Indigenous students protest at University of New England for cultural change

PROTESTING: Students from the Indigenous Student Association will continue protesting at the University of New England for improvements to cultural safety.
PROTESTING: Students from the Indigenous Student Association will continue protesting at the University of New England for improvements to cultural safety.

INDIGENOUS students have thrown down the gauntlet, calling for improvements to cultural safety at the University of New England.

With a tent, Aboriginal flags and signs bearing the slogan "About Us Without Us" and “Transparency”, students say they will continue protesting on campus for a cultural safety change.

UNE Indigenous Student Association (ISA) former president Bryce Wilson said it was university-wide issue which was impacting many students.

 “We are saying to the university to please make its campus culturally safe, and listen to your students,” he said. 

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“The university asked us for a cease fire and in doing so, we put 10 conditions to them to continue that cease fire.

“However, the university’s response was very unsatisfactory. They said they met seven conditions but in reality, they haven’t been met.”

One of the 10 conditions on the table included ISA being allowed back into the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, which the student-run association claims was banned last year.  “[It is] because they are trying to silence Aboriginal voices but in reality all we want to do is work with them," Mr Wilson said on Tuesday.

”If the 10 conditions were satisfactory met, then we wouldn’t be protesting. 

“We aren’t asking to be treated any differently, we are actually asking the university to treat us equally because we aren’t getting that at the moment. 

“So what we are asking for is the university to substantially meet those 10 conditions or enter into mediation with us but also the holistic part of those conditions is to make this university culturally safe.” 

But UNE’s advancement, communications and events director Robert Heather said ISA has always had the option to access the Oorala Centre to conduct meetings or other activities.

“Throughout this year, a small group of students have raised concerns regarding the treatment of Indigenous students,” Mr Heather said.

“The students have met with the Provost and deputy Vice-Chancellor Todd Walker on multiple occasions to raise a number of matters, all of which have been investigated or considered by UNE.

“In particular, the students submitted 10 requests for consideration and the University, in conjunction with the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, has supported seven of the 10 requests. 

“The students were provided detailed reasons for those requests that were not supported.

“The university and Oorala acknowledges and supports the work of the ISA and has recently implemented new measures to rebuild the relationship. 

“This year they are assisting approximately 800 students through a range of educational programs and support projects. 

“Over the past three years, there has been a significant increase in progression and success outcomes.”

Mr Heather added UNE will continue to work with the ISA and Oorala to ensure the university is a safe and respectful environment for all staff and students. ​