The beginning of fostering a safe and respectful university culture

Four friends laughing together

Last week, Torrens University Australia took part in the Respect at Uni campaign, an initiative aiming to spread awareness of a joint commitment to promote and highlight respect within the university community and sector.

Each university taking part in this campaign made the pledge to promote the importance of respect, equality and inclusion in our campuses, online spaces and communities.

Led by Sarah Molden, Student Wellbeing Manager from the Wellbeing and Diversity team, the Torrens University community took this all in stride, offering lunchtime learning sessions, afternoon tea on each campus and a #respectatuni social media campaign. Understanding that respect appears in many different forms can be overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to begin. If you come from a place of respect, that is a good start. But what does respect look like in specific situations? Our Lunchtime Learning sessions provided some fantastic advice regarding this.

Championing cultural safety and pride in diversity

During the week, staff and students took part in two lunchtime learning sessions; Cultural Safety and Pride in Diversity. The cultural safety session, hosted by Evan Karras, Student Experience Ambassador and Larissa De Lopez, Success Coach, covered important issues such as culture shock, and how understanding and curiosity are key to a safe cultural environment. Evan and Larissa presented the ‘Cultural Iceberg’, the idea that there is so much more beneath the surface that makes a person who they are. The ‘Cultural Iceberg’ explored surface-level aspects of a person’s culture such as cuisine, dress style and art while beneath the surface are deeper ties to identity including attitudes towards elders, courtship, religion etc. All these facets are essential to one’s identity and it is integral that both the surface and deeper levels of a person’s culture are acknowledged to make them feel safe and seen.

Our Pride in Diversity session, hosted by Christopher Nelson, Associate Director at Pride in Diversity, shared how to be an ally for the LGBTQIA+ community, the importance of pronouns and reminders that while mistakes are not the end of the world, they can be harmful if not checked. The half-hour session was packed with valuable discussions acknowledging the complexity and ever-evolving nature of terminology and how it can mean different things for different people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Nelson concluded the session by encouraging allies to call out poor behaviour and harmful assumptions, whilst busting a few myths* along the way.

*FYI, not all lesbians are good with power tools and not all gay men are fashion gurus.

Students and staff alike gained valuable insights into what respect looks like in different environments, sharing personal experiences and hearing stories from people of diverse backgrounds.

“It was so encouraging to see the numbers of both students and staff, coming together to engage with the learning at lunch sessions, and meeting up on campus to discuss what respect means to them,” said Sarah Molden. “This reflects an overwhelming commitment and willingness of individuals to share in the responsibility of working towards an environment that is not only free from violence but one that promotes respect and understanding above all else.”

Two 30-minute sessions are not the answer to solving all the world’s problems, and though these sessions skimmed the surface of what a respectful environment can look like, they are the perfect launching pad needed to maintain and foster a safe and respectful culture now and always.

Creating a safe and respectable future in the higher education sector

Where do we go from here?

As a community, this is just the beginning. Sarah believes we have a long way to go.

“We will only see a significant impact if universities prioritise student welfare initiatives such as Respect at Uni Week, and collectively commit to providing efficient and appropriate support and a proactive mindset to address the ongoing issue of safety and respect within the higher education sector,” said Sarah.

It is imperative that we continue to work at creating safe spaces for the most vulnerable members of our community and to ensure that education and support are always available. As individuals, we must reflect on our own privilege and the learned behaviours we carry with us that may be harmful to others. As a collective, we have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all through programs and policies and to carry the legacy of Respect at Uni with us into the future.

If reading this article has brought up any issues for you in any way, please contact:

  • Lifeline – 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • 1800RESPECT (family violence/sexual assault) – 1800 737 732
  • Men's Line – 1300 78 99 78
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