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Racism at Australian universities to be probed

4 June 20240 comments

The Australian Human Rights Commission will lead a groundbreaking independent study to better understand and address the dangerous prevalence of racism at universities, after receiving $2.5 million in Commonwealth funding.

Race Discrimination Commissioner, Giridharan Sivaraman said the study will be “comprehensive”, with university students and staff to share their experiences of racism, and additional research undertaken to assess structural racial barriers.

It will address all forms of racism, including the antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism currently being seen on campuses, and systemic racist practices against First Nations student and staff.

“In its work over many years, the Commission has heard that universities can be sites of racist conduct and practices. This study will give them the evidence and roadmap to change,” Commissioner Sivaraman said.

“Whether it be international or migrant students, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or those from racialised backgrounds, and identifiable religious faiths, there are countless stories of discrimination, targeted hate and harm at universities. This is an incredible opportunity to hopefully put an end to such behaviour.

“The research will not just be about addressing interpersonal racism, but will investigate systemic racist practices that limit people’s right to education and progression in employment. We need to ensure people’s safety and maximise their chances to succeed.” 

Commissioner Sivaraman welcomed the initiative, which implements part of a key recommendation from the Universities Accord, and said he hoped the findings will become a foundational piece to guide all Australian universities.

“Our research will be centred on people’s lived experiences, with a strong focus on First Nations students and staff,” Commissioner Sivaraman said.

“We will take a robust independent approach that is trauma-informed, providing the government and higher education sector with recommendations that help us understand where things currently stand, and how they can be improved.

“The Commission’s ongoing work to support the development of a National Anti-Racism Framework has already identified the urgent need to address racism in the university system. 

“We are excited to work on this historic study to uphold human rights principles for both staff and students.”