Interview with the Ethnocultural Department

Sonder

Sonder is defined as the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own – populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness. In a series of interviews, Arts student, Georgia Leak, aims to explore the lives of the colourful characters that call the ANU home.

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Following the likes of Lionel Shriver’s pro-cultural appropriation keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, the whitewashing of the 2016 Oscars, and police violence in the U.S against African Americans, it is undeniable that people of colour (PoC) around the globe often find themselves being misrepresented and unsupported on cultural, structural and institutional levels. This week the ANU has moved forward in leaps and bounds in its representation of PoC with the Ethnocultural Committee being made an official ANUSA Department. I had the privilege of chatting with its new executive, as well as some members of the Collective, about what they do, the right of representation, and what lies on the horizon for the fledgling department.

Founded as a committee by alumni, Monique Langley-Freeman, and continued by the current executive*, Aditi Razdan, Kat Reed, Rashna Farrukh and Reza Mazumder, the Ethnocultural Department aims to represent and campaign for Ethnocultural people on campus, by providing a safe space for solidarity in its Collective, and education to the wider ANU body. According to Collective member, Afif Haque, being a part of the Ethnocultural department’s community has helped him to find his voice in a world that, quite often, drowns out the sound of minority groups. “In the Ethnocultural Department I believe that I’ve found an excellent platform to advocate alongside other like-minded individuals for an important idea.”

Having their committee finally recognised as a department has represented a change in the tides of representation of PoC here at the ANU. However, this road to recognition has been anything but a smooth one. “It is one thing to be working on the administration or even planning campaigns, but to create a space that people are motivated and eager to be a part of is slightly harder to map out.  Motivation and passion have to be stoked through campaigning, solidarity and activism on campus, that remind PoC that their voices, their racialised experiences and their beliefs are valid,” the Executive members relayed. “We can only hope that with an Officer, increased funding and greater publicity next year, there will be more motivation to join the Collective, take the lead with campaigns and deconstruct the notions of whiteness and what is ‘normal’ in our current context.”

When asked how important it is for PoC to have a voice here at the ANU the co-chair, Aditi, eloquently pointed out that it is not just important, it is an indisputable expectation. “Racial, ethnic and religious identities make up one part of who we are, but it is an important part, and a part that often goes unnoticed or is minimised. In the current polarised and xenophobic climate, PoC need to feel represented and uplifted at every institutional level: and ANU is just one of them.”

With their sights set on the organisation of a PoC mental health photo project, a Men of Colour publication, and a possible Multicultural Week for next year, I think we all have much to learn from the Ethnocultural committee, its Executive, its Collective, and their campaigns for PoC here at the ANU. Seeing a critical gap in the representation of identities on campus, these young people sought to create a supportive space in which Ethnocultural members of the student body could deconstruct what race, ethnicity, and even gender means to them – and that they have. I can only hope that – as it has been since its inception – the only way is up for the Ethnocultural Department, and that they continue to gain leverage and visibility within the ANU community.

You can reach the Ethnocultural Department on Facebook and WordPress.

*(Ed’s note: correct at the time of writing)