Forging a path to reconciliation at Torrens University


As a proud Aboriginal woman from the Gumbaynggirr Nation, I’m deeply aware of the opportunity I have to impact the lives of students within Torrens University.

Today we write from two voices from within Torrens University.

Two distinct and different voices, but we connected and intersecting perspectives. Together, we have one crucial story to tell.

As a proud Aboriginal woman from the Gumbaynggirr Nation, I’m deeply aware of the opportunity I have to impact the lives of students within Torrens University. I also know that education is the greatest gift we can offer our young people. This gift provides the chance of empowerment and of shaping the future. In defining the future of education in Australia, we thus must look to our past, and ask the complicated and sometimes dangerous questions, to truly understand what has come before us.

As a second-generation Scottish Australian, and as an Executive Member of the Torrens University Team, I proudly believe that our future begins in proper acknowledgement, in recognition, in equality, equity, and reconciliation. For me, it is indisputable that we must close the gap. To be a truly prosperous and united Australia we must ensure the education, the health, the employment outcomes for our First Nations people. But moreover, we must feel united and proud in celebrating and commemorating First Nations culture and perspectives. We must acknowledge the gaps which exist and which matter – as this insightful Reconciliation Australia video outlines.

Our two perspectives intersect now, at the beginning of a critical chapter in the history of Australia’s newest university.

The word unique is often thrown around; it’s a word that can easily be overused and misused. But in our instance, Torrens University is unique. It’s an international university established in Australia and founded in the belief of global citizenship. It’s a university with campuses in multiple cities and states, with a strong foundation in industry and employability, with compelling credentials in online teaching and a focus on the future of work. It’s a private University with a robust public mission and a belief in doing good. This means that Torrens University can approach its mission in different ways. It can think outside the box. It can imagine a different future.

When it comes to First Nations people and community, Torrens University has the potential to collaborate well with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Our campuses should be places where students feel safe, secure, and proud of their heritage and culture. Our entrepreneurial spirit can fuel industry partnerships with First Nations businesses and enterprises.

As Australia’s newest university we should be a choice destination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students. Our vision should be to see students reach the highest echelons – and to imagine that one of our students may one day, be Vice-Chancellor or President.

At Torrens University, we are proud that we have nearly 300 students who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. This is a result we can be proud of, especially after five years of operations, but it’s also one that we should continue to nurture and grow.

When it comes to staff, and to employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, frankly we need to do more.

It’s from this basis that we must norm a new path. A path built through a proper cultural approach. One founded in reconciliation. This is why we are working towards a RAP -a Reconciliation Action Plan.

What we need to say upfront is that we don’t want a plan that sits on a shelf. You know the type – to go through a process and never refer to it again. We want a living and breathing document that is appropriate for who we are, where we have been, and where we are going.

But what does this mean in practice?

Devastating inequalities characterise Australia’s colonial history.

Our vision that “we champion the power of people to connect the world for good” should be at the forefront of our minds when we consider this history. Our vision is global, but the global must start local. And by starting local in Australia, we start with the voices, the stories and the perspectives of our First people.

Doing good starts with respect and acknowledgement.

On the lands where our campuses are located, teaching, learning, and research have taken place since time immemorial. These are traditional lands.

Over the last half-century, however, many significant steps towards reconciliation have been taken.

At its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between all Australians. Reconciliation is about respect. It’s about progress. It’s about a shared future.

Ours is an institution that believes that frameworks are critical to reconciliation. Right now, one of the most important documents which informs the dialogue between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is the Uluru Statement of the Heart. Drafted by Australian Indigenous leaders, it clearly articulates prerequisites for what they regard as genuine reconciliation.

In many organisations in Australia, a Reconciliation Action Plan, or RAP, provides a framework for organisations to support the national reconciliation movement. It’s a strategic document to support an organisation’s business plans and includes practical actions that drive the organisation’s contribution to reconciliation, both internally and in the communities in which it operates.

So, do we have a RAP at Torrens University? No.

Do we want a RAP? Absolutely yes. This is what we are now working towards together.

While this is important, it can’t be rushed. Done correctly, the Torrens University RAP will provide a platform for our organisation for the next five years and beyond. It will curate new relationships, internally and throughout our local communities. It will drive a culture of respect by providing cultural learning and development opportunities for staff. It will unearth new opportunities for student connection, for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

Together we are leading a new working group to deliver a Reflect Plan in preparation for a RAP in 2021.

What this means is we will be spending 12 months of yarning circles, discussions, debate, dialogue, and thinking to develop this RAP, as it is an essential part of the process.

So, let’s have a yarn. The invitation will be open to students, staff, alumni, and community. It will be conversations that involve our Vice-Chancellor, our board, our front-line staff, our teachers, our students. It will be collaborative, and it will be a process.

The keyword is – reflect.

By reflecting individually, as campuses, as faculties, and together, we will celebrate our culture of storytelling, and connect with one another. Because next year, when we launch our RAP, we know we will be much better placed to impact more lives within our network.

For now, we’re heading in the right direction.

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