Indigenous students, non-Indigenous students, staff, and supporters gathered outside Melbourne Law School on Tuesday calling for an end to institutional racism at the University.
The Solidarity Rally comes as students reportedly take leave from their studies because of a lack of cultural safety and racism at the prestigious law school, while three Indigenous faculty members have also resigned this year for similar reasons.
Dr Eddie Cubillo quit his position as Associate Dean last week, telling the Guardian Australia, “It’s the most culturally unsafe place I’ve worked.”
“They’re not listening and not taking action … there’s an exodus of staff because of the cultural safety issue.”
The Larrakia, Wadjigan, and Central Arrernte man will continue to lead the university’s Indigenous Law and Justice Hub and is the only Indigenous academic left at Melbourne Law School.
Speaking to NIRS News ahead of the rally, the Indigenous Student Representative at Melbourne Law School Keshi Moore said the Dean of the University, Professor Matthew Harding, did reach out to students but only after the Guardian article was published.
“He’s also since reached out to myself to coordinate a conversation with the Indigenous students to have our voices heard,” she said, adding they’re not quite ready for that yet. “I think that we just want to grow our support and we obviously have an idea of what solutions and demands we’d like to take to the Dean.”
The Banjima woman said that despite being the number one law school in the country the faculty is unable to retain or attract Indigenous legal scholars.
“As the only Indigenous person in the building, we go to [Dr Eddie Cubillo] for cultural advice, career advice as a liaison officer. So he’s juggling many hats and I just think that it’s disappointing that there’s not more Indigenous academics or staff members at the law school who can share that load with him.”
“From my experience and in my opinion [MLS] has felt culturally unsafe and I can’t imagine many other Indigenous people wanting to come here, that’s also going to have impacts on student retention as well.”
The MLS student body also want to see the University commit to a mandatory Indigenous subject included as part of the Juris Doctor [JD] degree by the beginning of semester 1, 2025, a commitment to quotas for identified roles within MLS to be at least double the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Islander people in the Australian community, and yearly anti-racism training with a focus on First Nations experiences of racism, to be compulsory for all staff at MLS because as Ms Moore says there’s no such thing as “being competent in cultural safety”.
According to reports, the Melbourne Law School has commissioned “an Indigenous-led advisory firm to undertake an Indigenous cultural safety review” which is expected to deliver its report in early 2024.
Ms Moore said this was something Dr Cubillo has been asking for over the last four years and wants the findings and recommendations made public and for MLS to publicly commit to implementing its recommendations in advance.