Tag Archives: USYD

BULL Magazine – Issue Three

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I am one of six student editors of the University of Sydney Union’s monthly BULL Magazine, which explores the intersection of pop culture, politics and identity through features and columns.

This issue (full pdf here), we heard from a survivor of bulimia, asexuals on campus, and Waleed Aly and Benjamin Law about racial diversity in the media. We also caused quite a stir with our #stupol satire.

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BULL Magazine – Issue Two

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I am one of six student editors of the University of Sydney Union’s monthly BULL Magazine, which explores the intersection of pop culture, politics and identity through features and columns.

This issue (full pdf here), we covered rare condition Synaesthesia, fortune tellers in Hong Kong and interviewed controversial USyd YouTuber Neel Kolhatkar about the role of satire.

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Georgian villa delays student housing development

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The discovery of historic architectural remains has halted construction on a student housing project, writes Ada Lee.

The remains of an 1859 Georgian villa have been discovered inside St Michael’s College, bringing student housing construction plans to a halt.

Owned by the Roman Catholic Church, St Michael’s College is an 80 year-old abandoned building on City Rd, with broken windows and graffiti on the greying walls.

Plans were underway by private contractor, Urbanest, to transform the decaying site into an 11-story accommodation building with 80 percent of beds promised to students.

Heritage architect, Otto Cserhalmi, discovered an 1859 Georgian-style villa known as Cyprus Hall encased within the college. His discoveries included an Archimedean spiral balustrade, a Georgian revival fireplace and mantelpiece, and a French door.

”Within 20 minutes we realised we had a building within a building,” Cserhalmi told the Sydney Morning Herald. ”[The Georgian building] would be considered of heritage significance.”

Project managers indicated that construction plans will be pushed back by almost a year with completion date predicted to be May 2015 instead of July this year.

Lack of affordable student housing has been an ongoing concern for students and the University of Sydney. Under its Student Accommodation Strategy, the University is aiming to deliver 4,000 affordable beds to students within the next three to five years. Difficulties with St Michael’s College construction apparently should not affect this target. A University spokesperson told Honi the college is a “separate project”.

Projects that are incorporated in the University’s strategy for affordable student housing include the Queen Mary Building and Abercrombie Precinct.

Published in Honi Soit, p. 6, 3 June 2014.

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Staff super funding detention centre contractors

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USyd staff unions have called for investment in detention centre contractors to cease, writes Ada Lee.

Last Wednesday, the University of Sydney branch of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) unanimously passed a motion calling on UniSuper to withdraw its investments in companies linked to asylum seeker detention.

UniSuper are the superannuation fund for the majority of USyd’s 7500 staff. Staff super contributions are part of Australia’s detention supply chain, with UniSuper investing in companies such as Transfield services, Serco and Decmil Group Ltd, who build and operate Australia’s detention centres.

The NTEU’s USyd branch has asked the NTEU to pressure UniSuper to reveal any further connections to the detention network and to withdraw all investment.

Michael Thomson, NTEU USyd branch President, was adamant that UniSuper divest from these companies and that Manus Island be shut down.

“Transfield is playing a role in jailing people who are fleeing poverty and persecution and Transfield is making profits from it. As far as I’m concerned, we want to take as much social action as we can to stop them from doing this,” he said.

In February, Transfield Services entered a $1.22 billion contract with the federal government to operate both the Manus Island and Nauru offshore detention centres. UniSuper also has almost 780,000 shares in Decmil, a mining contractor awarded nearly $200 million worth of government contracts to build and expand the Manus Island detention facilities.

The motion, passed at the NTEU USyd general meeting of 50-80 people, calls mandatory detention “wrong and harmful”, and points to UniSuper’s investment profile as a “major point of influence for the NTEU”.

“A decision by UniSuper not to invest in firms that collaborate with the Australian Government in the mandatory detention regime can make a significant difference to the capacity and willingness of those firms to participate in this abusive regime, as well as the capacity of Government to find commercial partners through which to implement the policy,” the motion stated.

