For 82 years in Perth, a group of students of at the University of Western Australia produce a satirical newspaper to raise funds for local charities working for the betterment of young people. An even bigger group of students dress in costumes and go throughout Perth’s CBD to sell the paper asking for a donation from people as they head into work and even from high school students heading to school. It’s known as PROSH Day. It hits the local airwaves and newspapers and occasionally makes the evening news.
I am 100% behind these ideals. I volunteer with organisations that aim to improve the lives of young people in WA and have done so for over a decade. I have bought editions of the paper over the years but it has been a long time since I’ve read through the pages and enjoyed it. In an era with satirical outlets like The Onion, The Daily Mash, and The NewsBiscuit, perhaps I’ve been spoilt for choice or expect too much from university students. Hang on, I write professionally and get paid for it. University students can do better and the majority of the population do so. Some even lead volunteer and non-profit organisations on top of a full time study load. Others sit on state committees. I am not expecting too much for wanting something better in quality.
This year I bought a copy of the PROSH paper and on a quick glance I noticed a lack of sexist material that had become normal fodder in recent years. After 5 minutes I sent out a tweet declaring it to be wittier than in recent years and in support of it. After all the proceeds of the sale this year are going to Miracle Babies, Huntington’s Western Australia, The Song Room, and the Indigenous Communities Education & Awareness Foundation, (ICEA). I could see past the students yelling through closed windows at drivers staring ahead in the morning commute especially when their compatriots reigned them in from such stupidity.
I had a good feeling about PROSH. I was thinking about leafing through my copy slowly tonight to read it. That is until I had a look at my Facebook and Twitter feeds. The headline, Drunk, naked West Australian uni students hit the streets to sell racist hate-speech… all in the name of charity summed it up. Not the headline I imagine the Vice Chancellor Professor Paul Johnson expected to come from this year’s PROSH activities.
Photos of the racist content is throughout my social media feeds with people expressing disgust and anger. It’s not outrageTM that the zeitgeist has grabbed hold of for this week or the complaints from people who don’t have a sense of humour as some people posting to the UWA Student Guild’s apology post on their Facebook page seem to be hinting at.
I no longer have any positive feelings about PROSH. The small disquiet I had has resolved itself into feelings of distaste. Just because the results of the activities results in benefits to the vulnerable members of the community, it shouldn’t be done so at the expense of those members. Nor should hateful material be excused simply on the grounds of satire and charity especially in the face of widespread criticism. This year unfortunately is not the exception when it comes to complaints. Perhaps it’s time to review the selection criteria for the PROSH Director which is currently scant.
Western Australia’s Opposition Aboriginal Affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt and former UWA student has spoken out on the racist material calling upon the need for reflection amongst the UWA Student Guild and the editorial team of this year’s PROSH. This year is the first that I have heard of one of the partner charities, ICEA, deciding to cease and refuse further sponsorship from the UWA Student Guild following the publication of the paper. This is not a badge of honour.
I am a UWA student and I have never spent any time involved with the production and publication of the PROSH paper. This does not preclude me from stating my opinion of the publication. An enrolment at UWA is not necessary to express disgust when a minority of UWA students decide to behave in a socially unacceptable manner. I just wish those students would just get it into their craniums in amongst the party schedules that their behaviour reflects back on the rest of the UWA community. It diminishes the positive impact of numerous academic and social achievements of UWA.
This year I am wearing a name badge with my full name in full display with the UWA logo and name. I want to be able to wear this without having to deal with the consequences of immaturity and selfishness of others. I am shocked at reading some of the vitriolic attitudes held by those attacking those criticising the latest round of idiocy; mostly because I know that a proportion of them attend UWA. I am not comfortable with this. It is disturbing that these students will never face any consequences and that I may end up sharing the graduation stage with them. It is a frightening prospect that they will enter the community with such hateful ideals.
There not only needs to be reflection at UWA. There needs to be a change. The sooner the better. It’s not enough to have one off cultural events. There should be no refuge for hate on campus, or indeed anywhere.