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‘You don’t matter.’ First Nations outrage over UOW degree in Western civilisation

Rachael Knowles -

Two prominent First Nations women have expressed their concern over a controversial $50m deal between the University of Wollongong (UOW) and the Ramsay Centre.

The deal will see UOW offering a Bachelor of Arts in Western Civilisation from 2020.

UOW tempts prospective students with the opportunity to embark, '... on a unique philosophical adventure through the major periods of intellectual and artistic change in the West.'

Thirty scholarships worth $27,000 for students undertaking the degree will also be up for grabs.

Yuin woman and Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Marlene Longbottom spoke at the end of May at a 'Free uni in the pub!' session about First Nations' perspectives on Western civilisation.

She told NIT that the timing of the deal's announcementâ€"during the 2018 Christmas periodâ€"made it look as though staff were shut out of discussions.

"The announcement happened just before Christmas. It was the last week, just before we all went on holidays. It was very daunting for me. The staff were in the dark about it. It looked like a closed deal and like we were shut out of those discussions," Dr Longbottom said.

Wadi Wadi Elder and Honorary Doctor of Laws Aunty Barbara Nicholson has a relationship with UOW that spans two decades. She was troubled by the news.

"It took a little while for the significance of what had happened to sink in. As we started to put all the pieces together, it just seemed more and more like a despicable act," she said.

"It's a sense of: you don't matter. It doesn't matter what you think. This is what we are doing and what we want. In 2014, UOW awarded me an honorary doctorate, one of the highest awards the university can bestow. There's a lot of integrity when you receive it. But when you hear news like thisâ€"it diminishes that integrity."

Contrary to reports that the First Nations community was consulted, Dr Longbottom said First Nations people weren't included in the discussions.

"To find out through the grapevine, that really set up things for the dialogue. We could have had a better dialogue if we were included in the discussions. We should have been included from the start," said Dr Longbottom.

Aunty Barbara fears the degree's content will whitewash history.

"That degree, as it stands in the Ramsay model, will totally wipe out any reference to Aboriginal people whatsoever ... we are not Western, and therefore, we would fall outside the scope [of the degree]," she said.

"You are going to have a course on the campus that is so exclusionary. As an Aboriginal woman, I just think about the truth of Western Civilisationâ€"about barbaric actions and colonisation."

"Will these things be taught? Will they be teaching all of the truth?"

Despite objections to the degree by UOW staff and the broader community, with a Memorandum of Understanding in place between the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, the University of Wollongong and the Ramsay Foundation, it looks like all systems go for 2020.

By Rachael Knowles

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