The colours of diversity : women educators turning the gaze onto Australian universities

  • Caroline Gopalkrishnan

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The internationalisation of universities has attracted significant political and even media attention, as well as internal focus. Concurrently, global discourses evolving around the notion of borders, terrorism, security and identity have taken on a renewed significance. Today, the articulation of identities has significant and even dire consequences for many people living in different parts of the world. In Australia, too, the matter of what it means to be ethnic, indigenous, non-indigenous or mixed-race is highly contested, controversial and for some groups of people, in particular contexts, even dangerous. In Australian higher education, the term international is commonly used to refer to the other - citizens of other countries (including those who visit our educational institutions). They are seen as the global citizens and we are not. Cultural diversity is widely celebrated and legislated through the Commonwealth Government's Living in Harmony policy. Yet there is a dearth of knowledge and/or discussion around members of staff who are different in our own universities. This raises questions about how we come to differentiate between us and them in an Australian socio-historical context, understanding how race and ethnic difference is made salient in identification, and the knowledge production process. This is a small-scale, in-depth qualitative study, which addresses a significant gap in the literature on higher education by focusing on the experiences of four women educators of colour, each of whom has brought with her a complex collage of diasporic experiences, histories, identities and ways of knowing. By employing a multi-race/ethnic dialogic methodology and a research conversation method, the study presents the women's experiences in narrative form, integrating the autoethnographic writing of the researcher with the women's stories about difference. The inquiry provides new insights into what race and ethnic identity mean to the women in an everyday, professional and ethical practice context. The women's stories are not of the traditional career or romantic multicultural kind, but reach into the realms of the personal, political, philosophical and spiritual dimensions of human experience. As they traverse the political terrain of the Academy, the women have looked within and outside the university, navigating multiple identities to make sense of their work. By documenting four women's experiences that have never been documented before, this small-scale study provides basic research for others to build on. This research affirms the salience of race and ethnicity in the university and the new higher education knowledge creation ethos. The study reveals there is little current evidence that Australian universities are capitalising on and applying opportunities provided by research on race, ethnicity and difference to higher education debate and reform. The women's stories reveal that the issue of under-representation of women of colour is not unique to the university, but is reflective of the powerful and constitutive impact of discourses of race and difference in Australian society. By highlighting the issues of who has the power and authority in the university to determine what counts as a valid identity and how identity and knowledge boundaries are policed within the Australian university, this research raises questions about the wider implications of epistemological racism embedded in university practices in relation to governance, curriculum, policy, teaching and learning. Through its development and exploration of a multiple race and ethnic dialogic methodology, and the use of research conversations as a method, the study sheds new light on the complexities of Australian race politics in knowledge production and on women's differentiated experiences in higher education.
    Date of Award2006
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBarbara Pamphilon (Supervisor), Marie Brennan (Supervisor) & Jen Webb (Supervisor)

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