Vice Presidents’ Report – Week 8, Sem 1, 2016

The University of Sydney stands on the stolen lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Although we hear this phrase often in obligatory acknowledgements of country, it is worth pausing and reflecting on what this really means in the context of our learning and our relationship to the University as students.

The academy in general, and USyd in particular, are implicated in long histories of colonialism. Disciplines like anthropology and human biology were integral to the colonial project, legitimising discourses of Aboriginal people as ‘noble savages’ with inherent biological differences to white Europeans. Botany and agricultural research played a pivotal role in establishing settlement in Australia, providing the knowledge and techniques necessary for foreign crops and livestock to be grown here. The knowledge produced in academic disciplines is not politically or socially neutral – it is created to fulfil specific purposes dictated by larger realities of structural racism. As students, we should learn and remember this history.

Despite the lip service paid to ‘diversity’ and ‘cultural change’ in the University’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, university management is not sincerely committed to supporting Indigenous students. Gutting almost half of the units comprising the Indigenous Studies major last year indicates the University’s lack of support for Indigenous education. DVC (Indigenous Strategies and Services) Shane Houston’s decision to fragment support services for Indigenous students, moving them from the autonomous Koori Centre to the general Student Services Centre, undermines the history and value of the Koori Centre as a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.

Creating safe spaces and providing support for Indigenous students within an institution that has historically marginalised and excluded them takes a lot of hard work, and does not happen overnight. It is the task of students, as well as university administration, to foster a safer environment. You can join the group Students Support Aboriginal Communities, who work on various issues in Sydney and around the state to provide funds and support for grassroots Indigenous projects. Keep up with the great work the Indigenous Collective is doing through the SRC. Think about how your studies can challenge, rather than support, the racist legacies of academia; and always remember that you are walking on Aboriginal land.

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