Dr Karo Moret-Miranda is a historian and a lecturer for the ANU School of History, and an active member of the BIPOC association. Dr Moret-Miranda has worked in the ANU since 2019, teaching and guest-lecturing in an array of courses and topics, specialising in African Studies. During this time she has consistently worked towards sparking discussions regarding racism in the university. This is epitomised in the conversation series, facilitated by Dr Moret-Miranda and School of History Dr Tania Colwell, that hosts a panel of students and academic staff to discuss racism and the decolonisation of the university.
The conversation series gained momentum throughout 2022, enabling an open communication between students and their administration. The discussions foster a safe environment for students to feel empowered and to understand the myriad experiences of people and communities within the ANU.
What’s it like working for a university that you’ve talked about being a colonial structure?
It’s complicated…but it’s something that I cannot choose not doing. I identify with my students, or with the students that come to my events, because not too long ago I was one of them. I finished my PHD in 2019, but because I was one of those cases where we were a few racialized people in a classroom, some of my students came and talked to me about it. I have to do this because some of the issues students are experiencing right now can be solved. In most cases, it’s about communication. That’s why I propose these conversations. There is a lack of interest, there is no interest, to produce this communication.
As a colonial institution, of course, the interest is to keep boundaries, to keep every community in their sights. I teach an empires course (HIST1214), and usually I teach my students that what all the empires and colonial institutions have in common is an ability to accommodate. An empire, in order to succeed, needs to accommodate with the times, they need to change, they need to be flexible, be dynamic. An empire that decides to stay in the same shape, the same way, dies. Consumes itself. So, empires accommodate, institutions accommodate.
The other thing is that usually, in this kind of institution, they need to control the mobility and intimacy of the subjects, the colonised subjects. We need to permeate those boundaries in order to get a communication. That is important.
How receptive have you found the ANU community to your work?
I’ve been doing these conversations for one year now. When we [she and Dr Colwell] started that first year, we knocked on a lot of doors. And nobody was interested in these kinds of projects. Most people couldn’t see why it was that important. And some of my colleagues, they’ll tell me that “you don’t need to get involved with the students,” “you’re wasting your time,” “you should concentrate…on your research,” and maybe what they really misunderstood is that this is part of my research. I cannot be in the University without doing these things. For me, it is contradictory to be a progressive academic and not do that.
The first year, I didn’t get too many people involved. The dynamic of these meetings is to put together students and academics from the university. We select a topic and talk from these different points of view. The second activity – surrounding Indigenous Studies – was completely a success. We opened the conversation to the public, so that they could ask questions or make a comment to the panel. For some of the students, it was really exceptional to have a complete panel, with Indigenous professors and students, talking about these topics and listening to their point of view.
That conversation was not just for the Indigenous community. That is a huge mistake that usually happens. People still think that the conversations are for BIPOC students, or for the Indigenous community. No, it’s for the others; the people that are not BIPOC students, or racialized students, or international students. People that cannot understand that experience, to be part of the otherness in the University.
That is something universities should be doing, and that second activity caught the attention of a lot of people in the University. Suddenly, they started to call us and say they wanted to support us, and that was really great. But also, some people asked us why we were doing it. We had called attention to both sides, so there was a little bit of tension there.
When the University responded to the BIPOC Department’s Racism Report, they cited your work with them. What does that work look like?
I’ve been working for more than two years with the BIPOC Department. In that moment, we had to correct what the University said about my work. In the first draft, it seemed like the University was the one that proposed the activities, not me and the BIPOC Department. So we had to say no. I mean, you’re giving an answer to this problem because of the BIPOC report, but this activity is happening because of the BIPOC people. The origins of these events, the conversations fighting racism, is because of the members of the BIPOC association. It was nothing to do with the University, and that was something we had to make clear.
After the second activity, the University started to realise the need for these activities. The activities caught attention not only from our colleagues but especially from the students. So there was something really important there, there was a need growing inside the students, that they need a safe space to talk about this.
They said something like “we are starting to do something to correct the BIPOC report”, but actually it was not like that.
Because of the BIPOC report, and because they sent me a copy of the report, I decided to collaborate with them in creating these activities. That’s why with all the activities, my students work with the BIPOC association, because they are the ones that know exactly what is happening. That is another thing that is very important to me. We need to know exactly what is happening with the students, and in order to do that you have to work with the students. You cannot do that in an office.
The majority of the ANU is white, what steps do you think they can take to help decolonise the university?
Because they need to. There is a lack of knowledge, there is a lack of will.
And here, despite that it’s not been easy, it should be easier than other places. There is a community here, an Indigenous community. They are still present, they know exactly what it takes. That’s why we need to work together, and we shouldn’t be trying to explain why these kinds of activities are important. People should be starting to embrace the need for that information, the need of anti-racist training, the need of safe spaces in order to talk about these topics. There is no judgement there.
You know more about what you need than other parts of the University. You need to start asking about the kinds of things that you want to learn, especially if you’re working in the social sciences. How is it possible that you are learning something that is not corresponding to what is happening out there?
A lot of universities have this movement, that came from the students, to decolonize the curriculum. They have the power to do that. I can only be responsible, in my case, of my syllabus or my curriculum, and I already do it. You are the majority here. You have the ability to ask: “Why are we not having a serious, critical conversation about this racist book that has been on the syllabus for decades?” You have the power right now to ask for that.
I’m not trying to erase all the racist books, or racist views, because – come on – we could keep 20. This is about having a critical conversation, a critical analysis. I think finally universities are proposing to do that. For example, they just proposed in 2025 to add the critical analysis of race and gender to all courses. You still have to wait for two years. So during that, until this becomes mandatory, you have to become professional protestors.
This is something that is happening in a classroom. We all know that the situation for some students inside the classroom is complicated. There is a hierarchy there that is very difficult to deal with. But you have some power, so you have to use it.
The next conversation will be held on May 2nd at 6pm in the RSSS Auditorium. The discussion will centre around ‘Racism and Mental Health’, examining trauma as a result of experiencing or witnessing racial discrimination and abuse. Further, the panel will explore the support systems that the ANU provides, as well as the ways in which the ANU administration can improve its mental health and wellness services in regards to racial trauma.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.