The University of Sydney demonstrated a campus-wide commitment to diversity at its Cultural Competence at Sydney launch last week.
On Friday, Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) heralded the event as the beginning of a new era of respect, understanding and inclusiveness at the University.
“Today the University of Sydney community demonstrated how seriously we are committed to cultural competence,” he said.
“We are the first university in Australia and, I believe, the world to incorporate cultural competence at a whole-of-university level,” he added.
The launch initiates a core pillar of the University’s 2016-20 Strategic Plan, which identifies cultural competence as a key quality staff and students should strive for.
“Cultural competence is essential to our story – as a student attribute, a component of our curriculum and research, an element of the professionalism of our staff and an essential feature of the student experience. I look forward to our shared journey, as we work towards ensuring this module is embedded in everything we do,” Professor Houston said.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence emphasised the important role of cultural competence at the University.
“For us, this is an identity project,” he said.
“The Indigenous Strategy and Services portfolio has taken a leadership role for the university as a whole, in what is a vital part of preparing our students for the future, for their work and lives in contemporary Australia.
“Cultural competence is a core intellectual skill. Unless you acquire the capacity to actively listen, to imagine what the world might look like through the eyes of others, then you won’t have the flexibility of mind you need to be well trained.
“It’s also crucial for the development of sharp minds and good hearts, of the kind that we so desperately need for leadership in this country.”
Regarding its place in teaching and learning, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Philippa Pattison AO, said: “We’ve made cultural competence one of six core graduate qualities that we hope to develop in every graduate of the University of Sydney.
“We haven’t taken this step lightly. It’s really important for both individuals and society that we do this well and we’ll be measuring the progress we’re making.”
During a panel discussion at the event, Dr Spence elaborated on how the University’s embrace of cultural competence could contribute to the community more broadly.
“What we are as a society is profoundly at issue in contemporary Australia,” he said.
“If we’re going to be the Australia we hope to be, we need to think about how we make the most of the extraordinary cultural richness this country can tap in to, that the perspectives of all are recognised and that leadership across the country is genuinely diverse. That’s going to require different skills of leaders, policy makers and people in business.
“At the University we have a unique opportunity to think through those questions together. I think that’s a remarkable contribution we can make to the future of our country – asking how do we equip people to work in, to live in, to create a genuinely diverse society?”
The Vice-Chancellor also launched new professional development opportunities for staff, including online training modules showcased at the event.
Created by the University’s National Centre for Cultural Competence, two new modules for professional and academic staff will support the development of skills required for an open and inclusive community.
“I’m very pleased to launch these two online modules, which mark the beginning of a journey of exploration as we think through the implications for our staff training, our students and our life together,” Dr Spence said.
The first module, ‘Journey to self discovery’, encourages staff to consider who they are and how they relate to the world around them. The second, ‘What do you mean by “cultural competence”?’, examines the meanings of culture and cultural competence and presents participants with a personalised action plan.
Both modules are available for University staff to complete now and will be embedded into the training provided to new employees from next year, with plans to adapt them for students in the future.
Dr Spence also formally introduced the Supporting academics to teach cultural competence modules, which assist academic staff to incorporate cultural competence in teaching and assessment, and to develop activities to support student learning.
Developed by the University’s Educational Innovation team and available to academic staff since 2015, and the modules provide scholarly and theoretical perspectives, as well as applied and illustrative examples for teaching and learning in higher education.
Also featured at the event was a trailer for the ‘Aboriginal Sydney’ Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) due to be released in early 2017. The MOOC explores cultural competence through an exploration of Aboriginal peoples, cultures and places in Sydney.
It’s about being able to appreciate that there are other perspectives and understanding and appreciating difference… To understand how you should operate in contexts where there’s more than one worldview in play.