We all have a responsibility to call out racism: Vice-Chancellor

3 June 2020
Today the Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence AC wrote to the University of Sydney community, about his reflections on racism during National Reconciliation Week.

Dear colleagues and students,

Many of us across Australia and the world have been saddened and alarmed in recent days by the events unfolding in the United States. While the protests there are inevitably the product of local conditions, they have resonated beyond US borders. Racism is not an issue confined to the US but is something that affects the lives of many people in Australia, including many staff and students here at the University.
This past week we participated in National Reconciliation Week as a community. As well as celebrating the rich culture, history and knowledge of our First Peoples, we have also reflected on how we can respond to the injustices they experience. For Australians, there is urgency, in partnership with Indigenous Australia, to address the reduced life expectancy of Indigenous people; their increased likelihood of experiencing poor health, poverty and a lower standard of education; and the disproportionately high levels of incarceration and deaths in custody in Indigenous communities. Although we have seen improvement in many of these areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians continue to face discrimination on both an institutional and interpersonal level.  

At the conclusion of Reconciliation Week it is also crucial to remember the privilege, and the duty, that it is to treasure the rich heritage of a country inhabited for at least 65,000 years. This week, we also learned of the destruction of a significant Indigenous heritage site at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia, one that has taken from the nation an ancient cultural treasure that dates back more than 46,000 years. This should move every Australian to tears. As we struggle towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, there remains much more to do. 
But it is not only Indigenous Australians who face discrimination in our country. For example, we have seen a disturbing increase in racism directed at people of Asian backgrounds since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are many ways, both explicit and implicit, in which we alienate and marginalise those who in one context or another are regarded as the ‘other’.

Within the University, we do not tolerate racism. We all have a responsibility to do our part in calling it out.
Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence

Doing so is about living our values of respect, integrity, diversity and inclusion – not to mention courage. Our community must always be one where everyone can feel safe and be assured they are treated with equal dignity.
Now more than ever, we must remember our mission and our purpose. Whether it is through our teaching, our research, or our other contributions to society, the University has an important role in shaping public progress. As we conclude National Reconciliation Week, I want to thank everyone who has participated in our events and contributed to our path towards reconciliation. I’m proud of our institution’s efforts in embracing Indigenous culture and supporting social justice. We must continue to be a force for good in society. And within our University community, we must continue to have a culture to match that.

To our colleagues, students and other members of our community who have experienced racism; we recognise your pain and anger and we stand with you in solidarity. Please do not remain silent. For those of you who witness these things; please don’t be passive bystanders.
Dr Michael Spence

We have a number of support mechanisms in place for culturally diverse staff and students, including staff and student networks, sponsorship programs, scholarships and alternative pathways, help with reporting incidences of racism and free counselling services.  

Please reach out to the services available to you, and you can contact me directly at if there is anything that the University can do to support you further.


Dr Michael Spence AC
Vice-Chancellor and Principal

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