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Stopping racism, starting at Melbourne

Words by Michelle See-Tho

Students, staff and members of the public have gathered to watch the launch of the university’s involvement in a national campaign against racism.

The Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Racism. It Stops With Me” launch took place in North Court on Monday 7 April at 1pm, and featured an appearance from Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane.

Dr Soutphommasane told Farrago the campaign has been actively engaging universities for over a year. He believes universities have a strong role to play in addressing racism. “When it comes to combating racism, the task is fundamentally educational,” he said.

He wants conversations to be a major part of the movement, saying, “The challenge is just to get people talking about racism in a mature way. Often you get knee-jerk responses, or very emotional responses, but the message is quite simple: there’s always something you can do about prejudice and discrimination.”

Provost Professor Margaret Sheil was at the event as acting Vice Chancellor. International students will soon be included in her Provost portfolio.

“With our really diverse student body here—with students from 160 countries—it’s really critical that we model behaviours we want our students to model when they go out into the workplace,” she said.

Senior Consultant for Fairness and Diversity at the university Ms Catherine Gow said she was happy with how the campaign was progressing.

“[Racism] has this direct impact to our staff and our students: international academics, international students, local students who are perceived to be from overseas.”

On the issue of repealing the Racial Discrimination Act, Dr Soutphommasane said he was “concerned”. “It’s important to have strong and effective protections against racism and to send an unambiguous signal about civility and tolerance in Australian society.”

Dr Soutphommasane began his appointment as Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission in August 2013.

The launch was part of the student union’s Diversity Week, which aims to celebrate cultural diversity and help prevent discrimination.