Capability is the ability to be and to do. It takes into account the individual and the context in which they live. Capability can expand skill and opportunity. It can be constrained or eliminated for example by ignorance, governmental or organisational decisions, stereotyping, lack of financial resources, or an absence of hope.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have fought for hundreds of years to retain their distinctive culture, dignity and identity. For much of this time, policy and programs focused on wiping their distinctiveness from the Australian landscape and population.
Over the last 50 years, however, changes have taken hold that have increasingly recognised the culture, dignity and identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their right to be different. While these changes have made a real contribution, they continue to advocate action that expands their functioning, to flourish culturally, socially, politically and economically as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
This improved functioning is of both intrinsic and instrumental value to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ aspirations and life. They have sought to develop their capability to have a life where being Aboriginal is not the cause of upset, derision, fear, shame or discrimination. Aboriginal people have sought a social, cultural, economic and political life of pride, confidence, inclusion and equality.
Inherent in capability is the fundamental freedom for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to do the things that they value in their lives and in their communities. They want to function in a manner that is responsive to their Aboriginality and individual aspirations and responsibilities. They are entitled to live the life they have reason to value within the framework of rights, freedoms and responsibilities they hold as human beings and citizens.
This section of the strategy requires us to think and act in a different way. This strategy establishes a collection of functioning that enables Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, staff, and non-Aboriginal Australians to flourish.
University of Sydney Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Capability Set
The University of Sydney will build a University community where:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff are able to enjoy their identity freely, safely, confidently, with pride, comfortable in the University community and respectful of diversity and the freedom of others
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff are able to pursue academic interests, careers and contributions that are of intrinsic personal and academic pride, craft and purpose, free of limitations created by inequity, stereotyping and ignorance
- students and staff are able to engage effectively, respectfully and productively in critical thinking and self-reflection about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues specifically, and diversity more broadly
- students and staff are able to research and use knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sources and settings, ethically and effectively
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff are able to form, sustain and enjoy longstanding networks across diverse cultures and peoples that are of intrinsic and instrumental value
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff are able to confidently engage and contribute to the life, commerce and the identity of their communities and the Australian society.
If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are to be part of the Australian story, ‘being and doing’ raises questions for the University about the kind of teaching, learning and research environment we offer.
The questions and opportunities that emerge from this approach are not quarantined to matters Aboriginal. Aboriginal and Torres strait islander flourishing both depends on and supports the realisation of an Australian narrative, identity and vision that is inclusive, enriched by and proud of its constituent cultures and peoples. The Australian story is not just about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – it is about the uniqueness of Australians together.
Sydney’s contribution will be judged not only by our achievements in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education, research and engagement space, but on our contribution to the depth and quality of ‘usness’ inside the institution, and in life beyond it. In an increasingly multicultural society and global community effective capabilities in the diversity space are essential.
This strategy will reinforce and enrich the sharing of cultural and intellectual resources available to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and staff, and to the nation, and it will leverage this access to grow human, social and cultural capital.
The University of Sydney is committed to creating a higher education experience for students, staff and society that:
- expands Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ freedom to live the life they have reason to value
- improves critical thinking and the ability to form authentic, ethical relationships across the diversity landscape and impacts positively on private and public networks and discussion of major social issues
- builds a University community and experience where every person counts.