By Georgia Kriz
For the first time in over a decade, the Board of the University of Sydney Union (USU) has rejected an application for a new student society.
The Brotherhood, Recreation and Outreach Society (BROSoc), held its Inaugural General Meeting in early September. During the meeting, BROSoc elected an executive and developed a constitution as part of its attempt to join the USU’s Clubs and Societies (C&S) program.
Subsequently, the C&S committee, two C&S staff members and the Director of Student Programs, approved BROSoc’s formation and granted them probationary status as a society.
At its monthly meeting, however, the Board voted against allowing BROSoc to formally join the C&S program, with many directors voicing concerns regarding the fledgling society’s arguably narrow focus on traditional masculinity.
BROSoc’s constitution states that the society’s main aim is to provide a safe space for men on campus and address mental health issues specific to men, through the establishment of a Men’s Shed.
The Men’s Shed is a not for profit mental health program for men and boys that has been broadly successful since it was founded in 2007.
At the monthly Board meeting, Queer Portfolio holder and USU Board Director Liam Carrigan argued that allowing the formation of BROSoc could cause “significant damage” to the queer community, especially amongst trans and genderqueer members.
Kate Bullen, Women’s Portfolio holder and Board Director, took a similar line, stating that BROSoc was “clearly not about breaking down gender roles”, and would be potentially exclusionary towards women.
Board Director Liv Ronan expressed discomfort at potentially voting down BROSoc’s application, saying that the founders seemed “well-intentioned” and that she felt it was inappropriate to predict that they would automatically create an exclusive and unfriendly space.
Board Director Kate Denton dissented, arguing that the Board was wrongly characterising BROSoc as a “men’s rights club” rather than seeing it as an opportunity to meaningfully engage men on campus and help them with mental health problems.
After a lengthy discussion, all Directors present except for Ms Denton voted against allowing BROSoc to become a society. Directors Robby Magyar and Tim Matthews left the meeting before the vote was held.
A supplementary motion was passed, empowering Honorary Secretary Eve Radunz to consult with BROSoc’s founders in view of them redrafting their constitution and refining their aims to be explicitly non-exclusionary.
It was also suggested that the society should redevelop their constitution in close consultation with the Mental Health Awareness Society (MAHSoc).
The last time a similar dispute occurred was in 2012, when the anti-abortion group LifeChoice applied to join the C&S program.
The C&S committee rejected their application on the grounds that the club would contravene the Union’s constitutional commitment to building safe and inclusive spaces, and would undermine the work of existing Union structures that seek to fight gender discrimination.
The Board, however, led by then-President Astha Rajvanshi, voted to allow LifeChoice to become a society in spite of the C&S decision.
The vote was extremely close, with five Directors voting against and six voting in favour of allowing LifeChoice to become a society.