In this time of Black Lives Matter and increasing awareness about current and historical injustices to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and colleagues overseas, VU’s academic unit, Moondani Balluk, with the Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Dawkins, are addressing these issues through teaching, work practices and increased awareness.

    While the violence on Aboriginal land, culture and people continues to impact on our bodies and spirits, our thoughts are with the families and extended families of the more than 400 Aboriginal people who have died in custody. Since the release of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, a report that contained 339 recommendations on concrete ways to halt any more deaths, ongoing racist acts are draining hope and aspiration for many in our communities. Our thoughts are with these families as our screens are flooded with events in the USA, and we know deeply that the grief and trauma of losing a family member in custody is unbearable.

    VU’s Moondani Balluk staff will continue to work in the University’s classrooms to share Aboriginal standpoints and perspectives through the teaching content. However, they are often confronted by students who have not experienced Aboriginal history through the school system. The challenges of this are expressed by students as feelings of shame, guilt or ignorance. These have been heightened by current global events.

    This, and lived experiences of systemic racism and family connections to those who have died in custody, becomes even more burdensome when laden with such confrontations and challenges. Moondani Balluk staff understand the impact of their knowledge on students and colleagues, but they also carry the load and their cultural safety is always at risk. We all need to understand this load.

    VU works collaboratively with Moondani Balluk staff through programs such as Bathelmun Yalingwa, the Yannoneit Employment Strategy. Recent changes in the University structures have raised Aboriginal matters to Senior Executive level. This is a welcome development and will bring change, over time. Such relationships are hard fought and require vigilance, gratitude and patience. They are however fragile, just like the fragility of the social contract between white and black – here in Australia and overseas.

    The acts of violence in societal structures and historical oppression against black bodies, land and culture is a direct result of systemic racism and white fragility.

    It is not just for Moondani Balluk staff to teach, share their stories, stand tall, and make change and protest. This is the space for everyone, including all University colleagues, to show up, be counted, to educate themselves, take action against systemic racism and speak back against acts of violence on black bodies.

    Please let us all remember the Aboriginal people who have died in custody and join in solidarity to decolonise practices and systems so that Aboriginal families, children and youth can feel safe in engaging in white spaces.

    We ask you to show respect to Country and Culture, and understand the ongoing impact of dispossession and dispersal on all bodies and spirits.

    Find out more about Moondani Balluk (Embrace people in the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people), an Academic Unit at Victoria University that works across Aboriginal, non-governmental organisation and community spaces to deliver teaching, research and support:

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