The voice of Otago Law's second years: give us our camp back!

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On Monday the 5th of March 2018, the second year Law students at the University of Otago suffered a low blow. The legendary SOULS (the Society of Otago University Law Students) Law Camp 2018 that many sights had been set on since a year ago has been cancelled - not even 5 days before it was due to start. 

In the last week there have been several allegations against Otago Law and the annual camp. Whilst we understand this may be an extremely tricky time for the University being under media scrutiny we feel that this chance to grow as a cohort and future colleagues should not be taken from us. 

All second year students have been looking forward to an event that was supposed to be a crazy fun weekend dedicated to forming deep collegial bonds with our classmates. The majority of second years have been looking forward to the camp as a reward for getting into second year law, and feel that a huge part of feeling settled and welcome is knowing the faces that surround you every day. 

We don’t get many chances at university to spend quality time with our entire class in one go - all students know how hard it is to get to know those around us in lecture theatres or in the midst of tutorials. Especially for a degree as intense, long and harrowing as Law - you need to have the support of your peers to make it through, and this camp offered the opening for those life long relationships that SOULS promised us. It was the opening for stability in friendships, study habits, a support system; all of which stressed students need for our mental wellbeing for the next three (or four) years.

We were all also looking forward to the immediate stress relief that would come from the weekend - all of us are already beginning to feel the pressures of second year and many of us had got out of work to have this weekend clear for the trip away.  

Collectively, second years were quite shocked to hear the stories about what has gone on at law camp over the last few years. However, we were assured that SOULS had made huge amendments and changes to the way Law Camp 2018 was going to be run - and I believe that most of us felt comfortable that we would not be pressured into anything we felt uncomfortable with. Instead we thought we were in for a safe, exciting weekend getting to know our peers.

However, in a meeting held today between the University and SOULS, the University withdrew all support from the camp and SOULS were unable to follow through with the trip.

We sincerely appreciate that SOULS really tried their best to continue the positive legacy of the Law Camp and change what needed so desperately to be changed. We understand that these are serious allegations - some of the alleged events anger me immensely as a young woman entering the legal profession, and issues such as these, especially of the sexual type, need to be discussed as part of a wider discussion about sexual harassment in the New Zealand legal profession. (Take note, Russell McVeagh). For those of you who don't believe it is a problem, get a reality check here. 

One of the points that has angered us second years the most is the NZ media’s continual obsession with sensationalised stories of debauchery at Otago. There is a huge market for media hits (therefore advertising revenue) with the current Russell McVeagh investigation, combined with the recent initiations article which painted all Otago students as ogres. Media sensationalism can wreak havoc when it is pointed in the wrong direction - we’ve all seen American news. For instance, other Otago faculties run social camps that can get a bit crazy. And other universities host law camps with all sorts of shenanigans. Why is there no publicity about these events? A) because drinking at a students society associated event is not unusual, and B) because the public would not be anywhere near as interested in the narrative.

It should not be too much to ask to have a great trip away with our cohort to get to know one another, be young and escape the student made confines of North Dunedin. It should not be too much to ask to enter into a professional career pathway without sexual harrassment and peer pressure every step of the way. And it should not be too much to ask to not let our voices be squashed by media sensationalisation and pressure.

 

Sign this petition if you want a 2018 SOULS Law Camp to go ahead that will allow us to have an amazing time, get to know each other, be comfortable AND respect every individual's boundaries, privacy, and right to say no.



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