Amid LGBT Pride month celebrations throughout June, a wave of gender equality and rights campaigns have been ignited in hopes of a change in society. One of them is a campaign from the Student Council of Khon Kaen University, which announced the cancellation of the use of gender prefixes within the student council on June 1, 2022, intending to embrace gender diversity based on human rights.
An important announcement on behalf of the student organization was what Equity lab discussed with Wachirawit Tessrimuang, a student of the Faculty of Law and President of the Khon Kaen University Student Council for the academic year 2022, as a signatory of the Student Council announcement regarding the cancellation of the use of gender prefixes.
From his experience of street fighting, the young man moved into activism within the academy to voice his name on the student’s behalf. The ultimate goal is to create equality in the university.
The beginning and process of efforts to abolish gender-identifying prefixes.
In reality, I had to go back to the student council election campaign, where it was almost a given that we would promote gender equality. Therefore, we have seen this policy in nearly all groups of applicants for the Khon Kaen University Student Council. The subject has drawn interest and approval both within and outside the university. The political climate forced Khon Kaen University to stop pushing this topic in the past.
In terms of the process, the Student Council distributed questionnaires to roughly 22 faculties after designing the general structure of the gender equality policy. The gender-specific prefix has issued an announcement to make the Student Council a pilot area for this activity in Khon Kaen University. The students were requested to complete questionnaires concerning how to dress for a graduation certificate, wearing a private uniform, student uniform, and the welfare of free sanitary napkins. In order to start a pattern that would cause academic groups to recognize the significance of this, it was announced on June 1st, which is Pride month. It is a fundamental problem that needs solving. Hence, it is most likely unrelated to the structure. But it’s the most straightforward thing to be found in the paperwork. Starting from this point, we will endeavor to solve a more significant issue with the framework for gender equality.
What role did the university play in this procedure?
To be completely honest, neither the bureaucracy nor universities are yet conscious of the problem of gender equality. The demands of the students enabled all of these events to take place at Khon Kaen University. If nobody complained, the university wouldn’t know about it as it wasn’t the major issue. However, this is the very minimum that colleges should be doing. The institution took no involvement in this topic at all until the Student Council began working on it. The management seldom ever expressed appreciation for our work. It could have some supporters, but they are in the minority.
What is the reaction of the universities and students to this announcement?
Students provided us with some really positive feedback. One thing that is obvious is how the members of the Student Council group are growing and changing. Gender has come to be more understood. Everyone must adapt because this concept has just recently started to become a societal trend during the last few years. I believe that due to gender equality, everyone is keener to collaborate and has a greater sense of respect and dignity. Another result is the widespread support for this strategy among instructors. The majority of them were educators with limited power within the company. It was a pleasure, however.
I believe that other university departments and sectors will respond more frequently in the future. We might have to wait a while because there were initially both supporters and critics of the policy. I believe it will require bravery for the individual to make the announcement.
What does the term “equality” mean to you, and what aspects does it contain?
To discuss equality, we must first accept that everyone is created equal. We must all work together to achieve this equality, regardless of one’s physical attributes, gender, or line of work. It is not a topic that should even be brought up. Everyone has the same level of human dignity, which I believe includes four aspects. The first is the promise of dignity included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Issues with welfare are the second. All people must benefit equally from the same welfare foundation. Legal rights come in third. All people must be treated equally under the law. Economy comes in fourth. An equitable economic distribution must be made to all people. My idea of equality is as follows. Another crucial aspect of maintaining human dignity is sexuality. Future developments will relate this to economic and social aspects.
How does reducing social inequality impact gender equality?
Initially, we believed that there were only two gender systems in society: male and female. The patriarchal structure, which is employed to manage the labor and the systems that include the social context, is used to rule many social hierarchies. Whether a person is classified as male or female at birth, it is essential to know that the two-gender system should no longer be used in contemporary society.
We must recognize that inequalities are at the root of the problem of inequality and that LGBT people have historically lived in a two-gender society. Because they do not have any access to welfare or legal rights, inequities increase as the number of LGBT individuals in the working class increases. Therefore, I believe that in order to close this gap, men and women should merely be treated as individuals without regard to their gender identification. In both legal and welfare considerations, it will aid in reducing inequality.
