Warning (in case the title isn't clear enough): this post contains swearing.
If you’ve haven’t seen the news about the government’s recent changes to university fees and what they term ‘job relevant’ degrees, read/watch this first: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-20/study-arts-and-humanities-government-fees-tertiary-education/12374124
Normally, I’m one of the calmest people you’ll meet. I hate drama, I hate internal politics, I want everyone to be happy and I’m shy. But I do have a temper. I've swallowed it down all year. With the racists, sexists, transphobics and bigots coming out to play, I just blocked them. I see it as a waste of my time and energy trying to deal with these keyboard cowards. If they have something to say to me, they can do it to my face. Until then, I care nothing for their ignorant posts and tweets. My view on these people are: if I wanted to listen to an arsehole, I'd fart; it'd be much more satisfying and intelligent.
Sure all that's been happening has impacted on me. As with most minorities. I vented with my loved ones, and that was enough. Until now. I think I'm full up with the bullshit and there's just no capacity for more.
I’m so FUCKING pissed!! I’ve been angry since I saw the news yesterday. I feel like I’m going to struggle to put coherent sentences together. But if I don’t get this out I’m going to continue to storm around the house, until the anger turns to despair and hopelessness.
I actually want to call for a strike for all creatives in this country, I’m THAT angry. Hell, it worked for the screenwriters in the US.
I have a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Sociology and Cultural and Literary Studies. I went into it as a rural black kid with zero knowledge of how university worked. In fact, just months prior, I’d made the decision that I wasn’t going to go to uni. But I got talked into applying by a woman at a careers fair, with promises of support, help finding a job and accommodation, etc. When I tell you I was terrified, please understand it was a new town, I knew literally no one, there was no public or private transport from Bundaberg to my home town 3 hours away so I was very effectively cut off, and I am the definition of a painfully shy person. At the time, this person advised me to pick the majors that reflected what I was most interested in at school. Duh, English right? She also essentially picked my sociology major for me because I didn’t know what half the words in the syllabus meant.
None of the help she promised happened. I’m sure you could hear my mother’s voice yelling about tokenism and numbers from the other side of the planet. She actually wanted me to quit to spite this woman. I had to crash at an extended family member’s house (someone I’d never met before) because I couldn’t find a place to live. Not for lack of trying, but as soon as I turned up to see a room or unit, they’d take one look at my dark-skinned family members, and oh how things would change. Suddenly, the rent was higher, and actually they couldn’t sign a lease with me even though I’d told them I was 17 on the phone, and … umm, well.
I saw the tears in my mother’s eyes when she offered to send me to these viewings alone. It was my turn to scream. No. Fuckin. WAY. Was I giving my money to those racist pricks. I’d rather be fuckin homeless!
I owe a lot to Lavina and Bruce Little for letting me stay in their house at this time, when they had so many kids to care for. I was so quiet they would send their older daughters to check on me. Lestricia and Savannah, sorry for my myall ways, I was so grateful when you did that. Part of my degree belongs to you all, and I have never forgotten it.
To stop this getting too long, I found a place. I ended up loving sociology. I stuck in there, and I’ve never regretted it. I won a National Indigenous Cadetship and somehow ended up working in Canberra as a public servant for fourteen years. All the drama around culture-shock, structural/casual/blatant racism, scarring encounters, etc, is too much for one piece. Just take it as a given.
When I first joined the APS people would openly make fun of my Arts degree. I got used to it, as I did a lot of other things (see above). I went on to study a graduate diploma in writing and editing because policy work was slowly destroying me. When I left that work behind, I’d noticed a shift. A manager even said to me (paraphrasing) that Arts students were the desirable people now, because they were actually taught to think critically, build arguments with evidence and so on. They also told me that Business students were less desirable because they learnt by rote. They were smart but training people to think critically takes years… Really. Ya think?
I went on to work in the government publishing house, thinking that we’d turned a corner as a society. I got my Masters and found a true love for my work. Underpaid and overworked, absolutely. But it’s something I’m used to seeing in jobs where people are passionate about what they do. I just accepted it because that’s what everyone else in many creative industries live with. I immersed myself in a creative world and I felt blessed.
