Promoting cultural diversity and combatting racism

Our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion

At the heart of our values is a commitment to celebrating the richness of diversity, and eliminating all forms of discrimination in our workplace and campuses.

We value different and unique perspectives offered by diversity in all its various forms, and aim to ensure a sense of belonging for staff and students.

Anti-Racism Statement 

The University of Sydney is committed to upholding human rights and to building an inclusive community in which we are all treated fairly and with dignity regardless of where we are from, where we live, what we look like, what we think or what we believe. None of our staff and students should suffer any form of discrimination, whether it be on the basis of age, disability, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or any other reason. Respect for human rights is fundamental to our strength as an academic institution and the University is actively engaged in tackling all forms of discrimination, through our comprehensive research, teaching and programs to enhance equity, diversity and inclusion.

Racism is a pernicious form of discrimination. In the context of the University’s ongoing efforts in this area, it is timely to issue a formal statement on our determination to overcome racism in our community. This Anti-Racism Statement was developed after extensive consultation with many staff, student groups and community stakeholders, particularly those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. It affirms our whole-of-University commitment to valuing and respecting the knowledges and cultures of Australia’s First Nations peoples. The statement has been endorsed by our Senate and Academic Board.

On behalf of the University, we commend this Statement to you and encourage every member of our community to share in its ambition. We acknowledge that we still have much to do to realise the vision set out in this Statement. It is, however, a vital and powerful demonstration of the University’s commitment to combatting racism and its effects. Through our collective endeavours, we can improve the lives of our staff, students, and community, and build a more respectful culture, free of impediments, enabling all of us to achieve our full potential.

- Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson and Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Mark Scott

Our commitment to anti-racism

The University of Sydney is an institution and a community committed to respect for human rights including the right to live, learn and work free from discrimination. Racism is a serious form of discrimination, which can also intersect with other forms of discrimination based on colour, descent, caste, national or ethnic origin, language, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics, marital or relationship status, age, disability, religion, migration status, refugee or asylum status, socio-economic status, or other status.

Our commitment to anti-racism is consistent with the University’s ethos of promoting respect for human dignity, equity, diversity and inclusion. This ethos is expressed in our institutional responsibility to refrain from discrimination and proactively investigate, analyse, and speak out against racism in all its forms. Some racism is overt, expressed in vilification, violence, bullying, and bigotry. It also manifests in ‘everyday’ forms of unconscious bias and stereotyping.

The University endeavours to build an institutional culture that enables staff and students to better understand racism and its damaging effects. This involves institutional and personal responsibilities to eliminate biases grounded in hierarchies of race and harmful stereotyping that undermine the purpose of the University to advance better understandings of society and culture.

As the first Australian university, we acknowledge the history and legacies of racism and ongoing injustices experienced by the First Nations peoples of Australia, and the University’s part in that history. The First Nations peoples of Australia have a vital role to play in modelling a culture of respect and a greater understanding of the importance of Indigenous knowledges. From them we can learn much, including our common responsibility to better care for Country. Many Australians, over the decades, including some of our own staff, have claimed to ‘speak for’ First Nations peoples. We now recognise that it is far more important to listen, learn from and respect Indigenous knowledges, and to embed these within an enriched curriculum and reformed policies and practices.

The University has sought, through its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategies, to drive an approach to a stronger, more inclusive and culturally embodied University by nurturing a sense of belonging and demonstrating visible leadership and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and culture.

Racism manifests in a variety of harmful practices and ideologies such as Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Anti-Asian and other xenophobias.

We commit to supporting racialised communities to elucidate what constitutes discrimination, qualifying where necessary to comply with the law and to safeguard academic freedom. As a community of learning we commit to challenging racist views in our research and teaching and the practices and policies these ideas inform. We commit to fostering a greater understanding of racism and to building respect for ethnic and cultural difference in the wider community.

Some of our students and staff report that they feel unsafe because they have experienced racial discrimination and abuse. They feel attacked and their ideas dismissed more because of who they are than what they have to say. The University has been active in tackling this serious challenge and will continue to strengthen and improve its framework of safety and support for students and staff. In 2021, the University Senate endorsed the anti-racism pledge developed by our Mosaic Network and other staff and student groups concerned with identifying and combatting racism. We have systems for staff and students to disclose or make formal complaints about racism on campus.