The union branch’s move comes after the Sydney Biennale severed ties with Transfield earlier this month due to pressure from artists pulling out. “We have listened to the artists who are the heart of the Biennale and have decided to end our partnership with Transfield effective immediately,” Biennale organisers said in a statement.

The NTEU has one representative on UniSuper’s board. The campaign is only in its early stages, with Michael Thomson holding discussions with NTEU members across NSW and Australia. As to the sway NTEU holds over UniSuper, Thomson says we will have to wait and see.

Published in Honi Soit, p. 4, 25 March 2014.

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Pork roll pandemonium after salmonella outbreak

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Ada Lee was at ground zero when shit hit the fan.

The Vietnamese roll section of Café Azzuri has been shut down after 21 customers received salmonella poisoning from its pâté.

Last month Honi Soit reported that a Wentworth-JFR food outlet was under investigation for allegedly causing salmonella infections with several hospitalised as a result.

Though authorities had not conclusively linked the infections with the food outlet, Honi Soit can now confirm that there were 21 confirmed cases and two suspected cases of salmonella, based on figures from the Sydney Local Health District.

Café Azzuri’s owner Nick Ana informed Honi Soit of the NSW Food Authority’s findings. The official report is yet to be finalised, but it can now be confirmed that one batch of chicken liver pâté made and served by Bun Me, a part of the cafe, caused the infections.

“The most likely cause is that we purchased contaminated chicken liver and failed to kill all the bacteria during the cooking process,” Ana said.

A couple of days after the contamination, the pork rolls were taken off the menu. Soon after, the entire section was shut down. However, this course of action was not enforced by the NSW Food Authority as a result of the findings.

Ana said Azzuri shut down Bun Me of its own accord, on 10 February. He plans for it to remain closed until Azzuri can source pâté from a supplier approved for food safety.

Following this decision, the USU officially asked the store to cease selling Vietnamese-style rolls until the investigation was finalised.

Azzuri’s other coffee and food services, however, remain open. University of Sydney Union CEO Andrew Woodward justified this on the basis that the contamination was limited to one aspect of the operation. The café has been a tenant of the USU for over 20 years, and the USU is not currently looking for a new business to replace it.

Ana described the incident as “most regrettable”.

“I offer my heartfelt apology to the people that fell ill. My overwhelming priority is to ensure this does not occur in my operation again.”

For the future, Ana has identified several critical risk areas of Azzuri’s food handling procedures. The final NSW Food Authority report is expected to be released within two weeks, and Azzuri is likely to be found on the Authority’s “name and shame” website.

Published in Honi Soit, pg. 5, 9 March 2014.

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Wentworth-JFR food outlet under investigation for Salmonella poisoning

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Allegations of food poisoning have been made against a food outlet in the Wentworth-Jane Foss Russell Building area, prompting an investigation by local authorities. Ada Lee reports.

In the last week of January during university holidays, professors, employees, and students have reportedly gotten stomach sicknesses after consuming meals from the same food outlet on campus.

The food outlet in question has now been reported to authorities. The Sydney Local Health District (LHD) and NSW Food Authority are currently investigating the “likely cause” of 12 confirmed cases and six suspected cases of Salmonella infection, according to a Sydney LHD spokesperson.

USU CEO, Andrew Woodward, informed Honi Soit that the investigation has found Salmonella bacteria in one of the ingredients used in food preparation at the store. “However, we are awaiting confirmation that the strain of salmonella found in the cases matches the salmonella found in the [ingredient name omitted] served by [shop name omitted].”

Salmonellosis is a form of gastroenteritis caused when Salmonella bacteria are ingested. Symptoms include diarrhoea (which may contain blood or mucous), fever, headache, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.

