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

Thesis written by Dr Caroline Gopalkrishnan

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, seeking asylum or mixed-race is highly contested, controversial and for some groups of people, in particular contexts, even dangerous. Building on the premises that identity is fluid and relational, the study addresses a significant gap in the literature on higher education in Australia 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. This is a small-scale, in-depth qualitative study. By documenting four women’s experiences that have never been documented before, this small-scale study provides basic research for others to build on. The research affirms the salience of race and ethnicity in the Australian university. Moreover, 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. This study raises questions about the wider implications of epistemological racism embedded in university practices in relation to governance, curriculum development, equity 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 complex nuances of Australian ‘race’ politics and on women’s differentiated experiences in higher education.

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Dr Caroline Gopalkrishnan was awarded a PhD from the University of Canberra in 2007 and has presented seminars and workshops based on her research findings at the University of Canberra, Charles Darwin University, Curtin University, and the University of South Australia. She has applied her research on diversity to a range of educational contexts, as an educator and project manager in tertiary teacher training, registered training organisations (formerly TAFE), the Education Department of WA, the Department of Corrective Services, the youth sector and the Women and Families Domestic Violence sector. Caroline is currently working in the Curtin University Ethics, Equity & Social Justice team, as Access Project Coordinator. She is interested in finding out ways of applying ‘mixed-race theory’ to higher education equity and diversity practice contexts.

Posted 16 September 2013 By ncsehe