We must create equal dimensions, change the legislation, and restructure political systems, particularly the bureaucratic state, whose bureaucracy now serves as the state’s primary driving force. It will be difficult to achieve equality if the government does not tackle gender inequality.
What additional steps have been done for student rights, outside gender equality, and how much involvement do institutions have in those procedures?
We established a committee to oversee the care of students with disabilities this academic year, which was a new development after I was elected. When discussing the percentage of students at Khon Kaen University who have disabilities even if they are few, we cannot disregard or neglect these students.
We must protect their rights and wellbeing on the same basis as everyone else, even if they represent just one or two of the more than 30,000 students. Simply put, accessibility issues for individuals with impairments continue to exist at Khon Kaen University. They were unable to lead a self-sufficient existence. A constant sending and receiving hub is required. Imagine for a moment that the university’s pavement problem is insufficient to achieve equality.
What about the societal expenses that those with disabilities spend, which are far higher than among others, yet Khon Kaen University does not offer basic assistance to help its disabled students. The current strategy is more of a stopgap measure because the university’s organizational design continues to be hostile to and unsupportive of diversity.
Whether LGBT, minority, or disabled, these concerns are crucial to the Student Council’s efforts. To further forward the resolution of this issue, a commission was formed to examine the impact reports. The student voice, in our opinion, is what matters most. For education, we must pay tuition. In order to study, those with impairments must also pay tuition. They must thus get benefits in relation to their way of living.
What responsibility does the Student Council have to regulate students’ rights and welfare?
Initially, the Student Council has the authority to access, assist and supervise all students at the University. It is already stipulated in the University’s announcement to protect the rights and welfare of students, which is a clearly defined duty. The power of the administration, however, limits the extent of work that student organizations may do. I continue to think that this organization is capable of performing a variety of functions. That is to make a louder voice calling for what should be earned. I believe this is a very important factor in driving and making change.
According to the announcement of Khon Kaen University, the administrators frequently place restrictions. Therefore, the Student Council frequently needs their consent before planning events. The Student Council must fulfill its desires without utilizing money from the university’s budget. Sometimes the operations are lacking in budget factors. Although I think there is a technological issue here, I think the Student Council is loud enough. The administrators should have listened to us when we had the chance to speak at a meeting when they were present, and they ought to have taken our suggestions into consideration when making decisions.
What do you hope to accomplish in your role as student council president?
Actually, I had this in mind even before I decided to run for office because I wanted to build a new society. It is a society of equality, and it will turn the institution into a welfare university. The ultimate dream is this. I aim to engender in pupils a sense of equality within the university walls as human beings. I did not perceive such a difference. The person seated next to me may be more impacted by the economic crisis than I am. The Student Loan Fund is where they must go. Everyone may have counted as one when we first arrived at the institution, but that changed when we started our studies. My friends turned against me as I advanced. It is what I observed, and it was sad.
It must be a branch of university equity that can accept diversity and provide a space for intellectual freedom. It must be safe for everyone to voice their thoughts. It is my main motivation for applying for this job. Actually, I believe that a large portion of my fellow applicants should share this opinion and will make an effort even if they lack significant influence.
Using the position of student council president to advocate for concerns at the university, how are the outcomes different from what you would expect as a typical student?
It was unmistakably unique. The executives who looked at us when we were just regular students had a poor attitude toward us, treating us like we were conceited and radical. However, my opinions gained greater clout once I was elected president of the student council. They were considerate of me because my position was elected. Compared to the appointed executives, it is different. I believe they are more cautious. They paid greater attention to what we had to say, but whether they would act on it is another story. The management, in my opinion, has adjusted, which is the second. Being careful in many areas, including gender, as a result of this adjustment is necessary since the Student Council has made it clear that it supports democracy and equality. As a result, whenever decisions are taken under an authoritative framework, there will undoubtedly be opposition.
What are the difficulties with the university’s claims procedure for activists? How do they compare or contrast with human rights activists personally?
Having said that, it’s very challenging to get a new position.
