Call for the Koori Centre to remain as is
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Elvianna Dorante-Day signed recently
To The University of Sydney, particularly:
Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir;
Vice-Chancellor and Principal
Dr Michael Spence;
Provost & Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Professor Stephen Garton;
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) and Registrar
Professor Derrick Armstrong;
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)
Professor Shane Houston;
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (International)
Professor John Hearn;
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Jill Trewhella; and
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Strategic Management)
Professor Ann Brewer;
I would first like to acknowledge that The University of Sydney’s Camperdown campus stands on Cadigal land. I recognise the contribution of all Indigenous Elders, both past and present, in contributing to the survival of our diverse cultures and traditions. I also acknowledge the work of every person who has worked tirelessly within Indigenous education to provide Indigenous people with the tools to make positive change in our communities. The Koori Centre stands as a symbolic representation of the value of an Indigenous presence to the University of Sydney. However, it is also a practical example of Indigenous self-determination and reconciliation in action. As such, it is appropriate that the Koori Centre remain as is – a successful example of an identified Indigenous centre for students, staff and the wider Australian community.
I admire the University for its intention to deal comprehensively with Indigenous issues. However, I am concerned about the imminent changes regarding the Koori Centre on a number of levels outlined below, including: lack of consultation with current students, staff and the Indigenous and academic communities; lower attraction and retention rates for future students; and staff and student dissatisfaction with the changes as a result of the abolition of the only identified Indigenous centre on campus. I call for the Koori Centre to remain as is and not be transformed into the foundational basis for the National Centre for Cultural Competence, where the needs of Indigenous students and staff will be marginalised to their disadvantage.
From the perspective of Indigenous students at the University, I am concerned that the proposed changes reflect a lack of foresight in light of the current underrepresented academic rates of Indigenous people. I warrant that closing the only identified Indigenous centre at the University of Sydney would negatively impact the attraction and retention rates of Indigenous students. It is well established that the roles and responsibilities of Indigenous adults in their communities are often not compatible with undertaking tertiary studies. This is where away-from-base programs are essential in attracting and retaining an Indigenous cohort. Furthermore, Indigenous students who study through mainstream are generally
more likely in need of culturally appropriate support of the kind that the Koori Centre has been successful in offering throughout the years. I am also concerned that the University would act in the face of this clearly stated opposition from their students, who are in fact clients in a practical sense. Moreover, the Koori Centre has been an important institution for non-Indigenous students in the areas of course delivery and cultural awareness.
Furthermore, an identified Indigenous centre needs to remain on campus for easy accessibility to staff, students and visitors. Physical proximity is essential for maintaining strong relationships, which is a fundamental aspect of Indigenous cultures. Even in this technological age where communication is easy to achieve, solely relying on Internet communication to sustain links is not conducive to quality relationships. Face-to-face time is fundamental for social and professional relationships to be maintained. I am concerned that the changes to the Koori Centre will create professional and social distance as a result of physical distance. This concern, of course, is applicable to student-student relationships and staff-staff relationships, as well as staff-student relationships.
From the perspective of both academic and non-academic Indigenous staff at the University, I am concerned that their hands have been forced in this change. I acknowledge that placing Indigenous academics in mainstream faculties is an important step towards sharing knowledge and ways of producing knowledge between cultures. However, the employees must have a choice in this to ensure this is a respectful process, which is essential for ongoing job satisfaction.
A final concern from an employee perspective is that with these changes, staff will be performing part of a workload that they are neither interested in nor have training for. Besides having to teach Cultural Competence across different faculties at the expense of their chosen subject areas, this new role also brings with it a hidden workload. In all mainstream institutions, Indigenous employees are expected to handle all Indigenous issues that arise, especially in non-identified positions. This is an implied cultural and ethical responsibility that is rarely remunerated for. However, the most disturbing aspect of having Indigenous staff in mainstream roles are the levels
of institutional, covert and microracism they must endure as a result of being a minority in the workplace. It is true that legislation is in place to protect the dignity of all workers; nevertheless, these forms of racism are real and ongoing, and can be traumatising without appropriate support networks in the workplace.
The proposed changes are in contradiction to the review recommendations, which included that the Koori Centre be made a mini-faculty directly under the Provost. Furthermore, current students and staff were not properly consulted about the proposed changes, and have only learnt about the University’s intentions through word of mouth. This is an unethical process for consulting with Indigenous people. Historically, a lack of transparency in communication with between non-Indigenous and Indigenous groups has created unnecessary tension and mistrust. I believe the best solution would be to consult widely about the proposed changes with past and current students and staff, with completely transparent objectives established throughout the communication process. Following these protocols, it could then be established whether the abolition of the Koori Centre is, in fact, in the best interest of all key stakeholders.