campuses? Do you support these recommendations? How will you act to ensure they are agreed to and implemented by the university?

I agree with and commend the recommendations made by PARSA and ANUSA in response to the results of the Human Rights Commission’s survey. However, I think that there needs to be more focus on how 10 per cent of staff are perpetrators of sexual assault and how postgrad students are far more likely than undergrads to report staff as their perpetrator.

I recommend that we go beyond online respectful relationship training and have mandatory face-to-face respectful relationship, empathy and consent training for all staff. This will better enable them to be able to properly assist students if they consult with them about their own sexual assaults or harassments, and it will also teach staff about how to have respectful staff-student relationships.

I will keep putting pressure on the university and especially Brian Schmidt to make sure the university agrees to and implements these recommendations. If I become the PARSA Women’s Officer, these recommendations will be at the top of my priority list and I will not rest until we see some proper action. I will engage the students, both postgraduate and undergraduate, and fight this together as there is strength in numbers!

What do you think is the biggest issue currently facing women-identifying and TISGD postgraduates on campus? As Women’s Officer, what action would you take to combat this?

As I see it, the biggest issue affecting women-identifying and TISGD is sexual harassment and assault on campus. Women are much more likely than men to be sexually assaulted and harassed on campus, and TISGD people are far more likely to be assaulted and harassed than non-TISGD people. In addition to this, we need to make our campus safer for all students – especially those who are survivors of sexual assault and harassment.

As a result of my recommendation that staff have mandatory face-to-face respectful relationships, empathy and consent training, tutors and lecturers should be mindful of potentially upsetting and triggering content in their courses. It is highly likely in a room full of people there could be multiple survivors of sexual assault/harassment. It is important that staff are aware that what they say may have harmful effects, and they should encourage safer spaces in the classroom or lecture theatre where they warn students for possibly triggering content and remind their students about what services are available on campus.

What kind of involvement do you think postgraduates should have in the ANU Women’s Department? Do you think fostering interaction between women-identifying and TISGD postgraduate and undergraduates is important?

I am a fan of the ANU Women’s Department and I would love to see a shared department that focuses on both undergraduate and postgraduate women and TISGD people. ANUSA’s and PARSA’s Women’s Officers coming together in the past – such as in their recommendations to the university about combatting sexual assault – has worked well and this relationship should be further encouraged.

It is important for undergrad and postgrads to support each other and be involved in certain events and issues. As a postgraduate woman with many undergraduate friends, I think this relationship is important for both parties involved.

Do you think activism is important? Why?

Activism is important because there would be no change without it. If the Unions weren’t active in the 20th century we would not have weekends or public holidays and children would still be legally allowed to work. Without our suffragette sisters, we would not have the right to vote. If not for our Trans People of Colour (TPOC) activists in the 1960s and 1970s and their Stonewall riots starting LGBTQIA+ activism, the LGBTQIA+ community would look quite different today.

Basically, activism enacts change. We need activism to change our society for the better and to smash all oppressions that women, PoC and TISGD people experience.

Why do you think you are the best candidate for this position?

I believe I am the best candidate for this position because I have activist roots, am extremely passionate about enacting change and have the drive and commitment to do it. I am not doing this to fuel my ego or to add it to my resume. I want change in this university and I want women and TISGD to feel safer on campus.

I have been campaigning and protesting for women’s rights, as well as TISGD, PoC, refugee and student’s rights, since I was a teenager. Because of this, I have enacted real change. For example, in 2016 I started a petition to ban a known rape-apologist and Male Rights Activist (MRA), Roosh V, from entering Australia to campaign his hatred. This petition got more than 100,000 signatures, widespread media attention and as a result, the Australian government banned him from entering Australia.

I feel that given my activist experiences, as well as my academic knowledge of politics, I would make a pretty kick-ass PARSA Women’s Officer that will keep pressure on the university to make ANU safer for all women and TISGD people.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your ideas or campaign?

If I become PARSA Women’s Officer I promise to dedicate myself to making this university a safer space for all. As a woman, I don’t feel comfortable walking around our campus alone at night. This means that I have refused to engage or participate in after-hours events or meetings. This is extremely detrimental and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. As PARSA Women’s Officer I will consult ANUSA’s Women’s Officer and many women, both undergraduate and postgraduate, to see what we can do together to make the university a safer place for women and TISGD – whether it includes more lights, more security, better bus services, more supportive staff, etc.

My mission is to make ANU a more welcoming and safe space for students.