Lauren McMah and Frank Chung, News, December 2, 2015
So-called white student unions are springing up at universities across Australia, charged with supporting and defending the interests of white students who they say are becoming marginalised from on-campus life and political debate.
At least seven unofficial unions have formed at rapid speed in the past week, claiming to represent students of European descent at the University of Queensland, the University of Southern Queensland, the University of Technology, Sydney, Macquarie University, Western Sydney University, the University of NSW and the University of Western Australia.
However, there are allegations that the movement is in fact an elaborate attempt to troll universities and the media, by the likes users of online bulletin boards 4chan and 8chan.
If it is a hoax, it is a pretty sophisticated one, with members reaching out to news.com.au to share their views on the need to “advance our interests as white students”.
The proliferation of white student unions follows a similar trend in the US, where groups have built considerable support on social media and many intend to establish an on-campus presence in the new year. However, this has also been dismissed as a hoax.
Australian universities have distanced themselves from these unofficial groups, which are copping backlash on social media by fellow students and others who accuse them of white supremacy and racism. Responses to the groups on social media have ranged from “be proud of your heritage!” to “f*** off Nazis”.
Others have responded with utter incredulity: “This page is satire, right?” one person asked.
But the students behind the unions deny white pride is akin to racism, and argue they have as legitimate a place in university life as any other student group.
‘All we want is equality’
The White Students Union at the Western Sydney University, which formed over the weekend and is already “into the double digits” of members, is “not out to antagonise anyone”, according its spokesman.
The spokesman, who approached news.com.au to write a story, said he was a 24-year-old journalism student and gave us his name, but we have chosen not to publish it because we could not verify it.
He said the group, which will seek formal registration with the university in 2016 and already has a six-person committee, was designed to “advance our interests as white students and promote a safe space where we can come together as a community and organise”.
“We’re a genuine group, we’re not doing it to troll anyone,” he told news.com.au.
“If you roll up to any university these days you’ll have gay safe spaces, Muslim safe spaces: in the last four or five years it’s become very politically correct.
“That’s great. I’m as PC as they come. We’re staying within the narrative. All we want is equality.”
He said he was “absolutely” expecting a backlash, but wanted to “test the boundaries of what they’re willing to acknowledge”.
“We just thought, why not? Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we do it? Anecdotally we have a lot of support from the ethnic students,” he said.
“Our main antagonists are actually the older, white academics. These people say they’re all about equality. The academics try to build this narrative that nobody supports this stuff, but it’s happening. We’re just using that language ourselves.”
Despite the hoax claims, universities are taking the rise of these unions seriously.
In a statement, a spokesman for Western Sydney University said the group was not an official or authorised student group, adding: “The university prides itself on the diversity of its university community and condemns any action that seeks to undermine this.”
The University of Technology, Sydney, and Macquarie University both said white student unions formed by their students were not official and did not reflect the views of the universities or the majority of their students.
In the “About” section of the Facebook page for the UTS White Student Union, it says the group was “advancing the rights for the people of European descent” and “anyone from any background can join”.
A spokeswoman for Macquarie University said it had publicly contacted the administrators of the page yesterday, requesting that they remove the campus image and refrain from referring to themselves as “a student organisation at Macquarie University”.
“We understand this page is likely to be part of a wider hoax, stemming from North America, nevertheless we are continuing our investigations into the origin of this page,” the spokeswoman told news.com.au.
The University of Queensland went so far as to condemn the University of Queensland White Student Union, which was formed last Tuesday, as a “racist web hoax”.
On its Facebook page, which has 378 likes, the University of Queensland White Student Union group rails against university overcrowding and “rich international students” outbidding white Australian students for rental housing and casual work.
“We’re forced to put up with an overcrowded campus that hosts thousands more students than it was ever designed for. Not enough parking, not enough toilets, not enough computers, not enough study spaces,” a post dated November 24 reads.
“We’re forced to do group work with internationals who can’t speak English, we carry the load and do all the work while our marks are dragged down.
“We’re forced to put up with the anti-social behaviour of a particular group of students who treat study spaces as social spaces and constantly attempt to ‘reserve’ public resources such as computers. Enough is enough.”
The founders of the UQ group asked not to be identified but said they represented white students “who’ve had their voices silenced by political correctness”.
“Individual people can be bullied into submission but as a group we can’t be silenced,” the group told news.com.au
“Political correctness and free speech are issues that are becoming more and more important.”
