Anti-racism commitment

As a diverse, multi-cultural and multi-faith community, the University of Melbourne condemns racism and actively stands against it. We recognise its destructive impact on individuals and the damage it causes our community and our institution. We are committed to addressing our history, its legacies and the issue of contemporary racism, by taking action to respond to and prevent racism at the University of Melbourne.

Integral to this work is our four-part anti-racism commitment, which includes a definition of racism, a statement on racism in the University of Melbourne context, our anti-racism vision and commitment and a statement on the work ahead. Our commitment will be the foundation for the development of the University’s first Anti-Racism Action Plan, to be developed in ongoing consultation with our University community and informed by the lived experience of our students and staff.

If you have experienced racism at the University or if this discussion raises issues for you, we strongly encourage you to contact the Safer Community Program to report incidents and access a range of confidential support and advice.

The University of Melbourne condemns racism and recognises its destructive impact on individuals and the damage it causes our community and our institution. The University is embarking on a purposeful program of work to identify, respond to and prevent racism in the University community.

To support this work, the University has adapted the Australian Human Rights Commission definition of racism as the foundation upon which our anti-racism work can be built:

Racism is the process by which systems and policies, actions and attitudes create inequitable opportunities and outcomes for people based on perceived [racial difference]. Racism is more than just prejudice in thought or action. Racism – whether individual or institutional – includes the power to discriminate against, oppress or limit the rights of others.

Race is a social construct with no basis in human biology. Racism affects opportunities, experiences, and outcomes by benefitting some and disadvantaging others. It can be seen in the working cultures of organisations and in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals. Racism can create, reflect or amplify structural inequalities. In this definition, ‘perceived racial difference’ includes racism based on Indigeneity, ethnicity, nationality and faith.

Many forms of racism are also unlawful under Australian or Victorian legislation. This legislation was enacted to further Australia’s international human rights commitments, including under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The University of Melbourne was founded in 1853 by the Colony of Victoria. It is located on Narrm, lands stolen from the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung peoples. Today the University also has campuses on the unceded lands of the Wathaurong, Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung peoples as well as the Yorta Yorta nation.

The University’s founding was enabled by the racism that ‘justified’ the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands and many of the activities of the University contributed to the erasure of Aboriginal knowledge systems and values that have shaped human society on this continent for at least 60,000 years. Much of our built form, landscaping and some building names at the University continue to reinforce this erasure. The University’s ‘Truth-telling and Place’ project documents this institutional and colonial past and the University’s then complicity with respect to scientific racism and eugenics.

Historically the University is also shaped by the legacy of the attitudes and legislation that gave effect to the White Australia Policy. When introduced, the legislation aimed both to limit non-white immigration to Australia and to ‘deport or reduce’ the number of immigrants ‘of colour’ already in the country, particularly Pacific Islands labourers and those of Asian descent. Instituted at the time of Federation in 1901, the White Australia Policy was not fully dismantled until the 1970s, although its targets varied over time. Historically this limited the diversity of students and staff admitted to the University over a long period.

As a former colony, Australia has not redressed the dispossession of Indigenous Peoples; racist policies, attitudes and beliefs continue to have an impact on the University. They can have an effect at various levels – societal, organisational and individual – and the different levels of racism can interact with and reinforce each other.

Today, the University of Melbourne is a multicultural and multi-faith community, and it is therefore even more important that we actively position ourselves as an anti-racist institution. Institutionally, collectively and individually, we all have a responsibility to play our part. The University is committing to address our history, its legacies and the issue of contemporary racism by taking action to identify, respond to and prevent racism.

The University of Melbourne condemns racism and recognises its destructive impact on individuals and the damage it causes our community and our institution.

Our vision

The University of Melbourne expects that students, staff, visitors and our partners of all races, ethnicities, nationalities and faiths feel welcome, safe and that they belong. In recognising the deep harm and damage that racism causes, we commit to take action to respond to and prevent racism at the University of Melbourne.

As part of our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, the University’s anti-racism actions will help create a fair and more equitable and enriching environment where all members of our community can thrive. It is our moral duty to pursue this aspiration. We also understand that the success of each individual at the University benefits the University as a whole. Institutionally, collectively and individually, we all share the responsibility to address racism.

Our commitment

The University of Melbourne will ensure that the development of its first Anti-Racism Action Plan is informed by the lived experience of our staff, our students, and members of our broader community.

We commit to addressing overt racism, systems of racial privilege and disadvantage, and structural racism. We will also look at ways in which our anti-racism commitments need to be reflected in action across a range of areas of work, including:

  • policies, procedures, and practices affecting both students and staff
  • curricula, broadly conceived to include what we teach, the materials we use, and our pedagogies
  • hiring practices, including how we determine and assess the capabilities we seek in leaders and colleagues, and
  • student selection procedures, including the attributes we stipulate for our students and how we assess them.

We commit to consultation with our community as a first step in developing the plan, leading to full examination and analysis of key areas of concern identified through that consultation. On that basis, we will develop, resource and implement the University’s first comprehensive Anti-Racism Action Plan.

To understand racism in all its forms, we will make full use of diverse perspectives and frameworks to develop our policies, and to remain in dialogue with our students and staff to make sure that our approach continues to evolve.

The University of Melbourne expects that students, staff, visitors and our partners of all ethnicities, nationalities and faiths feel welcome, safe and that they belong.

The University recognises that Muslim and Jewish members of our community can experience particular forms of prejudice or hate that constrain their freedom to live, work, study, worship, and identify as Muslim or Jewish in Australian society.

To support the safety and inclusion of these members of our community within the University, the University will adopt a definition of Islamophobia, following consultation with Muslim students and staff, and adopts the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘working definition of antisemitism’.

Adopting these definitions does not change the University’s policies on academic freedom and freedom of speech. However, the definitions provide an important educative tool for all University members to understand what constitutes Islamophobia or antisemitism, and thus support their prevention. The definitions will also help inform the development of the University’s first Anti-Racism Action Plan.