In October 2018, the University of Newcastle celebrated student achievements with the inaugural Student Engagement Awards. Born from the previous Campus Life Awards and Industry and Employability Awards, the Student Engagement Awards are designed to recognise students who go above and beyond to contribute to the UON community. Not only are they boosting fellow students’ time studying, they’re also paving the way for a successful future.
This year’s winner of the prestigious Campus Life Award was Ollie Cook, Queer Convenor for NUSA. We spoke with Ollie about their tireless advocacy for students and what achievements they’re most proud of.
NAVIGATOR: How long have you been volunteering with UON?
Ollie: I have been volunteering in some way, shape or form since my first year in 2015, but have been volunteering with the Queer Collective since the start of 2017 and have been [doing so] ever since; so around 4 years all up.
NAVIGATOR: What does advocating on behalf of students involve?
Ollie: For me, advocating on behalf of students involves lots of meetings, but it is at those meetings that I get to bring forward concerns and issues on behalf of the general student body, but more specifically queer students. Those meetings start with actually meeting with students both formally and informally, whether this is surrounding sexual assault and harassment on campus, gender neutral bathrooms, having more staff ALLY trained and general concerns that queer students have about either queer issues or more broader issues. It also means asking questions about policies and programs and why they are that way and how we can make them more inclusive.
NAVIGATOR: How did it feel to have your hard work recognised?
Ollie: It was pretty surreal, but also pretty amazing. In no way did I ever think that being the NUSA Queer Convenor would ever end in this but it was nice to be recognised formally.
NAVIGATOR: What’s next for you?
Ollie: Well, after a big year I need to knuckle down and finish writing my honours thesis, and then all going to plan I am hoping to move interstate to Melbourne and start a PhD in the middle of 2019.
NAVIGATOR: What would you say has been the highlight of your campus involvement at UON?
Ollie: Look I don’t think I can say one thing so I will list the top few. One of the big things was the implementation of gender inclusive bathrooms around campus, there were four that were opened in August and more coming in the future. This was a campaign that I have worked on for around 18 months and to see that happen was an incredible win for me and the collective. Also, everything about Pride Week 2018. We ran nine events in five days, and although the planning was long and it was a tiring week, it was great to see the wider UON community engage with the collective and queer events. Pride Week culminated in Pride Party at Bar on the Hill, which saw over 500 people come party with us and was an amazing showcase of inclusion and the diversity of the queer community. I am sure if you asked this question a month later Queer Christmas which is happening on the 30th of November will be up there as well!