The new ADA Indigenous Strategy outlines a blueprint for Indigenous determination and empowerment in the faculty. 

UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture (UNSW ADA) have developed a new Indigenous Strategy that embeds its commitment to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, students and programs to realise their potential and purpose. 

The ADA Indigenous Strategy, recently launched, provides a blueprint for Indigenous determination and empowerment in the faculty. It sets out the high expectations and guidance for working with First Nations staff, students, communities, and organisations through research, education, and collaborative community engagement.

The strategy was written in response to the UNSW Indigenous Strategy – launched by the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous in 2018 – and is aligned directly with its Three Pillars: Culture and Country, Give Back, and Grow Our Own. It sets out strategic objectives across interrelated key areas of Research, Education, Engagement and Employment, to ensure that collaboratively developed, productive and purposeful policies and practices are established to affect long-term change in the educational outcomes of First Nations students and the intellectual and cultural integrity of Indigenous teaching and research across the faculty. 

Dr BJ Newton, Wiradjuri woman and inaugural Associate Dean Indigenous at UNSW ADA, led the development of the strategy, working collaboratively with First Nations ADA students and staff and supported by Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders across the University. 

Dr Newton says the strategy has been designed to ensure UNSW ADA is a place where First Nations staff and students can flourish personally, culturally, and intellectually, secure in knowing that their history is recognised and their diverse experiences, knowledges and cultures are understood and valued.  

“Since its inception, ADA has recognised that a serious commitment needs to be made to embed a safe and supportive environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff. This document is the first step to embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, priorities and inclusion in the faculty,” Dr Newton says.

“The ADA Indigenous Strategy is an important step forward for the University as ADA is leading the faculties with a clear alignment of the new faculty to the Indigenous Strategy,” says Cobble Cobble woman and Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, Professor Megan Davis. “It shows ADA’s commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, researchers, and students, and to improving the environment that we, as First Nations people, work and learn in.”

“It is terrific to see the first formal faculty response to the UNSW Indigenous Strategy, driven forward by Associate Dean Indigenous, Dr BJ Newton, and supported by the Dean, Professor Claire Annesley. The success of UNSW’s core Indigenous Strategy is dependant on commitments such as this by ADA and I look forward to it being implemented across all areas of the faculty.

“I am particularly proud of Dr Newton who has led this work while maintaining an important active research role and I look forward to supporting her in her role as Associate Dean. It is a model for all faculties to emulate.”

Leilani Tallulah Knight, Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi Queer artist and Bachelor of Fine Arts/Arts student, designed the artwork for the document and was also involved in forming the strategy with Winangala Gurrugurrubaa - the Indigenous Student Shadow Board for UNSW ADA.

Leilani says the work, entitled ‘U gonna listen now?’ speaks to her university experience and its influence on her identity as a Queer Indigenous artist. 

“This work draws on the collective knowledges and traditions passed throughout my family and the subsequent inter-generational traumas obtained through regressive government policies and harmful racial stereotypes,” she says. 

“At its heart this piece truly reflects the resilience of Indigenous cultures and is a beacon to centre community and healing at the centre of institutional policies. As I have shared my pain with UNSW and encapsulated my tremulous journey within the institution’s domain, I seek truth telling and justice from those in power.”

Leilani says it’s vital that Indigenous voices, histories and knowledges are heard within the faculty. 

“It’s extremely important we have a voice on the things directly affecting us and that we have the opportunity to speak on it and be heard. BJ and Claire have helped in elevating our voices and having our lived experiences inform the strategy.”

Dean of UNSW ADA Professor Claire Annesley says the ADA Indigenous Strategy forms the foundation of a diverse new faculty and sets the direction for fulfilling its vision and mission. 

“This is an Indigenous-led strategy which has my full support,” Prof. Annesley says. “It commits UNSW ADA to become a place that is culturally safe and inclusive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, staff and guests, that improves how we engage with First Nations’ communities and knowledges, and to listen and to learn about the people, place and cultures of the lands on which we study and work.” 

“I am grateful to Winangala Gurrugurrubaa, Associate Dean Indigenous Dr BJ Newton and other First Nations colleagues in UNSW ADA for their time and generosity since I arrived in Australia in 2020, with lots to learn.” 

Dr Newton says the next stage will involve bringing the strategy to life within the faculty through a 5-year implementation plan that will set out concrete initiatives and actions to meet the objectives and embed the Indigenous Strategy into UNSW ADA.  

“A lot of work needs to be done to ensure this strategy is honoured and the changes we make become a part of the everyday culture and functioning of the faculty in years to come,” Dr Newton says. 

“This important work has already started with cultural reflexivity training for staff, the appointment of an Indigenous support and engagement specialist, scholarships for Indigenous students, as well as financial support during COVID-19.”

Dr Newton says the ultimate goal is to embed the ADA Indigenous Strategy into all faculty business. She hopes the ADA Indigenous Strategy launch will inspire other faculties across the University to develop their own Indigenous strategy. 

“I hope this document sets the foundations for true Indigenous equity and inspires other faculties to do something similar and to heed the call to recognise the importance of having Indigenous leadership, expertise and support opportunities for students and staff to achieve what they want in the world.”

Read the ADA Indigenous Strategy

Image credit: Leilani Tallulah Knight, “U gonna listen now?”, 2021