Monash University has embarked on a huge undertaking. As of 2013, the School for Indigenous Health will be open for business, the first dedicated school for Indigenous Health at an Australian University.
Pretty impressive stuff? Well, no. Today, I had the pleasure of meeting Nola. Nola is not real, but rather a fictional character created for medical students to use in role-playing by the magical minds in charge of cultural awareness at Monash University. Nola even has a back story full of every stereotype of Aboriginal disadvantage you can imagine, in fact, it seems the only tragedy that didn't befall poor Nola was an addiction to sniffing petrol.
Nola has a hard life. Her partner is of course a violent drunk who beats on her (twice in the short story no less!) and steals her money. Initially, she is living in a home with 10 people, in an extended family situation, however she recently escaped the domestic violence with her three children. The four of them are currently living in a two bedroom house, in fact, sharing it with two other people (more overcrowding, just in case you didn't pick up on it the first time). Nola also unfortunately has Diabetes (type 2), but is eating a very poor diet and taking no medication. She is unable to eat much fruit (attributed to the high cost and difficulty with transport) and instead her diet consists of bread, jam, tea and fast food. Of course, adding to her health and domestic abuse woes, her fifteen year old daughter is also quite a handful. To again pay homage to a myth, she has stopped going to school and is also smoking cigarettes. Not to be outdone, the youngest daughter suffers from a chronic ear infection as well.
What you might be surprised to learn about Nola, is that she did not escape from one remote community to another. No, Nola went from Echuca to Preston. I kid you not.
For those not familiar with Victorian geography, Preston is less than 10 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, and Echuca is on the Victorian side of the NSW Border. Neither suffer from the perils of extreme remoteness, in fact both towns are lucky enough to be positioned on major carriageways for transportation of goods. Echuca, being the far less populated town, even has an Aldi - the home of low low prices on everything. However, it appears that in the halls of Monash, myth becomes fact - ALL Aboriginal people aren't able to buy affordable fruit and vegetables due to the exorbitant costs of transportation, location be damned. Our budding medical students are asked to forgo common sense, logic and fact (the stuff we hope they ARE learning while they are in there) and accept any nonsensical statement as truth - as long as it comes under the Aboriginal banner. Should a student dare to question any of the logic, or the offensiveness of such stereotyping, they will quickly be dismissed as being 'ignorant of Aboriginal culture' by their classmates, or worse, branded a racist.
This has to stop.
The new School for Indigenous Health is going to take current teaching practices (like the racist drivel in the fictional Nola patient story above) and make some alterations to form their new curriculum. I was not surprised to see that the Director of Research on this new 'make it up as you go along' venture is none other than Kerry Arabena.
Seeing as Ms Arabena wouldn't know what it is like to be a black skinned Aboriginal man, I'll give her a bit of a heads up - we don't appreciate being painted as perpetrators of violence. It shocks me to think that those people who have found it their duty to inform the rest of the country about our culture, and from the halls of academia no less, are churning out garbage like this. It feels a little racist to be honest, and that is something that a University would normally frown upon - well, at least that is what I used to think, but it seems as long as you prefix your racial stereotyping and racism with the word 'Aboriginal' and do it under the guise of 'cultural awareness', anything goes. And just for the record, in case you're dreaming up new fictional case studies over there at Monash, we're not all child predators either. I'm glad you didn't add that one in on poor old Nola, I think it would have set me right off.
Just in case anyone from Monash is listening, I'd like you to do me a favour. Several months ago, a family member contacted your Yulendj Indigenous Engagement people to ask you to remove a picture that includes my niece that you, to this day, continue to display on your Facebook page. I'd like you to finally respect the wishes of a mother and her daughter and take the picture down. It is dishonest to imply that the students pictured in your photo attend your institution. My niece attended an Open Day that your University held, but is not and has not ever been an enrolled student at any of your campuses (in fact, she is still finishing high school), yet I notice that you've ensured she is wearing some of your easily identifiable apparel and you've placed her front and centre. You were told politely that you did not have permission to display her image publicly, and no release was signed to allow you to do so.
In the time you spent removing comments questioning your actions from public view, you could have just taken down the photo and done the right thing. Instead, you now come across as exploitative, and unashamedly so.