I saw how Mr. Frank-Netiwit (Chotiphatphaisal) modified his prototype. In my early years, I participated in political activism. I was always on the go and never considered working in the government. I had to make a lot of adjustments when I started serving as the student council president in my fourth year since, in my opinion, the bureaucracy is rather unfortunate in terms of administration, documentation, and political elements.
We have greater freedom and the ability to speak our minds during moving. But when we work in the student council, there is a certain framework around us. We may not have created the structure, but it has been established that the student council has a responsibility to help the administration of the institution. However, we don’t see it that way. The fact that we are elected, that we are here in our capacity as representatives, and that we are here to defend student interests has led to a potential separation of this year’s council from management. I need to grasp how the political realm in the shape of parliament varies from the movement as a people since I am no longer your servant. Similar to the House of Representatives is the Student Council. We think the council can still be effective and go forward. All we need to do is comprehend the bureaucratic management process. We are currently working to cut down on additional stages.
What aspect of working for the Student Council is the most challenging?
Sincerity aside, I believe the struggle against authoritarian systems to be the most difficult. It made the Student Council’s political task even more challenging. Authoritarianism is a major issue that will produce a lot of other issues since it is ingrained in every wall and square inch of the campus.
Recent announcements by several educational institutions prohibiting SOTUS internships have spread quickly. What do you think about this trend?
SOTUS, I believe it is important to recognize and encourage my friends who publicly state their desire to put a stop to dictatorship. When individuals declare their support for SOTUS is one thing I don’t think will happen today. I won’t be able to talk anymore with my mouth. In contrast to the past, if someone suggested eliminating SOTUS, they would be scorned. Something exists here. I’m delighted that occurred today and I feel remarkably good about it. This wave Many institutions, in my opinion, cannot ignore the fact that the majority of students now agree that SOTUS should not be supported, whether it be through individual student councils, student groups, or both. Because SOTUS is the same as a dictatorship, in our opinion, you shouldn’t support him. I think the desire to reinstate a free education system and eliminate the military system from the educational system is a social motivation.
How has the policy been created to cope with the SOTUS system for Khon Kaen University, one of the universities that declares their opposition to the SOTUS system?
To be honest, SOTUS still exists even after the cancellation has been announced. The announcement of the cancellation of SOTUS in KKU, this time is the second announcement. The most recently announced part is the operation of the Khon Kaen University Student Organization. The issue is whether or not the first-round announcement can’t be canceled.
We must acknowledge that SOTUS is a very challenging mechanism to combat. Therefore, the core of our strategies is group reasoning. We can’t defeat SOTUS by defeating it all but we have to make them understand how bad it is. We must change their mind and make them understand that SOTUS is authoritarianism no different from dictatorship. It is important that suppression cannot be manipulated. You catch them, or you cut their conduct points. You can’t make them change their mind. The council also has a method for setting up a commission to monitor the arrangements of welcoming new students in particular, as well as campaigning to see the results of this system. It is a long-term politics that will see results in 5-10 years, which I think starting today is not too late.
What have you learned from working as the student council president?
We must not be afraid to retaliate or fight with the administrators and do not need to cherish the position of student council president. The primary function of this position is to conduct meetings that already represent student representatives. I think the student council president must have the courage. In order to do the right thing, stand up and side by side with the ideals that lead to growth, we must not be afraid of being fired by the existing political system.
How can change at the university level lead to change at the social level?
Universities are like a country that we often hear of as the center of intellectuals. When the administrators or the people in power say that this small country is a field of academic knowledge, they cannot bring the country equality. Thailand, which has a state constituent, is difficult to achieve equality. Universities with or without restrictions are not a problem. The problem is how to make the university a city that embraces the diversity that is a beautiful thing in a democracy. If this is possible in a university setting, it serves as a blueprint for the organization of the whole nation. It is unquestionably possible at the national level.
Khon Kaen University President Assoc. Prof. Dr. Chanchai Phanthongwiriyakul, MD, signed Khon Kaen University Announcement No. 1620/2565 about the student dress code on June 27, 2022. According to the rules of the institution, students whose gender or gender does not correspond to their natural gender may dress in formal clothes or in school uniforms to support gender equality and prevent unfair gender discrimination.