Alex Mouzone, third-year, mature age, B. PESS student, spent almost a week in hospital suffering from salmonellosis. Mouzone believes his illness was caused by his lunch from the Wentworth-Jane Foss Russell area on Friday, 24 January. The next week, the outlet stopped selling the item Mouzone bought in response to requests from the USU.

After lunch, Mouzone returned to work. He had salad, a cheese wrap and chips for dinner before heading to Newtown to watch the Federer versus Nadal Australian Open semi-final. Around 8pm, he was drinking his second beer when he started to feel a stomach ache. Symptoms of salmonellosis usually occur six to 72 hours after ingesting the bacteria.

Mouzone went home, where he experienced “the worst stomach cramps I’ve ever had”. “Basically, when that match was going on, I was just getting progressively sicker”, he said.

Mouzone spent Friday night at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. On Saturday, he stayed home and saw a home-visit doctor. “I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drink”, he said.

From Sunday to Thursday, Mouzone was admitted into Concord Hospital where they discovered he had salmonella infection. They put him in an isolated room to contain the infection and fed him fluids through an IV drip.

The accused shop has been a USU tenant (distinct from a USU outlet) for 20 years. When assessing a store’s suitability for tenancy, an external, professional leasing agency looks at food safety history, business practice and customer service. “Based on the check, their 20 year association with the USU and their popularity with the campus community, [shop name omitted] was assessed as an appropriate tenant at each opportunity, i.e. at lease origination and lease renewal,” said Woodward.

“To our best knowledge this is the first time there has been a complaint made against [the shop].”

All tenants serving food are also subject to regular inspections by the NSW Food Authority.

If the store is found guilty in the current investigation, the Authority may choose from a range of enforcement policies to use against the offender such as verbal and written warnings, correction action requests, penalties, prosecution, publication of names and if serious, action against Food Authority licenses.

As the investigation is ongoing, the food outlet’s owner has declined to comment.

* The Sydney Local Health District spoke to Honi Soit on the condition that the food outlet remains unnamed until the allegations are confirmed.

Published in Honi Soit, 10 February 2014.

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Local crowned International Student of the Year

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When 22 year-old Leticia Cabral Satiro Luiz first came to Australia from Brazil to study at the University of Sydney (USYD), she was excited to meet people of all different nations. It’s this enthusiasm that led to her being crowned the NSW International Student of 2013.

Leticia comes from a small rural town called Oliveira in Brazil. She left there when she was 16 years old to go to a selective school in the city before starting a mechanical engineering degree at Universidade Estadual de Campinas. In July 2012, she received a Science Without Borders scholarship and left Brazil to study engineering in Australia.

Upon arriving, language was the most difficult hurdle. “I used to be a good communicator but when I got here I couldn’t talk to people,” she said. “You can’t understand what a person is saying. It’s very frustrating.”

She also recalled reluctance and shyness among other international students to cross cultural boundaries. “Many people have a strong tendency to stay with other people from their own nationality,” she said. But she persisted in trying to bring different cultures together.

She began giving speeches and leading forums at the Centre for English Teaching USYD (CET), encouraging students to join extracurricular activities and meet people from different countries. “When you get to know people from other cultures, it’s adding to yourself because it’s something different, something that you don’t know,” she said. “You don’t know much about your own culture until you compare your culture with something else.”

In 2012, she helped organise a talent show for CET’s annual awards ceremony, showcasing acts like Chinese folk dancing and a pipa music performance. She also volunteered for Engineers Without Borders early 2013, assisting in an event that encouraged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to consider a career in engineering.

She was rewarded for all her work on October 10 last year when StudyNSW and the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet presented her with the NSW International Student of the Year Award in the English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students category.

USYD Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tyrone Carlin, says CET nominated Leticia for her ongoing commitment to building stronger student communities and her leadership skills in creating opportunities for international students to meet and integrate with Australian students.

