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Given the reignited debate on refugees and racism in Australia, it is timely that one of the leading international experts in racism and health, Dr Naomi Priest, has joined Deakin - and is about to embark on a major ARC-funded anti-racism project.
Dr Priest has an international reputation for her research on child health inequalities and developing strategies to combat racism and promote diversity and inclusion. She recently commenced as Alfred Deakin Senior Research Fellow within Deakin’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation and has been awarded a prestigious Alfred Deakin Fellowship.
“I am very pleased to have joined the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin. The centre is world renowned for its research on multiculturalism and intercultural relations,” Dr Priest said.
She will continue to hold an appointment as Senior Research Fellow with the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing, University of Melbourne.
Her new ARC grant aims to tackle racism in schools in Victoria and NSW, and builds on her latest research, which found that racism is alive and rampant in Victorian schools.
In the previous study, funded by Vic Health, Dr Priest and her colleagues discovered that one in five primary and high school students are targets of racism at school on a daily basis. The researchers surveyed 264 young people, aged eight to 17-years-old, in metropolitan and regional Victorian schools.
There is also concern that the prevalence of racism could actually be much higher, with nearly half of students reporting witnessing racism directed at someone else every day.
More than two-thirds of students said they saw another student being teased because of their cultural background at least once a month. The most common racist experience reported in schools was students being told they do not belong in Australia, followed by being left out of play or group work, being spat on, pushed or hit and, less commonly, being excluded by a teacher.
“We need to support teachers and parents to have meaningful conversations about racism and cultural diversity,” Dr Priest said. “Children see difference from as young as three or four years of age. Rather than avoiding the topic of cultural difference, it needs to be discussed openly by teachers at school and at home by parents, to teach children to respect and value our multicultural society and speak out when they see or experience unfair treatment.”
“Racism is an everyday experience for many people and it’s a core public health issue. It has a substantive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, and is a real driver of health inequalities.”
In her new ARC research project, announced on 27 June, Dr Priest, as lead researcher, has been awarded a $520,000 linkage grant to support schools and students to be proactive bystanders against racial bullying. The grant is in partnership with the Victorian and New South Wales Departments of Education, and the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Over four years, the project will allow Dr Priest and her colleagues at Deakin and the University of Western Sydney to substantially improve understanding of the role of bystander responses as a means of countering racism among Australian school students.
The project will further identify health and social outcomes of racism, and explore the enablers and obstacles associated with bystander responses to racism and racial bullying. Initial research strongly supports the notion that pro-active bystanders have a significant effect on the incidence of racism.
Most importantly, the new project will develop and pilot a school-based program to foster bystander responses against racism that could potentially be introduced around Australia - with the ultimate hope of creating a more inclusive future for all Australians.