JODIE RAMODIEN | FEATURES
Interview with Allastassia Carter, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Students' Representative at Macquarie University.
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
My name's Allastassia Carter, and I'm a Gamilaroi woman from a small rural town in North-West New South Wales, Moree. I grew up and went to school in Moree from kindergarten to year 10, and then I was fortunate enough to attend boarding school on beautiful Anaiwan Country in Armidale for years 11 and 12. I'm currently in my third year, studying a Bachelor of Social Science with a double major in Politics and Social Justice. And with this, I'm hoping to go into the policy-making area related to Indigenous communities and people.
Has your degree in Social Science (double major in Politics and Social Justice) shaped the way you've approached the position of Students Representative for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students?
I didn't realise before I went in, but the SRC is quite political; it's quite politically structured. I went in there, and they were talking about creating and joining coalitions, and I was like, oh, okay, this isn't what I was expecting. So I suppose studying politics has helped with that and has helped me handle the political climate a little bit. And also, with social justice, I'm learning about activism, human rights, inequalities within our society and how to try and fix these injustices. I think social justice helps me represent mob, my people, and make sure that we receive the justice we deserve. Also, social justice for me is about making sure mob are being heard, represented, and that our needs are being met. So I think politics and social justice has and will continue to help me with my role in making sure the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students of Macquarie University are being heard and that their needs are being met.
Why did you decide to run to be the Students Representative for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students?
Even before I knew what I wanted to do at uni, people would tell me things like, “I have a feeling you're going to go into politics,” “you should be a politician,” and “you're going to make a difference somehow.” So coming from this, I've developed this mindset that I'm going to go out into the world and help people, and I think being the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Representative is just one way of me being able to do that. I've always been very vocal, political and a strong representative for those who are continuously not being heard, especially Indigenous people. I'm always trying to make sure that our voices are heard, and needs are amplified and are met, and that we are receiving the justice that we do need. Also, moving away from that, the past 2 Indigenous SRC representatives have been women, so I wanted to follow and continue that strong Indigenous lead. The most recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Representative, Neenah Robyn, was also really helpful. Hearing about all the amazing things she did during her role inspired me to do the same. I was also already heavily involved in the Indigenous community here at Macquarie Uni, which helped me decide that I wanted to run because I know everyone at Walanga and quite a few of the other Indigenous students.
What does your role as an SRC representative involve?
So as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Representative, I represent the First Nations students of Macquarie University by ensuring their voices are being amplified and needs are being met. In addition, I work closely with Walanga Muru by making sure they get everything they need and help them out with anything such as funding for an event or an activity. I also work with the Indigenous Student Association (ISA) similarly.
What do you hope to achieve while in this position?
So like I said before, I want to continue that strong Indigenous female lead and, most importantly, make sure that mob are being represented and heard. I want to make sure that their experiences at uni are what they want them to be and that they have opportunities to go out there and achieve their goals. Also, I want to make sure that blak excellence at Macquarie Uni is being shown and celebrated.
What obstacles or barriers have you encountered so far, if any?
I haven't really faced any barriers because I've only really just started, so I'm off to a good start.
What are some of the issues and concerns facing Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students at Macquarie University?
I think one example is the university not acknowledging its name. We are named after Lachlan Macquarie, who ordered the massacre of Indigenous people and then hung their bodies up on trees to warn other Aboriginal people. This hasn't been acknowledged, and it looks like the name isn't going to be changed anytime soon. There are people at Macquarie University and Darug Elders who are trying to get the name changed, and nothing has come of that yet. It’s just another example of a white institution not acknowledging Australia’s history of violence, genocide, dispossession, and assimilation.
Another example that directly impacts the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is the ignorance and racism at Macquarie University. Even if you're just in a classroom and—with me personally, studying politics and social justice—there's always a week in each of my units where we focus on Indigenous people—and there's always that ignorance, always those silly comments. Like, when I say something like “I'm Indigenous,” and they'll be like, “Are you really? Are you Indigenous? You look white. What percentage are you?” Just comments like that. Ignorance and racism. Also, we're studying in a white institution that has been built to reflect settler colonialism, so that's going to be hard for any Indigenous student to try and navigate.
How do you think these concerns should be addressed by the university?
I think with the whole name of the university, just acknowledging what Lachlan Macquarie did and how this history continues to affect Indigenous people today. When I hear ‘Macquarie,’ I cringe, and I can't even imagine how Darug people feel about having a university named after Lachlan Macquarie on their Country. Darug people, like other mobs, are continuously trying to maintain and strengthen their connection to Country and culture, and they're constantly reminded that there is a white institution named after Macquarie on their Country.
As a country, we just need to acknowledge our history and undertake meaningful truth-telling. We can not continue to disregard and fabricate the truth of our history and how this history continues to impact Indigenous people today. Mob, such as our Elders and grassroots activists, continuously fight against settler-colonialism and all the wrongs forced upon our people. So I think when we finally see those in power step up and support Indigenous people is when all of Australia will finally wake up and acknowledge the wrongs of the past and try to effectively and appropriately fix them. And I think if an institution like Macquarie University could step up and recognise this, listen to Indigenous voices and help put measures in place at the uni so we could address these problems, that would be massive.
Regarding the ignorance, racism and lack of knowledge around our people, history, and struggles, I think possibly more education around Indigenous peoples and history would be helpful. There are also quite a few ABST courses that students can take. It would be good if the uni supported and promoted these units a bit more, so more students undertake them. I just took an ABST unit that focused on settler colonialism, and even as an Aboriginal woman, I learned so much. The university is also committed to providing a framework that embeds Indigenous values and knowledge into current and future curriculums. I think this is really important and if embedded appropriately will be a positive step towards all students learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultures, and history.
In saying all this, Walanga Muru does an amazing job at supporting Indigenous students here at Macquarie. Everyone there is so welcoming and helpful, and anytime I have a silly question or need something, I always go into Walanga or email them and receive the help I need.
Is there anything else you'd like to add or that you'd like students to know?
To our allies, just keep amplifying our voices, stand beside us, and be there for us. We need your support so that effective change can take place. If you're in a classroom and someone says something racist, call it out and if there is an Indigenous student in your class, then check up with them after class. Also, do the same if you're outside of uni.
If you are one of those ignorant people who do say something racist, just stop and take the time to educate yourself. There are plenty of resources out there created by Indigenous academics and activists, so please take the time to read and educate yourself. There is no place or excuse for racism.
To all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reading this, just remember to keep fighting. Keep being strong. You're here for a reason, you're making your family proud, and you're making your ancestors proud. I hear stories of mob here at Macquarie achieving so much and doing so many amazing things, and I'm constantly in awe of all of you. Please reach out to me if you need anything or would like to see something happen around uni that relates to mob. Keep fighting that good fight and making moves.
Reminder: Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.