Although at its founding in 1850 the University of Sydney made what was, at this time, a radical commitment to admit students from all religions and nationalities on the basis of merit alone, the University has not always lived up to this ideal. Women were not admitted until 1880 and our first Aboriginal Scholarship student, Charles Perkins, did not graduate until 1966. The University may have received funds from donors whose wealth was built on the exploitation of unfree labour or other forms of exploitation. Academics working in the University during the late 19th and early 20th centuries engaged in research and teaching of eugenics, and some staff in other disciplines such as anthropology, anatomy and history reinforced and legitimated ideas of racial superiority and inferiority. These ideas influenced the Commonwealth’s ‘White Australia’ immigration policy in 1901. Moreover, they also justified special ‘Protection Laws’ that stripped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of basic rights and gave rise to the Stolen Generations.

While we should avoid the condescension of the present, if we are to come to terms with the prevalence and pernicious effects of racist ideas and practices and inform teaching and research in the future, we need to better understand the University’s history and assess its accountability for past injustices.

To this end the University is committing to a truth-telling process. We propose to engage our expertise in a range of areas to research and uncover instances of the University’s complicity with and engagement in racial ideas and practices in the past. It is vital that we understand our past and take ownership of the findings of this research to better inform and de-colonise our future University research, teaching and community connections.

This truth-telling initiative will supplement the University’s broader commitment to promoting equality and diversity, while challenging ideas and practices based on racism, which are key components of our strategic intent.

Our commitment to challenging racism is equally a commitment to upholding freedom of speech and academic freedom in accordance with the highest ethical, professional, and legal standards. The University greatly values courage, civility, and respect, and promotes a climate where people disagree well. Nurturing an environment free of racism and discrimination, where our staff and students feel confident to express a diversity of opinions is vital to sustaining our aspiration to foster ethical research and education of the highest quality.

Reporting racial discrimination

If you are a student and you need to report an incident of racial discrimination you can call our confidential helpline, 1800 SYD HLP (1800 793 457), or make a complaint online.

If you are a staff member or affiliate, you can report an incident of racial discrimination to Workplace Relations within Human Resources.

If you're feeling unsafe on campus or you're concerned for the safety of others, call Campus Security on 02 9351 3333 24 hours a day. Security patrol officers can assist by escorting you from a building to your vehicle, to the local bus stop or to the local railway station.

Students can also access Student Wellbeing for support, and staff can contact Employee Assistance Program at any time.

Supporting culturally diverse and racialised staff and students

Find out more about our commitment to creating higher education and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and valuing Indigenous culture.

There are more than 40 student clubs and societies based around ethno-cultural connections and many others uniting people across cultures with a shared passion.

Staff are invited to join our Mosaic Network which aims to accelerate inclusion and develop a shared understanding of diversity and leadership at the University by bringing together and empowering staff from all cultural backgrounds.

The Mosaic Network's vision is to create a workplace where cultural diversity is understood, accepted and celebrated as a powerful asset to achieving our mission as a higher education institution and to influence thinking within and beyond the boundaries of the University.

This intensive 10-month program is a University-wide targeted effort to support culturally diverse women employed at the university to achieve their leadership potential.

As a university we are making great efforts to create diverse and equitable leadership and break down barriers to equality. This program contributes to that work by fostering sponsor relationships between high-potential culturally diverse senior advocates and the University Executive. The primary objectives of the program are to

accelerate culturally diverse women’s careers, and bolster leadership success at the University.

Australia’s multicultural success is not yet fully reflected in our organisations and institutions. The Dr John Yu Fellowship is for leaders and organisations who want to excel at cultural diversity and inclusion.

Things you need to hear

Podcasts about cultural diversity from our leaders and activists

Culture Forum: Valuing courage at the University

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Sydney Ideas: Combating viral panic, misinformation and racism

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Sydney Ideas: Cultural Conversations: A cultural backlash?

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Sydney Ideas: Cultural Conversations: Differing views: valuing disagreement

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Sydney Ideas: Voices on the Voice

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