The University of Sydney’s (USyd) Vice Chancellor, Michael Spence, has attracted criticism after quoting an early colonial era racist in a purportedly anti-racist email regarding the Christchurch massacre sent out to students yesterday.
In his email, Spence quoted USyd’s founder, William Charles Wentworth, who told NSW Parliament in 1850 that USyd needed to be a place “whose gates are open to the disciples of Moses, of Jesus, of Mohammed, of Bishnu, of the Buddha.” The Vice Chancellor added that “his vision of a diverse University is one to which we remain strongly committed.”
However, whilst Wentworth may have spoke of religious freedom in Parliament, he also spoke against a bill introduced to the NSW Legislative Council to give Aboriginal witnesses in a case the ability to testify in court. In his speech, he described Aboriginal people as “wild men” and compared their testimony to “the chatterings of the orang-utans.”
Spence condemned the Christchurch attack on Monday morning in USyd’s Student News and informed students of the University’s counselling services. However, yesterday’s email was his first direct and formal communication with all students regarding the attack.
Spence noted he met with representatives from the Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association (SUMSA) on Wednesday to “offer support”, and, added that, “the University is a place of inclusion where people from all cultures, religions and backgrounds are welcomed, respected and valued.”
The University of Sydney Union (USU) Wentworth Building on campus is named after William Wentworth, and an eight foot high statue of Wentworth stands in the University’s Quadrangle building.
In 2017 the Wentworth Must Fall campaign began, modelled on the South African Rhodes Must Fall campaign. The campaign is student led and seeks the renaming of the Wentworth building, in addition to starting an honest conversation about the University’s colonial history.
The demand to change the name of the Wentworth building has attracted broad support, with USU Board Directors of various political affiliations supporting the renaming of the building.
Indigenous Social Work student, Georgia Mantle, who co-founded Wentworth Must Fall told Honi, “quoting Wentworth as if he was a pioneer of equality shows the University’s unwillingness to admit to its own racist history and colonial past. If his legacy is what our University is built upon, it doesn’t surprise me that racism still runs rampant on our campus.”
Yesterday Honi reported that racist and nationalist posters appeared in the Engineering and IT precinct.
The Autonomous Collective Against Racism held a vigil for Christchurch earlier this week, which was taken down prematurely by a Campus Assist officer contracted by the University. Another vigil organised by the Sydney University Red Cross Society and co-hosted with several other organisations including the USU, SRC and Muslims Down Under will be held tonight from 5pm on Eastern Avenue.