We caught up with GAF and RMIT alumna Michelle Ginnivan, who talked to us about her role as an Advisor for Safer Community RMIT and the importance of speaking out against unsafe and disrespectful attitudes especially in times of crisis.
What did a George Alexander Foundation scholarship make possible during your time at university?
As a young adult living out of home, the GAF scholarship was life-changing! I was able to cover my living expenses without stressing so much about having to work all the time, which meant I was able to focus more on my studies. I was also able to buy a new (much-needed) laptop and was fortunate to study abroad for a semester at Ryerson University in Canada, which simply wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship. The GAF scholarship made my time at university a markedly different experience, and to this day I still reflect on and use some of the things I learnt in the leadership training I was able to take part in.
What motivated you to study a Bachelor of Social Work/Bachelor of Social Science?
I had a profound “lightbulb moment” when I was 16 where things really clicked into place for me. After a chance meeting with a vulnerable young woman in a park, I was left feeling really compelled to use my skills and interests to work with vulnerable young people. As I neared the end of my studies, I developed a strong interest in preventing violence against women and I’m grateful to now work in a role where I get to do both. In the end, I didn’t quite finish my Social Work/Social Science double degree, but instead completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Welfare and Society and Bachelor of Social Science majoring in Psychology which has been serving me pretty well so far!
What have you been up to since graduating university?
I was fortunate to land a role at RMIT University in our Safer Community team in March 2019 which has stretched and grown me both personally and professionally – I’m lucky to work with a really great team! In my spare time, I’m also working on an educational game, aimed at high school students, that’s designed to challenge rigid gender stereotypes and increase knowledge around violence against women through empathy-based learning. Working on the game has been a lot of fun but also really challenging as I’m learning more about how I work best and practising being a better self-motivator!
You work at RMIT as an Advisor for Safer Community, what does this role entail?
At Safer Community, we support students who are experiencing concerning, threatening, and inappropriate behaviour, which includes things like sexual harm, family violence, discrimination or harassment and more. We work by listening to what’s important to students and giving them information about their support options and their options to report the behaviour they’ve experienced, if they want to, so that they can make a decision that’s right for them. It’s a diverse role where no two days look the same and I really love the variety. For current scholars reading this, don’t hesitate to contact the Safer Community unit at your university if you’ve experienced something that you want to have a chat about – it doesn’t matter when or where the harm has occurred, we’re here to support you.
Any advice for other GAF scholars who want to create a safe culture in their community?
Some of our greatest opportunities for change and influence within our communities are actually in the smallest stuff. It’s rare that we get an opportunity to intervene to stop things like sexual harm or family violence from happening in the moment, but we can call out some of the seemingly benign comments that contribute to a culture that allows these things to occur. Violence thrives in cultures where disrespect is tolerated, so I’d encourage other scholars to consider the ways that they can challenge the disrespectful comments and attitudes that they hear in their communities – it could be as simple as choosing not to laugh at a sexist joke. This is more important now than ever, as services around the globe are reporting increases in family violence amongst the COVID-19 outbreak. We may have to be physically distant from one another at the moment, but it’s important that we maintain a social connection with our loved ones and look out for each other.
What are your goals for the future?
I’ve felt very side-tracked from working on my game for a while but I’m really keen to get stuck back into it, particularly now that some of my time has been freed up in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While there’s a lot to grieve in this time of change for us all, I’m actually looking forward to learning a bit more about myself and having a chance to slow down – I suspect I might find that some of my goals may shift and change as I pause to reflect and take stock of what’s important to me amongst all the chaos. My goal of becoming the Minesweeper world champion one day remains unchanged.
Interviewed in 2020.