Leticia said her experience in Australia has been “life changing”, enabling her to develop public speaking skills, empathy for other nationalities and a better understanding of worldwide education systems. Returning home late February, Leticia is now hoping to share what she’s learnt of Australia’s “good educational system” in order to improve Brazil’s own system.

 

Published in the South Sydney Herald, February 2014.

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SRC Censors VaginaSoit

On 21 August, Honi Soit, USYD’s weekly student publication, released a controversial cover showing censored vulvae of 18 USYD women. Here’s what followed…

Interviewees:
Hannah Ryan, Honi Soit Editor
Rosie Waterland, Mamamia Rogue Editor

Written, Produced and Edited by: 
Ada Lee
Mary Ward

Filmed on a JVC GY-HM150U Camcorder
Edited on Premiere Pro CS6

This news package was created for academic purposes only, intended for a USYD audience.

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Pranking Tharunka – is there a lesson to be learnt?

Published in Honi Soit, p. 9, Wk 10 Semester 1 Edition, 15 May 2013.

Click here to see it online.

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The demonisation of Government lecturer Peter Chen has been largely misinformed and misleading, argues Ada Lee

Recently, some Sydney University students were  given an assignment to submit a fake news article to UNSW’s student paper.

The purpose of the ‘Prank Tharunka’ assignment was to test whether the media is susceptible to manipulation. It was not attempting to raise up the next generation of lying, sensationalist journalists. GOVT2603 (Media Politics) is a politics, not a journalism, subject. Peter Chen is a media critic, not a journalist.

The majority of reactions have oversimplified the issue. At one end, we have the conniving, mohawked Dr Chen, setting out to destroy the media. The Australian suggests that “maybe the lecturer” is what’s wrong with the media. Again, this was not a journalism training exercise. At the other end, we have Tharunka, UNSW’s student publication, maliciously targeted and victimised.

Tharunka admitted to Crikey that they had planned to run a fake story on fare evasion.

Here’s a question for Tharunka: did you check the facts? Would you have noticed the prank if not for the whistleblower? The assignment’s task to post false stories only works if the media is not doing its job properly. Tharunka, if you fact-checked and sifted out all the false stories, then I salute you—for doing your job.

As journalists and editors, if all our sources were entirely truthful with no distortion, no attempts at manipulation, no deliberate omission of facts, then the media world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Journalists and editors have a responsibility to check facts, investigate and sift out spin. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it might suck. But spin happens and the media should be prepared for it.

It is not sufficient to use Peter Chen as a scapegoat. Journalists and editors are not infallible lie detectors, but they also need to take responsibility when they make mistakes.

The argument has been made that as a small university paper with few resources, Tharunka was an unsuitable case study for testing the media’s gatekeeping role. But perhaps there is a  broader point. With highly concentrated media ownership and fewer journalists to fill in a demanding 24-hour news cycle, are our major news providers really better equipped?

Has the journalist watchdog been overtaken by a pack mentality where certain stories are over-emphasised and others completely missed? Is it sufficient that the media often rely on carefully planned press conferences and written statements rather than hard in-depth interviews with our political leaders?

If the big papers were bombarded with falsified stories as Tharunka was, would they pass the test? And if not, can we still trust them to bring the important issues to the surface? These are the questions we were asked to explore.

I don’t know whether encouraging students to post fake stories was the most virtuous thing to do. But what I do know is that I’ve learnt an invaluable amount about the politics of media.

For more of my coverage on the Tharunka prank, click here.

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An Insider View on the Tharunka Prank

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The USYD assignment asking students to prank UNSW publication, Tharunka, has triggered impassioned debate about the ethics of journalism and teaching.

USYD Media Politics lecturer, Peter Chen, asked students to submit a “false story” to Tharunka. As someone enrolled in this unit, I can give some insight into the workings of the assignment.

