My family and I are proud Wiradjuri people, and I grew up on Darkinjung country on the Central Coast. I like to say that I was destined to be the first person in my family to go to university, but unfortunately my brother stole that title from me by about a year.
I was lucky enough to receive UAC offers and interest from many of the major universities in Sydney and I was having a really tough time deciding where to study. I remember receiving tonnes of letters and merchandise, phone calls and emails from the various universities, some of which were coming from Emily Sutton at Macquarie. All it took was one visit to our Indigenous student centre to know that this was the place for me.
I remember describing it to my mum; I wasn’t able to say it was flashy and full of people like some of the other university centres, and it was definitely not easy to find, but what I do remember was that I felt safe and was surrounded by people and things familiar to me. I remember that there were two very keen staff members ready to help me in any way they could. My mum said “right, that’s where you’re going. End of discussion”.
I’m now three years in to my Human Sciences degree. I go into Walanga Muru (the Office of Indigenous Strategy) almost every day, and recently I was given an opportunity to work there as part of the cadetship program. I’ve made friends that have become family, and I’ve been supported in so many different ways by people that understand my values, where I’ve come from and the challenges that I face.
To me, a big part of this Indigenous Strategy Green Paper is taking that safe environment that the Indigenous centre has created, and extending it out into all areas of the university. Of course I’m always going to feel most at home in Walanga Muru, but I would like to be able to feel culturally-safe, supported and free to be myself anywhere on campus.
This strategy will enable me to celebrate my culture and my family, whilst addressing that I and other Indigenous students face challenges and experiences that differ from other students. By educating the university and extending our Indigenous reach on campus, students will feel comfortable seeking advice from their faculty and participating in all university has to offer. To me, the Green Paper is a huge step in saying that the University wants me and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to come here, to stay here, and to flourish in our studies, instead of just surviving in them.
Moving forward, I am excited that our University will have a reconciliation action plan, a competitive strategy to attract greater numbers of Indigenous students, and the promise that the incredible support services that made me and so many other Aboriginal students choose Macquarie and stay in their degrees will be maintained. After all, Indigenous culture and Indigenous success is ours to hold, but everyone’s to celebrate.
Eliza Kitchener is a Wiradjuri woman, a student in Macquarie’s Faculty of Human Sciences, and part of Macquarie’s Indigenous Cadetship program. This post is based on Eliza’s speech at the recent Indigenous Strategy Green Paper Forum.
Macquarie University’s Indigenous Strategy Green Paper was released in late 2015, with a White Paper to follow in 2016. Get involved in the dialogue and be part of the way forward.