Making La Trobe students’ lives better or worse? It’s L-Tea-SA time!

As most of you may already be aware, the campaign to shut down the LTSA is well underway. But you may also be wondering, is the LTSA all that bad? They’re a student organisation, so how can they not be beneficial to students? Well, allow me to provide some insight into the, quite frankly, disgraceful nature of the LTSA.

Support for students has been the motto and cornerstone for the LTSA since its foundation early this year. The Association has sounded like a broken record for the past few months saying they are making student lives better, but ironically the only evidence of this is hosting events for regional campuses, Zoom trivia, and Zoom yoga. Whilst all these events have been somewhat beneficial, I’d argue that the proposed Zoom yoga was by far the most insensitive. Being plunged into another lockdown in Victoria students across campuses would’ve felt disheartened at best and seriously petrified for their own lives at worst; having to weigh up the costs of either feeding themselves that night or being able to pay rent on time. So, in response to these cries for help, the LTSA stated that it was important “to take time to look after yourself physically and mentally” and that virtual yoga would cover a multitude of sins. It didn’t, and it never will. What students needed then, and still need now, is adequate financial support as well as the option to not have to choose between food and appeasing their landlords. You’d think that with $2.2 million worth of SSAF they would be able to provide every struggling student, no matter the campus, with support in the form of financial assistance and fresh food.

As you may well have seen, various Facebook groups have been full of the vitriol that has come out of the LTSA in opposition to the LTSU. Since Thursday 5th August, the LTSA have launched their counter-campaign of ‘facts’ against the LTSU. So far, they have 15 so-called facts, which repeatedly stated that the LTSU is only for Bundoora students and isn’t sufficiently funded to operate on all campuses. It’s the irony for me! The LTSU had their funding slashed by 88% and I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it would be possible to operate effectively over all six campuses while having your budget cut so severely! The university chose to fund the LTSA over the LTSU. How is it in any way the LTSU’s fault for not being able to provide the same services in previous years, when they were stripped of the funding and the services to do so? Undemocratically, I might add. The LTSA functions on stolen money – your SSAF fees!

These ‘facts’ do nothing but make the LTSA look pretty bad. But hey, keep on digging that grave LTSA! The second-hand embarrassment is ripe, to say the least! I mean, imagine having no shame in saying that you support students and want to #makestudentlivesbetter whilst simultaneously undermining and berating the Student Union, as well as the students who run it!

And despite such turmoil and powerful opposition, the LTSU has continued to operate in 2021, as well as being there for students when they need them: like the win for the V-Grade in Semester 2 as well as lockdown support in the form of vouchers for food. The grotesque and boastful nature of the LTSA from its staff members (not students!) is disturbing and frightening, as it demonstrates how a group of very well-paid adults can and will undermine the legitimacy of student representation just for the sake of control. The LTSA is framing students expressing their genuine concerns with the operation, decisions and direction of the Association, as metro versus regional students – which is simply not the case.  

Between the not-so-subtle digs at the LTSU, the LTSA’s “facts” also raved about their “outstanding support” services for students. I spoke to a representative from the LTSU about these “outstanding” services that the LTSA offers. I asked whether students could expect timely and sincere replies if they were to reach out, to which they responded, it’s “all very corporate. Students reach out to us [the LTSU] after having already contacted the LTSA for support. They complain of long wait times for replies, and when they finally get one, it’s just a generated response.”

This is not a one-off experience. One third-year student had to wait six weeks for a reply from the LTSA, only to be turned away when they finally heard back. This student was justifiably frustrated with the change of service provider: “when we were on campus, we had the LTSU, who definitely helped me out. There was an established connection – I was familiar with the LTSU, I knew who they were and what they did.”

“Now with the pandemic,” they added, “we all became completely disconnected from the uni. Scrapping the LTSU at this time and slipping in the LTSA is confusing. Who are they? What do they do? What was wrong with the LTSU?”

The disconnect between students and the LTSA is further highlighted in that the LTSU has more reach and engagement from students due to the fact that they are run by and for students. And with this reach comes a “shared understanding;” students are more comfortable approaching another student rather than an organisation headed by staff who are not invested in their experience or give automated responses. So much for self-described “outstanding” services, not to mention the irony of spending $56,100 on advertising in five months and having no real reach…Yikes!

Moreover, the LTSA have supported the “restructuring” of the University, whereby hundreds of staff have lost their jobs. This is not a restructuring, it’s a gutting of our education, it’s sending the message that some degrees, professions and livelihoods are worthless. A student organisation that agrees with the obliteration of education is not one in which is run by and for students. It’s one that is run by staff for the University. If students can’t have a say in their education it is surely a sad day for democracy.

This kind of control also sets a dangerous precedence for other universities across the state and the country, one in which students are a part of the inner workings of the university, but don’t have a say on any grounds. Student organisations, unions or associations should always be run by the students themselves. Only they know what’s best for them; paid staff, and ruling authorities think of what’s best for themselves and not the wider student body.

That’s why it’s high time we Shut Down the LTSA.