Well. That has surely fucking changed!
Let’s be real. Hiking the cost of Arts degrees will absolutely change enrolments. The topic of paying back HECS fees was of big concern in my graduate cohort and friends for a number of years. Paying off my last HECS amount was a cause for huge celebration. At the time (2002-2005), my degree cost somewhere around $32,000. It took me over ten years to pay back. The only reason it wasn’t longer was because my partner gifted me cash for my 30th birthday to finish it off.
Not paying HECS fees meant more money in my pocket every single week. It meant more savings, the ability to see more of my wage. Imagine you’re a student picking a bachelor. Think about the costs in front of you. Which way do you think you’d go?
Less enrolments in these areas will directly impact the culture of our community and country. Academic creatives and cultural practitioners will lose their jobs. Many of us use this work to supplement our creative practice. It's a catastrophic domino effect that will result in less creative works in our country. And we will all be incredibly poorer for it.
Art IS important. Don't believe me? Google it, research it or just watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPk56BR1Cmk Threat to the powers that be indeed!
The people who will end up enrolling in these courses will be people who can afford it. Arts communities will become even more elitist than they already are. And I’m not saying this to bag out my community – the reality is, no one goes into this sphere for the money. But few of us who are born from poverty can afford it. The main reason I can afford it is because I have an amazing fiance who doesn’t mind my crappy wages. He’s seen how depressed I get in a more ‘acceptable’ job, and he values my aspirations.
Translation: Arts degrees will become white, upper middle-class spaces. Right at a time when First Nations creatives are finally getting accepted into mainstream awards and spheres. There are far smarter people out there who I’m sure will write articles about why this is not okay, and what the consequences will be. They’ll find the stats that will show what I see every day. The majority of people in these Arts/Humanities courses and the creative industry are women. And I would be keen to see what the percentage is right now for First Nations and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse students enrolling in university, and just how many of those are choosing this area to study in. I’m equally sure most of the country will ignore it.
I even had a friend tell me that she didn’t think creatives should be supported given all that’s going on. I was so dumbfounded that she even said it to me that I let it pass without much comment. Other than to point out that we bonded over a love of spec-fic books, tv and movies. I still don’t think she got my point.
So in case you’re wondering why you should care, I’m going to challenge you to cut the products from creatives out of your life. Start with the easy things:
stop reading everything, right now; that includes books, journals, articles, websites, the back of cereal boxes, this post … Okay, maybe stop reading after you get done with this post.
stop watching television and movies
stop playing anything that could be considered a game or puzzle
stop listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, radio shows. Don’t listen to anything.
don't surf the web
take any and all art off your walls
take down any photos that were taken by a professional photographer
stop using your phone for anything other than phone calls
stop using your computer/laptop
Those are the most blatantly obvious ones. I could go further and share more detail, but this post is already way too long and I doubt anyone is even still reading at this point.
I’d like to see how people feel just doing these things first. And I’d especially love to know how their lives feel without these things.
Because that’s what this government is saying isn’t important. And I, for one, am sick and tired of people debasing and devaluing the arts, Arts/Humanities degrees and generally looking down their snobbish noses at those of us who pursue a creative calling. Rather than the socially acceptable pursuit of ambition, career and money. Been there, tried that, got the severe depression and anxiety to show for it. It’s not for me.
I hope you’ve noticed that not once have I taken pot-shots at STEM degrees, or anyone else. Funnily enough, I appreciate their work and using the content they create. What a novel concept. And if that is their calling then I wish them joy.
If you agree with the government that’s fine. You’re entitled to your own opinion. Just don’t be a hypocrite about it. Or, maybe, actually start appreciating the creatives whose creations and content you consume literally multiple times a day!
To be clear, #myartsdegree has led me to fourteen years of gainful employment in the public service. During that time I won multiple awards from management. I have a Masters, I'm a PhD student, an academic, a freelance editor and publishing consultant, and I'm an award-winning writer. Please someone tell me just what the FUCK 'job relevant' means?
For my fellow creatives, is anyone else as tired and angry as I am? Anyone up for striking? Or maybe adding an ‘arsehole’ tax to our work? Or hell, getting appropriately paid for our work and time? I'd be down.