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I, Too, Am Sydney

Jay Ng, Bridget Harilaou, and Astha Rajvanshi report on a campaign that reveals the unheard stories of USyd’s stifled voices.

Photography by Jay Ng. Photography by Jay Ng.
Photography by Jay Ng.
Photography by Jay Ng.

This project is the result of students in the Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR) banding together to expose racism within the University. It was inspired by the recent ‘I, Too, Am’ campaigns originating at Harvard University, followed by similar efforts at Oxford and Cambridge.

These initiatives resonate deeply with many students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds at the University. We are grateful to have many enthusiastic and inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students involved in this project, because they are part of the larger university community. Similar to their on-campus experiences across the nation, their experience is repeatedly neglected
and ignored by society.

Shiran Mario Illanperuma, participant of ‘I, Too, Am Sydney’ and SRC Ethnic Affairs (ACAR) Officer said that many students within the collective “often experience the abrupt realization that they are the only non-white person in classrooms”. Illanperuma stresses that this campaign is of critical significance to students as it “brings many of us together as a community and shows that we are not alone”.

Many of the messages that are written within the pictures are shared experiences, but some of them are isolated experiences of racism. Our assimilation should not come at the cost of our identity.

This is our way of exploring and affirming the diverse experiences of students on campus. The students who have participated in this project are brave and willing to reflect back on their negative experiences and transform them into powerful messages. Tiarne Shutt wanted to be a part of the project because she is “fed up with having to justify [her] heritage” due to the ignorance of other people. Racism in Australia is both institutionalised and underhanded – to the point where it goes unnoticed as the norm. By speaking out about the widespread presence of racism, be it explicit or microagressive, we believe it will help empower us and inspire our community.

The prevalence of comments indicating a lack of knowledge of Indigenous culture show the embarrassing need for education and progress in our society. While it may seem straightforward to understand that a person’s Aboriginality cannot be measured and that individuals define themselves, a lack of acknowledgment of this fact persists. Further, the incidence of stereotyping how Indigenous Australians should look, speak and act reveals the severity of the ignorance and racism within the University of Sydney.

To blame Australia’s colonisation on past people and make parallels to white examples of atrocity denies non-Indigenous privilege just as much as it denies white privilege. It ignores and erases the fact that every single non-Indigenous person who lives in this country (whether they have experienced racism or not) continues to benefit from and exploit this stolen land. This theft has not been anywhere near properly addressed and we must support Indigenous sovereignty, agency and voices, and mobilize access to health, education, employment and community. This is the only way to combat how we participate in this structural racism, not by claiming that current Australian citizens can’t be blamed for the past. Take responsibility for your privilege and actively support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by paying attention to their desires instead of what you think they need.

It is our vision that this project will highlight the discrimination and stereotyping that is embedded in our society in order to inspire serious discussions surrounding racial identity on campus. The campaign serves to educate people about racism, so that ignorance and white privilege cease to perpetuate a racist culture in which non-white students are invisibilised.

We want to reclaim our individual and collective identity, stand up against institutionalized racism, and speak up to say: “This is our university, too”.

These are “Our Stories. By Us. For Us.” I, Too, Am Sydney. If you would like to participate, please contact itooamsydney@gmail.com

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