On a rare sunny day in winter the sudden ‘swish’ of Frisbees flying over your head and the cheery laughter of many students lying on the green lawn letting their hair down is a common sight at the Burwood campus.
If you were to look deeper, beyond that bright surface you’ll find a certain grouping pattern among the students. A pattern that separates those students into visually distinct groups in contrast to the multi coloured tile groupings of Mutant Way.
Home to 34,409 students in total, Deakin University is also haven to over 4074 students who are from different parts of the world to sum up the international sector of the student population.
Half of this colourful bunch consists of South East Asian students that speak another language more fluently than they do English.
The groups in which these future academics hang out together hardly looked multiculturally inviting in the most renowned multicultural city in Australia. While local students conversed with other groups of locals, there were other little groups of three, maybe four, that were Asian, Indian or African distinctively keeping to themselves.
Was this a choice, a timid behavior or a situation caused due to the uninviting demeanor of local students?
Was there an explanation as to why they found their own ethnic backgrounds too comfortable; to choose not to move with the local students? Perhaps it was some cultural restraints that were keeping the international students apart from the local students?
Jaimee Eastwood, a 2nd year Media and Communication student says, “there are certain stereotypes that come with international students that they are really smart and the ones that come from Melbourne are in it for the whole experience of ‘Uni life’.” Perhaps, the priorities of the two groups were distinct enough for them to have separate preferences.
She says she has noticed that students from other countries prefer to stick to groups of their own nationality and believes it is “comfort” that they seek in doing so.
In 2007 Nimedhi Katugampola, a Sri Lankan student then in her second year in Business went in for tryouts for the Deakin Dragons Basket Ball team. She was an indispensible asset in her high school basketball team in Sri Lanka.
However, she didn’t feel her standards were as good as the University’s already was since they had proved themselves well enough in Southern University Games.
It didn’t stop her feeling “being unnoticed” at the tryouts. She said, “Even after the try-outs I didn’t get feedback from them whether I was in or out.”
Some said they experienced uncomfortable situations with some lecturers who acted unfairly towards international students in their classes and “treated them as if they were a nuisance”.
Although the majority of the international students like Priyam Desai do not believe they are being victimised. She says, “I haven’t experienced any racial discrimination from my lecturers or in my classmates, but I know people who have.”
Bharat Ramakrishna a Melbourne University Medical student views this matter in a different perspective. He says, “The truth is people occasionally possess racist attitudes but exercise their views in accordance with the freedom of speech, and it’s hypocritical to think that we Indians get a raw deal”.
“After all how many of us have questionable views towards other international students, Asians and people who live in Dandenong?” he added with a more unbiased standpoint.
The issue of race-provoked violence towards international students has raised the media’s attention over the past couple of months following the rising number of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne.
Federation of Indian Students of Australia secretary Gautam Gupta had mentioned to the media that he knew eight cases of Indian students in Melbourne who were victims of racist assaults and that two of them have returned back home fearing for their safety.
In comparison to the severity of the above incidents, international students of Deakin University are lucky to be able to feel safe with no threat of bodily harm thanks to the constant rights lobbying and student advocacy promoted by Deakin University Student Association (DUSA) in concert with the Deakin Sri Lankan & Indian Club (D.SLIC). Furthermore, the very supportive stance of the university’s administration is a major benefit; allowing improvements to be made as fast as possible.
This issue is definitely open to debate; in fact the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Phillip Clarke met with executives of D.SLIC on the 27th May to listen to such concerns of the South-Asian student population. Some key concerns raised were more lighting in a few locations on campus, more on-campus vegetarian/halal food outlets, increased semester workload and the need for an awareness campaign of the significant assistance that Deakin provides for its student’s safety. Preeti Sharma, a 1st year law student, had “no idea” that Deakin security could walk her to the car at night.
Either way, considering that the international students are thousands of miles away from their homes and their comfort zones; it is natural for them to feel awkward in unfamiliar situations thrown at them. Therefore, it is important to be sensitive to their social conduct by putting yourselves in their shoes.
*Originally written on the 20/05/09 for for the Indus Age, Victoria representing D.SLIC of Deakin University, Burwood. There was a debate on how this would implicate the University and how its inclusivity policies may be represented at the time.