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Words by Adeshola Ore

The University of Melbourne is launching a new program focusing on asylum seekers. The Melbourne Refugee Studies Program will include education programs and evidence-based discussions. The multidisciplinary initiative will also create an Australia refugee studies collection, including fact sheets, policy briefs, study guides and records of refugee policies. It will aim to engage the university community and wider public in discussions about  asylum seeker issues.

Associate Professor Harry Minas is involved with designing the program. He said the initiative would generate discussions about Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

Professor Minas, who works at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Heath, described the program as having an “initial very clear focus” on asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

He said the research program aims to move beyond the bickering of the differing opinions on asylum seekers and instead form a discussion based on evidence.

The idea for a refugee program was introduced after a roundtable discussion on the issues was held at the Parkville campus last year in October. Student interest in refugee issues also prompted discussion.

Enrolments in refugee-related subjects at the university experience high student numbers. The multidisciplinary breadth subject Human Rights and Global Justice, which examines refugee issues, regularly records hundreds of undergraduate enrolments. The Melbourne Law School also has high enrolment numbers in subjects about refugee law.

“There are a whole lot of initiatives that students are taking—there are various groupings that have formed around the issue of asylum seekers,” Professor Minas said.

Professor Minas said the research information can contribute to research interests for Masters and PhD students. For undergraduate students, a breadth subject will be developed to allow students to gain an awareness of refugee issues. Students will also have a chance to be a part of the program through involvement in policy direction and program events.

The Refugee Studies Program is still in the process of being developed.

Words by Adeshola Ore

The University of Melbourne will wipe out smoking and the selling of tobacco this year, following the lead of universities such as Macquarie and Swinburne.

The campus-wide tobacco ban was introduced on 4 February, marking World Cancer Day.

Ian Anderson, Assistant Vice-Chancellor of the university, told Farrago he is considering developing new smoking rules and designated smoking areas.

He said a smoke-free campus is part of a broader health strategy.

“We are not just doing this in isolation. We will be looking at our policies to make sure we’re not investing in tobacco companies,” he said.

“We’ll also be working with Student Health so if people do decide they want to give up, there are the resources behind them to do so.”

Professor Anderson said the university accepts smoking as a right of choice, but it aims to minimise the harm of passive smoking. “We’re very mindful of the need to provide a safe environment and also to promote wellbeing for staff and students.”

Professor of Public Health Rob Moodie said the ban aims to discourage smoking for a variety of reasons. “Smoking remains the first or second preventable cause of major illness in Australia,” he said. “The other reason is actually around litter—cigarette butts cause a significant amount of litter, so if you can reduce this, it is good for everybody.”

Professor Moodie said he believes the ban will de-normalise smoking on campus and send a clear message to everyone.

“It is a measure that says to all university students coming in from the start: this is a smoke free environment, it’s normal not to smoke here, it’s normal not to put other people at risk. That from a health perspective is a really good thing.”

Previous university smoking rules prohibited staff and students from smoking inside buildings and within six metres of entrances and doorways.

“There won’t be a punishment. But they will be asked not to smoke on university premises,” Professor Anderson said. “Our approach is about relying on good will and a commitment to taking care of each other.”

Rose, a student in the Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing, who is a social smoker, told Farrago she believes the ban is an infringement of personal choice.

“I think it completely undermines the University’s spirit of growth, experimentation and personal freedom,” she said. “Emerging from high school where there are so many restrictions on dress, behaviour and speech, university students should find themselves in a place that welcomes individualism and choice.”

The university has said they are committed to providing extra support to students and staff who want to quit smoking.

“It is an addiction, and that’s why it’s important that we have the resources to help people quit, if they want to do that,” Professor Anderson said.

The university currently offers a range of resources including GP and counselling services to assist people with the quitting process.

Professor Moodie says the smoking ban is a positive step forward for the university, believing it sends out a significant message.

“If you walk into a university like this and it’s smoke-free, it tells you something very strongly. It’s both the actual notion of smoke free and the message that it sends to young people and to staff.”

For a map of all the smoking zones, visit http://tobaccofree.unimelb.edu.au/dsa