Homophobic bullying added to university entrance excuses list
The Australian, 23 September 2016
Students in Victoria will be the first in the nation to be able to blame bullying or discrimination as a result of homophobia or transphobia for poor secondary school results, qualifying them for special consideration when applying for university.
The Victorian Tertiary Admission Centre, which processes applications on behalf of universities, trade schools and private colleges, has updated the eligibility criteria for its special entry access scheme for disadvantaged students to recognise the experiences of same-sex-attracted and transgender students.
It has released an expanded list of “difficult circumstances” that might prevent a student reaching their academic potential, which includes “discrimination on the basis of one’s own sexualities, sexual orientations, gender identities, sex characteristics, and/or romantic identities” as well as “bullying, harassment or negative treatment” due to “race, religion, sexual characteristics, gender identity or sexual orientation”.
Special-entry access schemes — known as educational access schemes in NSW and Queensland, and special-provisions applications in South Australia — allow students disadvantaged by circumstances outside their control to request special consideration when applying for university.
Circumstances typically include illness, injury, natural disaster, severe family disruption, abuse and bereavement, among other things, and students are required to submit an application in October — two months before they receive their Year 12 results.
According to the VTAC website, applications must be accompanied by a personal impact statement, a supporting statement from an unrelated third party and, in some cases, a medical certificate. While an application will not alter a student’s Year 12 results, it enables course selectors to take circumstances into account when considering a tertiary application.
Victoria, which had almost 35,000 SEAS applications last financial year, is the first state to single out sexuality as part of the process. More than a dozen institutions recognise the difficult circumstances category under the scheme, including Monash University, RMIT, La Trobe, Swinburne and Deakin.
While the move has been welcomed by LGBTI advocacy groups, including the Safe Schools Coalition Victoria and TransGender Victoria, which claimed it would “help create more equal access to university and TAFE”, critics have voiced concerns about the unintended consequences of identity politics encroaching on the system.
Jeremy Sammut, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, said while well-intentioned, singling out people for special treatment or assistance, encouraged a “labelling and victimhood” culture.
“Nobody wants to criticise anyone who’s been subjected to discrimination … but people are far more that their race, religion or sexual characteristics,” Dr Sammut said. “When people don’t fit these categories and then see other people using them to their advantage, it can ultimately create division and problems. We should be worried by moves in this direction.”
Well-known transgender figure Catherine McGregor said the program risked encouraging “more victim behaviour”, which would further “marginalise the community”. She called for strict controls over the application process to ensure only those students who were substantially disadvantaged benefited.
While LGBTI students who felt they had been victims of discrimination or bullying had previously been able to apply for special consideration citing “physical, psychological or emotional abuse”, a VCAT spokeswoman said the decision to spell out sexuality and gender identity was driven by school career counsellors. She declined to comment on whether any special interest groups or politicians had lobbied for the change.