La Trobe in the 1990’s

At a time before many of the current students were born, I attended La Trobe University. It was a fabulous, exciting time. The history wars were underway. Howard was in power and the student body was politically active and gave a damn. Instead of ignoring the one dude with a card table and pamphlets about anarchy, students rallied and they rallied en masse.

Back then, there was only about five computers in the library, all for catalog searches. The only computer lab on campus was way over the moat near Glen College and had about 20 computers. It was dial up (urgh) and you had to book an hour in advance to get access to a computer. But, no one really cared about using computers. Back then, there was no such thing as LMS, the University didn’t have a website and everything was paper driven. Readers were spiral bound and sold at the university’s bookshop (it wasn’t just a chain store co-op). We also had a second-hand bookshop run by the union.

Sure, there were a bunch of events involving alcohol but what made people show up to university in those days were social and political issues – something which has changed dramatically over the years. Whilst today’s cohort of students seems to be more aware, there seems to be a lack of doing. The whole focus of university has also changed. Once, it was all about thinking for thinking’s sake and now the entire degree is aimed at corporate life and career readiness.

In the library where the café is, there was once all photocopiers. I remember the day they installed a giant glass wall around the area and I ran smack into it like a seagull. Afterwards, carefully spaced out signs were hung saying, ‘beware of the glass’.

Back in the 1990s, all university essays were handwritten – I still have some. If they were typed, which was only an option to appease some of the better-off students, they were saved to those old fashioned square discs. All the departments had essay drop boxes. You’d get a stamp of time and date with a signature from the secretary behind the desk, so you knew you only had until four o’ clock or you wouldn’t receive a stamp.

In the 90’s, the women’s department was vital, well represented and militant. There was such a thing as Women’s Studies, there was a music department where huge protests were held when the Vice Chancellor decided to close the music department and spend several hundred thousands of dollars building the Chinese garden opposite the David Myers Building. North American Studies was offered as a major and subjects across disciplines would and often did run for an entire academic year (40CP as a bonus).

The campus has mostly stayed the same. The Agora is its twin from two decades ago. But, the library has been gutted. One of the best library collections I have ever seen was gone and in its place, hundreds upon hundreds of desks, nifty ottomans and computers. Quite sad from a historical point of view. Many of the shops are the same in the 90s although, the trendy cafes and Subway are newer additions. 

The number of cars at on campus has increased massively. I doubt I will ever understand why such a high percentage of the current cohort all drive to school. And seriously, where did the bins go in the car parks?

The improvements I have seen in the past decades that I have studied at LTU have included changes to safety protocols and and widespread understanding that sexual assault, sexual intimidation or harassment is a prevalent matter on university campuses, is taken seriously and requires obliteration from the university’s environment.

One of the best changes I have noticed, is that more people are thinking of new ideas and speak them freely. However, there is a sense of malaise regarding actual action. Things move at a slower pace as they require committees and policies and reviews to make them happen. Whilst technology and the number of students and staff has changed LTU, it is interesting to note that very little has changed in the couple of decades since my first time as a student there. To me, it still looks like home.

Claire Kearns is a third year student who returned to study in 2015 as a mature-aged student and is hoping to undertake her Honours in 2018. In her spare time, Claire is just a bit obsessed with Star Wars, writes poetry and is a passionate advocate for single mothers & their children. You can follow her on Instagram @ballerinapiratesmile.

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