A lack of communication regarding the fate of Sydney University’s Koori Centre has left students fearing a repeat of the dangerous rhetoric that made way for 340 proposed job cuts last semester.
The “Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu” strategy will scatter the Koori Centre’s functions and staff across campus in 16 faculties.
In a recent letter to university newspaper Honi Soit, deputy vice-chancellor Shane Houston said no jobs would be lost under the revamp, nor would students' access to staff or existing facilities be removed. He said, “the university is expanding its efforts not reducing them”.
However, in the wake of one of the largest student-staff movements at the university since the introduction of Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU), scepticism of the validity of claims made by university management is not surprising.
At a recent Education Action Group forum on campus, National Tertiary Education Union Sydney branch president Michael Thomson was quick to suggest, “no positions lost doesn’t necessarily mean no individuals will lose their jobs”.
Student Representative Council Indigenous Student Officer Narelle Daniels says that the key question is “how long will students have access to Koori Centre facilities like the library, computers and common room?
“It’s not just about the rooms, it’s about keeping Indigenous support close to home. We simply don’t want 16 different places … But when we’ve asked for a meeting with him [Houston] reception keeps putting us off.”
Close to 300 members of a “Save the Koori Centre” Facebook group are united in their frustration at the lack of consultation and answers to students’ questions. Without adequate communication, many students view the proposed “Centre of Cultural Competencies” as little more than a fancy euphemism for “assimilation by stealth”.
“The lack of clear and concise information … is what is causing such consternation,” Leanne Jamieson posted. “If these changes are to benefit Indigenous students past and present, why [is] there no meaningful, respectful consultation with them?”
“This all has a bad smell about it,” commented another.
Students are now preparing to take to the streets in a bid to democratise changes to the Koori Centre and to fight against the current trajectory that appears increasingly out of sync with what they want from their education.
“Aboriginal studies work better when there is a sense of community”, Daniels said. “They are essentially destroying a family and we won’t stand for it.”