Staff awarded for progressing reconciliation

A cross-disciplinary, co-designed project supporting culturally responsive practice in student placements has been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Spirit of Reconciliation.

The Spirit of Reconciliation Award has been introduced in 2020 as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s commitment to ACU’s Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Employment Strategy (RAP). This award recognises the contributions of staff at ACU who strive to achieve culturally appropriate programs and activities for the betterment of our students and staff, and their commitment towards meeting the university’s Indigenous targets.

Creating culturally safe environments

This year’s winning group comprises the Allied School of Health’s Associate Professors Loretta Sheppard from occupational therapy, Joanna Zubrzycki from social work, and Wendy Pearce from speech pathology, with assistance from Richard Jameson, the former coordinator of Dhara Daramoolen: the Indigenous Higher Education Unit on our Canberra campus.

The team combined their expertise in content and curriculum across their three disciplines to produce a series of video resource and workshop materials.

“We have a responsibility to produce culturally aware graduates and that responsibility extends to clinical practice contexts,” Joanna says.

“We know from a range of evidence that these placement environments don’t always reflect the skills and knowledges that we teach. It is important to provide a range of resources to the professionals who provide supervision to our students.”

Developing the resources

A small learning and teaching grant enabled Richard to engage an Indigenous film and production crew, Wirrim Media. In collaboration with ACU Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students, staff and graduates, a range of video resources were produced.

The video scenarios reflect the lived experiences of Indigenous students who have confronted a lack of cultural safety in clinical placement settings. The aim was to produce resources and other workshop material that could engage fieldwork supervisors in order to build the cultural capabilities of non-Indigenous fieldwork supervisors and assist with the creation of culturally safe learning environments for Indigenous students, Indigenous communities and agencies when hosting student placements.

“Some of the [racist] experiences are quite subtle in clinical placement settings and reflect unconscious biases of staff supervisors and colleagues, but the impact can be profound on the students’ learning,” explains Loretta.

According to Wendy, “Richard, as an Aboriginal filmmaker and former coordinator with a social work background, had dealt with a lot of students who had these experiences. He was pivotal in pulling together the resources which were developed and in scripting possible scenarios which the students could find themselves in.”

Impact through empathy

Joanna says that the significance of supporting culturally responsive practice during placements is that it strengthens the connection between what students learn at university and what they experience and can put into in practice.

“If students are being supervised by a supervisor who is aware of the potential biases, they are more likely to be able to support students and in turn integrate this awareness more broadly into their professional roles,” she says.

The workshops also provide the opportunity for supervisors to explore, discuss and respect the cultural knowledges held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals and to recognise the role that these knowledge systems have in their agency contexts.

“Cultural knowledge should not be seen as subversive to the professional knowledge system, [but] Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals experience this regularly,” says Wendy.

On the importance of respect for cultural knowledge, Joanna explains that the workshops have been designed to be co-facilitated by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous professionals. Both she and Loretta acknowledge the critical work of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues Jessica Russ-Smith, David Wragge and Kerrie Thomsen who co-facilitated the workshops.

Embedding knowledges

The team is in the process of disseminating workshops and planning train-the-trainer sessions to share their materials, make the workshops sustainable, and embed Indigenous knowledge more broadly. They are looking at ways to continue to deliver this each year, across all campuses and disciplines.

The team has chosen to donate their prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Cherbourg Boys and Girls Dormitory Ltd in line with Spirit of Reconciliation Award.

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