Essentially, students were to figure out what makes stories publishable. To complete the assignment, we had to test our hypothesis on ‘what makes the news’ by constructing several false articles that covered a scope of topics with varying levels of quality and sensationalism. In doing so, we tested the role of media as gatekeepers of information and whether they were susceptible to ‘spin’ and manipulation. The assignment sheet said we were to “reflect on the practice of PR that uses an understanding of media practice to promote particular messages”.

GOVT2603 Unit of Study Outline

On 6 May, Tharunka discovered the truth via a whisteblowing student and on 8 May, Tharunka revealed all in an article by editor Lily Ray. Editors recalled their surprise at the sudden influx of student submissions—even those from USYD email addresses.

Lily Ray even wrote that Tharunka was happy to receive submissions from students of other universities. The point of concern, however, seemed to rest in the assignment requirement that students post falsestories.

The whisteblower from the GOVT2603 subject, Josh Tassell, told Crikey,“I have a major ethical problem with trying to print lies. I don’t see the point. I honestly don’t think it taught us much at all except terrible habits.”

The same day that Tharunka, Crikey and The Australian picked up the story, the GOVT2603 twitter and tumblr accounts were deleted.

Over the semester, Dr Chen has become a familiar face—particularly notable for his Mohawk which changes colour every week. He asks students to engage via twitter, tumblr and text messages. At times, he spoke about his involvement in the NTEU Sydney University strikes. In lectures, he got us to watch a documentary critiquing Fox News sensationalism and another that explored election campaign tactics in New Zealand.

When we got the assignment sheet, I noticed mixed reactions. There were five different topic options. Others included creating an online protest page for a “fictitious” cause or trying to get calls through on talkback radio. We were told in our tute that all five topics had to be covered. In response to the Tharunka exercise, some students thought it was hilarious, some a useful exercise and perhaps, others worried about the ethical boundaries it pushed.

Whether the assignment was successful in teaching any sort of lesson, I think it is fair to say Dr Chen did not intend to teach his students how to be lying spin-doctors. Rather, the lesson was more in exploring the potentially powerful role ‘spin’ can play in today’s media system. Here, it is important to note that this is a ‘Media Politics’ not a journalism unit.

Granted, if this was the purpose of the assignment, Tharunka editor, Renee Griffiths, makes the point in the Crikey comments section:

“wouldn’t it have been more fruitful to make students target the multitude of organisations that are better resourced and deal more extensively with said PR injecting?” On Twitter, editor Lily Ray said the assignment “victimized” Tharunka.

Image Credit: Tharunka

James Davey, another GOVT2603 student, disagrees.

“I don’t understand why [Tharunka is] making the ‘victim’ call on this one…I don’t think it was a targeted attack against Tharunka…[The assignment’s lesson] could be learned through any news organisation. It just happened to be Tharunka.”

The ensuing upheaval has been met with a variety of responses from Media Politics students. Some worry about the academic ramifications. Some believe Mr Tassell over-reacted whilst others thought he could have handled the situation better.

Mr Davey defended the assignment. He said:

“It is up to the editor of a news organisation to vet any and all submissions. The fact is that Tharunka found itself with articles it was willing to run. When someone informed them of the ‘prank’, they got embarrassed. Cue retaliatory article. The reality of the news landscape is that it is competitive. It was on point and a relevant assignment.”

In July last year, UNSW SRC students actually launched a similar prank. A UNSW Foundation Day hoax falsely announced that UNSW planned to bid $1.2 million for the Sydney monorail. The difference? This story actually succeeded in getting published. It grabbed the attention of ABC News Radio, took 25 minutes of David Oldfield’s 2UE show, sat on the front page of the MX and finally, got uncovered by Media WatchTharunka itself reported that the hoax “catches” students and media.

Regardless of whether it was ethical to encourage students to print false stories, an important question is posed by this exercise: if these stories, embellished with spin and falsified facts, succeed in getting published, what does this say about the quality of journalism today? The assignment put the quality and legitimacy of media to the test.

Published in Vibewire, 10 May 2013.

For my opinion on the Tharunka prank, click here.

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