The group said existing student organisations were “obsessed with catering to minorities” and they planned to establish their own society on campus in 2016.
“We’re very clear on our position that white people have every right to organise themselves and act collectively to further their mutual interests,” they said.
“We don’t think whites are inherently ‘superior’ and definitely don’t think they should ‘rule over’ anybody else.
“We think the ideas and issues we’re raising have become more relevant to students as a new strain of political correctness has swept across the Western word over the past few years promoting ideas like ‘white privilege’. There are all these nasty ideas around now that white people, particularly white men, are always ‘privileged’ regardless of their background and personal circumstances and that if they suffer hardship they deserve it, and that white people are the cause of everything that’s wrong in the world.”
News.com.au asked the spokesman to prove that he was a legitimate student at the university, but he said he thought it was in his best interests to “maintain anonymity” due to death threats the group had received.
Third-year University of Western Australia student Michael (who did not wish to reveal his last name) said he founded the UWA White Student Association on the weekend.
He said ensuring all students and staff spoke fluent English, making sure “the full breadth of white, European holidays and festivities” were celebrated on campus, getting racist attacks on white students recognised as racism, and having the recently dumped European studies major reinstated were among the issues his group intended to lobby for.
“Our basic aims are to represent the interests of white students on campus, as well as do our bit to reverse what we view as the rapid decline of Western civilisation, caused by mass immigration resulting in a clash of values, and the decline of family values,” Michael told news.com.au.
A spokesman for UWA said the university did not endorse “behaviours and actions which are deemed to be racially and culturally intolerant or offensive”.
“UWA has a strong track record on promoting cultural and religious diversity and the university is committed to produce graduates who are intellectually and emotionally comfortable with difference,” the spokesman said.
In response to accusations of racism, Michael says he and the group were not racists and “we never will be”.
“Supporting white students doesn’t imply hatred of other races, it’s not a logical accusation,” he said.
“We would be happy to work with other ethnic clubs to fulfil mutual goals.
“(Groups that represent ethnic minority groups) are nothing new, and we don’t have an issue with them. What is new is the increasing difficulty white students face in expressing their views, identity, or culture on campus without being shouted down and labelled.
“White students are not a minority, but they are currently being treated worse than most minorities, if they break rank with the left-wing multicultural orthodoxy that is hellbent of persecuting expression of whiteness.”
On its Facebook page, the UWA White Student Association points out that the university already has a Singapore Students Association and an African Student Union, among other groups, so it was “about time white students organised and started working together”.
A rising trend
The emergence of white student unions at universities in the US, including Berkeley and Harvard, have been suggested to be a response to a wave of recent anti-racism protests. One such union at the University of Illinois sprung up hours after a black solidarity event was held on campus. Others, however, have been revealed as hoaxes.
Dr Peter Gale from the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education at the University of South Australia told news.com.au the parallel emergence of such groups in Australia was not the first time mainstream society has attempted to redress what many perceived to be “reverse racism”.
He said it was “not unrelated” to our current political climate.
“We can go back to the late 1990s with the rise of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party where there was a backlash from groups within mainstream Australia who even claimed there was reverse racism,” he said.
“Then we had an intensification of what I term as a politics of fear following September 11 so discourse around reverse racism increased following that.
“And unfortunately there’s a perception problem where many people don’t recognise the ongoing inequalities and difficulties that many minority groups within Western countries generally are still experiencing, which contributes to a level of resentment when we have affirmative action programs for those seeking to address disadvantage that’s been experienced by some groups.
“So where we may have a scholarship program for indigenous students, or we may have programs that seek to enhance the experience of international students on campus, and that’s perceived at discrimination, it’s very disappointing when people take that position.”
Dr Gale said it was also disappointing some people who were part of mainstream Australia didn’t “have an appreciation for the privileged position” of being at university.
“They certainly don’t have the experience of many minority groups that have had to overcome many difficulties and inequalities to get to a privileged position of being able to study at a tertiary level,” he said.
“There are many groups within Australian society where there is an ongoing inequality in terms of the participation rates in just getting to university. There’s still an ongoing inequality for indigenous people in accessing university.
“We need far more of an emphasis on improving relations between groups within society rather than responses that are going to create further divisions.
“I’d be concerned that there’s an emphasis on what are the benefits for one particular group over another particular group. we should be working together to enhance interculturalism rather than further separation and segregation between groups.”