Much of the student-staff partnership literature calls for increased collaboration and power sharing among staff and students. Less common are accounts by student partners themselves that take up the challenge of what partnership and power feel like as universities embrace their neoliberal trajectory - and - purport to do so on behalf of students themselves. Especially acute is the conundrum of how partnership initiatives can, and do, reproduce the very power dynamics they set out to transform. We are a group of students and staff working in curriculum partnership together at Western Sydney University. The context of our work together is the 21C project, a university-wide strategy to transform curriculum, teaching, and learning, drawing on ‘partnership pedagogy’. In this paper, we engage in a process of reflexive inquiry to interrogate a new elective unit that many of us are involved in as advocates, co-creators, as students and staff learning together, and as evaluators, called We are the university: Students co-creating change (WATU). To highlight partnership’s intricate power plays, we offer a fictionalised account to reflect our multi-voiced experiences of being involved in WATU. We have come to understand power’s simultaneity in partnership as forms of power over, as permission-giving, as sharing (or partnership), and as the power to act (agency). The account is our story of partnership’s inevitable contradictions - a collaboration that teaches us about the challenges of working together while being cautious of partnership’s transformatory claims.

Practitioner Notes

  1. How do student-staff partnership initiatives often reproduce the power dynamics they set out to transform?
  2. How can student-staff partnership initiatives work with power in complex ways? How do we attend to power?
  3. What stories are we trained to tell about our student-staff partnership initiatives? What theories can we draw on to disrupt stories of practice, and how do practices push our theoretical knowledge?
  4. What are the success criteria of our student-staff partnership initiatives? Who sets them?
  5. In what way does our WATU story led you to rethink a student-staff partnership practice you are involved in?

Twitter Handle

@tpeseta, @wsu_sap