A statement from the University of Sydney has confirmed that the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Services (DVC ISS) is proceeding with changes to the Confirmation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Identity Policy 2015.
The policy, which outlines definitions for “Aboriginality” and a schedule of conditions students must meet in order to qualify for identified entry schemes and financial aid, was slated for review last year.
A “yarning forum” on the policy, involving First Nations staff and students, was held in the F23 Michael Spence Building in October 2022, where students say they were “unfairly racialised” and “had their identity/ies questioned” by University staff. DVC ISS Lisa Jackson-Pulver and Associate Professor Dea Delaney-Thiele chaired the meeting.
A second-year student who attended the forum told Honi, “the University was trying to place conditions on our identity by telling us what does or doesn’t count as proof of our Aboriginality.
“For someone like me, whose Elders were part of the Stolen Generations, a letter from the land council can be really inaccessible. It’s an unfair crackdown on Aboriginal students.”
At present, the policy allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to present either a signed “common seal” letter from a registered Aboriginal organisation (such as a Local Aboriginal Land Council) or a notarised statutory declaration affirming their identity.
The proposed changes would remove the provision allowing students to present a statutory declaration, and implement a process to “check information received from students or applications for employment or other identified opportunities at USyd.”
The University had planned to confirm the changes by November 2022, but following the fallout from the yarning forum — and in the context of the Voice to Parliament referendum — the Gadigal Centre had communicated to students that the policy changes had been abandoned.
However, when Honi contacted the University about its rationale for scrapping the policy changes, the University responded that “we never intended to abandon the update.”
A University spokesperson told Honi, “Despite best efforts, we’re aware our initial attempt to update the policy did not meet the needs of all our stakeholders. Following that feedback, and alongside further feedback from staff and students about the stresses they were experiencing in the lead up to the Voice referendum, we temporarily paused the work.
“We’ll be recruiting a new Director of Community and Culture position in the new year; this role will lead the development of the revised policy.”
The University did not address the concerns raised by students in its statement, but encouraged “all students to maintain strong communication with the Gadigal Centre team. The Centre has a structured support environment where students can access support.”
The statement ended: “We remain deeply committed to creating higher education and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as outlined in our ambitious Indigenous strategy One Sydney, Many People.”
The strategy recently went under review after failing to meet its targets on parity.
The Gadigal Centre was approached for comment.