Notes from the VC’s Desk: Direct from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Brigid Heywood this week

Published On May 29, 2020 | By Alana | General News, News, Notes from the VC's Desk
This week much of my attention was directed to equity and diversity matters. If I said that I missed the time spent focusing all of my attention on COVID-19 it would be a lie.

The start of National Reconciliation Week included a meeting with UNEIEC members and work on our preparations for a ‘virtual’ NAIDOC week later this year. The discussion in various places focused on the work we need to do to build on our long standing commitment to ensuring that UNE provides a culturally safe environment and offers relevant support to all those seeking to use education as a means of leveraging personal and professional success.  As a regional university, established on the country of the Anaiwan people, the Traditional Custodians of the land on which the University stands, UNE is committed to supporting the educational, cultural and social advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Today, UNE supports some 967 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying, most of whom followed alternative pathways into university study. There are currently 33 staff, including 8 academics, who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Small but important steps. 

Another key action this week was the submission of UNE’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to Reconciliation Australia for endorsement. The draft plan is the product of extensive community engagement and represents an exciting next step in UNE’s journey to fulfill our commitments and responsibilities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. It also reaffirms our commitment to working side-by-side with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff to create equitable opportunities in higher education, regardless of location or circumstance.

UNE RAP Artwork by Warwick Keen
At UNE we know that all of our students are working hard to meet their own challenges and those set by the decision to study at an elite level and secure a degree. The engagement on our student body in the co-design of our courses, the future campus and the wider purpose of the University is an important aspect of the enabling purpose of UNE. The student voice has been very much present during recent times as we have sought to navigate the pandemic – I am deeply impressed by the level of engagement, the quality of the information presented, and the generosity of both formal and informal student leaders towards their peers and fellow students. The fact that this has become more visible in these challenging times is, for me, another dimension of the equity/diversity equation being brought to life. 

Parts of my diary this week were devoted to updates on the work prompted by the 2017 AHRC Change the Course Report on sexual harassment and sexual assault. UNE needed to address some of the key cultural issues raised by the report and our own survey results. All of our places must be safe for everyone in our community. UNE must be a place of zero tolerance for all behaviours and actions which fall short of the code. With a diverse student body, both residential and online, across multiple work spaces, each with their own micro-culture, the task of creating a unified set of principles, policies and practices has not been trivial or easy. Nevertheless, respect, responsibility and accountability must be the capstone values which we hold our students, our staff and our partners too. 

Questions around equity and diversity also tipped over into my more general musings this week. With over 15 million results appearing in under 0.5 second, there can be little doubt that the issue of gender equality art is a significant topic. Interesting therefore that in the 21st century, some 100 year after women first secured the right to vote, that the majority of images being used to address COVID-19 safety matters are dominated by male only icons – safety is an issue for all  (despite Dominic Cummings assertion’s to the contrary). I can hear all the voices saying that in the bigger picture of things it seems to be a small and possibly insignificant point. If you have a few minutes to do some digital musing follow the various stories about the inequity of provision/impact for women in this global crisis. The loss of free personal hygiene resources for young women unable to attend school, the loss of childcare provision, loss of education; the list goes on. Some of the world’s most vulnerable people have and will experience this pandemic in ways that will greatly burden them for years to come. UNESCO estimates that over 89% of children of school children age are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university, including nearly 743 million girls. Over 111 million of these girls are living in the world’s least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle. As COVID-19 forces 743 million girls out of school in 185 countries, rising drop-out rates will disproportionately affect adolescent girls. This will only exacerbate gender gaps in education and lead to increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and unintended pregnancy, and early and forced marriage. 

As we all migrate back to café’s and 3D cappuccinos, I hope that we might extend our humanity to the critical inequities that will burden so many young people over above the challenges we are experiencing in our own communities. 

Still Life 1944 by Ernest Buckmaster
With those thoughts in mind it is almost a given that I would walk home tonight with the dulcet tones of Jackie Deshannon playing through my ear pods. I have acquired a copy of an anthology of Australian poems edited by Sarah Holland Batt which is delightful; she speaks of order and rebellion, ardour and irony, beauty and abjection and everything in between. A plague of bogong moths, the impact of testing at Maralinga are but a few of the topics – great read! My choice for the weekend must of course be the winning entries from the short story competition:

•    1st place U18 | The Professor and the Ghost, Bernadette Haines
•    1st place 18+ | Blue Hole, by Ben Gooley (UNE staff)
•    2nd place | Spark, Sally Parker

Make sure to check out Creative New England Website and Facebook for updates and get your entries in for the Painting Competition.

As ever, stay safe, stay alert, stay well.

Sincerely,

Professor Brigid Heywood

Vice-Chancellor & CEO

UNE

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