**In the late ‘90s, Tanya came to Curtin a little lost, looking for a fitting degree and a purpose. She found that purpose when she joined the Guild, especially when she became the Guild Vice President in 2000. Tanya not only met her three best friends through the Guild, but she managed to help re-establish the Queer Department.
Since then, Tanya has gone on to get her Master’s in Strategic Affairs and later joined the State Public Service. She has been working in public policy roles between the Department of Premier and Cabinet, in their office of state security and emergency coordination.
Grok spoke to Tanya about how she found her way through uni, challenges she faced at the Guild and her fond memories of George’s Kebabs.
By Daryna Zadvirna**
Tell me a little bit about your time as a student?
It took me a couple of years to find my way at university. I think I spent the first two years wondering around aimlessly, going from course to course until I found something that fit—this was all within the School of Humanities. I eventually settled into social science—so politics and history. I didn't have an end goal in mind when I was studying, it was just like: "this is the subject matter that I enjoy and so I'm just going to enjoy the university experience and worry about finding a job afterwards!"
It took me a while to complete my degree, but I can’t blame the Guild. Actually, I think that once I found my place in the Guild, I started enjoying university—I found my groove and study came easier. So, it was kind of my own fault that it took me so long to complete my degree, like those first two years at university—I just don’t think I was mature enough!
I mean that’s totally enough—17 is a really young age to start uni, I started at 19 and still had trouble in deciding what to study!
Exactly. So, I had quite a big HECS debt afterwards because I tried a few courses before I found one that fit—I think I did journalism for a little bit, and business law. Yeah, I tried a few things and I didn't really think so much about what I wanted to do with my life, but what do I enjoy studying, you know? And then once I've found something that I enjoy, then it was great.
So, when and how did you first come across the Guild?
I think it was in 1998 and it was through my part time job. I was trying to support myself through university—well, not support myself, that's a lie, I did live with my mum [laughs]. But I had a part time job and I think it was Steve Cosworth—he would've been a Guild Counsellor—and he just simply asked me if I'd like to get involved in the Student Guild. So, I asked him what it was about and what sort of commitment it was—that didn't really face me though. I think I was attracted to it because it would enable me to be involved in decisions. I don't think I like being left out of decisions being made about the environment that I'm in. Whether it's back when I was in school, at university or even now as a parent, at my child's school—I always liked to be involved. So, once I found out about the Guild, I was quite happy to participate.
Did Curtin change much in the five years you spent there? What were some of the things going on at the Guild and on campus during that time?
I didn't notice change, but I was struck by, I guess, just a low level of activism and that didn't change while I was there at that time. It was the time of voluntary student unionism, so the Guild had to work really hard to prove its relevance to students. It was difficult to try and get other students to want to participate in Guild campaigns—mind you, for social events it was never difficult—and there were some occasions where we only have a few students rocking up to meetings and it would be the same ones every time. I think that was just the sign of the times, at the time. It was before September 11 and there weren't any huge political issues.
There was quite a big business focus when I was there. Because of voluntary student unionism, we didn't have a huge budget; we had to really rely on the commercial arm of the Guild for funds to keep the Guild going, and that meant that a lot of the student representatives’ time was split between representation and activism and the business side of the Guild. So it was—it was a difficult time because we had to focus on the commercial side in order to raise funds, and that was one element. The other element was the fact that there was no huge pressing issues like there is now. I mean I'm not too sure, I haven't been out to Curtin and I don't know any students there at the moment, what's it like out there now? Do you have a lot of students supporting things like refugees and political things like that?
Yeah, I think so—one example I can think of is the anti-islamophobia protest that was held in the wake of the Christchurch attack. So, it was nice to see lots of students backing the Curtin Muslim community.
Yeah great, well it wasn't really like that when I was there—it was a quiet time for the Guild. But I know within Curtin, I think it was ‘98 or ‘99, that they introduced upfront fees, so we did have a campaign for that, and we were able to generate media attention. We tried our best at the University board meeting to close that one, but we weren't successful. We did have some campaigns on illegal fees, and exams during non-exam periods. But there was no huge sense of activism like I think they would be now or like there was in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
What would you say was your biggest achievement as Vice President?
Well, at that time at the Guild, the old way where we had departments, that had been disbanded. I understand that in the ‘80s, we might've had the Environmental Department, the Queer Department—we didn't have that in the ‘90s. So, I came in ‘98, and at that time they didn't have those kinds of departments, they had the structure that reflected the universities division. So, we had a business divisional rep and we had an engineering and science, humanities and health sciences reps. And then in 2000, I had a student approach me and she was saying that she felt that there wasn't enough support within the University for queer students. And she had an idea, which was to start up a collective for queer students. She had a couple of other friends that would want it to be involved, and I just helped them with that fight and all of the work. The Guild, I guess, provided the infrastructure and resources so that they could do that. And I think that was my thing that I was most proud to be associated with. I can't say that I was responsible for it, because the students did it. But I thought that in itself reflected success—the fact that it wasn't the Guild, the students stepped up and did it.
Lastly, when you look back at your time at Curtin and at the Guild, what are some of the best memories that crop up?
Well it was mostly always about the Tavern and the beach parties for us back then! I think in 2000 we had the inaugural Oktoberfest and we always loved the Beach Bash. I think a huge memory for me was actually lining up for my chip roll or chicken kebab at George’s Kebab [laughs]!
But I have to say the Guild gave meaning to my life that wasn't there before. I think before the Guild I was just a little bit lost at uni—kind of just rolling on, getting my chip kebab every day, rocking up to my lectures—I guess I wasn't really inspired. And then after joining the Guild, I made friends, I found a group of people whose values aligned to mine. They were motivated, they were enthusiastic and that kind of rubbed off on me, so I joined their purpose and I never looked back!