Support amid Middle East conflict, Walking on Country, our impressive Alumni and more - 1 May 2024

01 May 2024
Attila walking on country

Dear colleagues 

The conflict and human suffering in the Middle East continue to have a significant impact on many students, colleagues and friends. The longer this continues the more devastating the impact will be on the lives of all of those who have been caught in the violence, and the greater the unfortunate repercussions across the globe. I know these effects are felt by many people in the UNSW and broader Australian community. Devastatingly, the Middle East is not the only place of current conflict in the world, with the war in Ukraine continuing and the displacement of millions in northern Ethiopia but two examples, among many others. 

University communities are unusually globally connected and I would like to take this opportunity to remind colleagues that UNSW is a member of Scholars at Risk. The University has also expanded our student scholarships for asylum seekers and refugees. So, if colleagues are aware of academics or individuals fleeing persecution or conflict, you can connect with Professor Colin Grant in relation to Scholars at Risk or Jonathon Strauss for scholarships – or visit this page for more information, to enable us to help where we can.

We must each continue to take personal responsibility for ensuring that our students, our colleagues and all who are part of our University community feel safe, supported, valued and respected. UNSW will not accept racism, hate speech, inciteful behaviour or religious vilification. Visit our SpeakUp website for more information.

Thank you and again thank you to all who continue to build understanding, and express kindness and empathy to those who are feeling the effects most keenly. Your characteristic respectfulness and consideration for others reflect the culture that we value so highly at UNSW.

If you need support at this time, please access the services and resources below that can assist you.

Support for students

Support for staff

Alumni, innovation and collaboration – visiting China and South Korea

I’m writing to you this week from a very worthwhile trip to China and South Korea with DVC Global, Professor Colin Grant, colleagues from our University Office of Global Affairs and our wonderful representative office in Shanghai. Two of the absolute highlights were the completely booked-out UNSW Alumni events in Shanghai and Beijing. Our alumni are such an impressive group of people. The pride and affection we all shared in our connection to UNSW was palpable. 

Above: UNSW alumni at the recent event in Shanghai, China.

Talking to individuals who described their impressive achievements in their careers and life endeavours reminded me again of the extraordinary and positive way our alumni shape our world. I was touched to hear from two alumni who had travelled more than two hours to the Shanghai event – and I heard this was not uncommon as people sought to reconnect with the UNSW and with each other, face to face. We have a WeChat group with almost 2000 members in Shanghai, and the local alumni committees are dedicated to building this engagement. It’s no wonder Australia’s Consul-General commented on the high level of engagement she observed among our alumni! 

I enjoyed meeting so many graduates and hearing their stories of what they’ve achieved since returning to China. 

We have also had productive meetings with peers at leading universities including Tsinghua, SJTU and HUST in China and Korea University, progressing opportunities for student mobility, environmental and health research, and broader education collaborations to advance our societal impact vision. The priority areas we discussed included the innovation landscape, start-ups and entrepreneurial landing pads, student internships and industry placements, and partnerships. 

I had the privilege of speaking to health sciences students and academics at HUST about progress made by UNSW’s Centre for Big Data Research in Health. There are rapid advances being made in this arena that have the potential to improve health outcomes at scale and there are many opportunities to pursue. Thank you to Professor Louisa Jorm, the Centre’s Director, for enabling me to illuminate the work of the Centre and its partners so well. 

Thank you to UOGA; Rachel Wei, UNSW’s China Country Director; and the Shanghai teams for organising a comprehensive and fruitful program. 

Walking on Country – an extraordinary experience

Above (L-R): Professor Attila Brungs, Professor Philip Oldfield, Associate Professor Catherine Evans and Associate Professor Bernadette Hardy during their Walk on Country at the Kensington campus. 

I would like to express my sincere thanks to Associate Professor Bernadette Hardy (School of Built Environment) for honouring me with our recent Walk on Bidjigal (Dharug Dharawal) Country on UNSW’s Kensington campus.

I was privileged to accompany Bernadette and BE colleagues Head of School, Professor Philip Oldfield and Associate Professor Catherine Evans, Deputy Head of School, as we engaged in warami, an ancient greeting and protocol that says, “I can see you have come from far, why are you here, where are we going”. 

During our time together, we engaged with the beautiful fig tree Elders, and acknowledged connection with Bidjigal Country waterways that now flow underground beneath the Village Green and at the western carpark. I was moved by the custodial ritual Bernadette shared with Philip, Catherine and me as we finished our walk beneath a grand fig at Anzac Parade: painting our hands with white ochre from Dharug Country and pressing our hands against the tree.

I encourage you to read Bernadette’s moving account of our Walk on Country, below. Thank you for this extraordinary privilege.

Top: Professor Attila Brungs and Associate Professor Bernadette Hardy pressing their hands, painted with white ochre from Dharug Country, against a fig tree on Anzac Parade.

UNSW recognised for progress in gender equity

UNSW has received a SAGE Cygnet Award, recognising the University’s progress in reducing barriers to gender equity. The SAGE Athena Swan program is a framework for universities to benchmark their work in gender equity, diversity and inclusion against an international standard. Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in delivering this successful Cygnet Award for your ongoing commitment to improving gender equity and diversity and building an inclusive culture throughout the University.

Gendered Violence Policy consultation

With the recent reporting in the media, no one can be under any illusions about the hideous and ongoing scourge that is gendered violence in our community. I encourage you to have a look at the University’s draft Gendered Violence Policy, which is now available for comment. UNSW is unequivocal in its stance that behaviour that amounts to gendered violence has no place at our University. We all have a responsibility to make our University a safe and welcoming place for everyone. We have made good progress, but we still have much to do.

The draft policy aims to inform procedures, decisions and actions in relation to gendered violence, with a focus on wellbeing and support to ensure students and staff can continue their studies or employment beyond making a complaint. 

We should not underestimate how powerful a force for change universities can be in society. As educators and employers, we can improve awareness, set expectations and model actions that influence behaviour and shape culture, not just at our University, but in homes and, through our graduates, in workplaces across Australia and even further afield. 

Read more about UNSW’s draft Gendered Violence Policy and provide your feedback

I would also like to highlight two opinion pieces published by UNSW colleagues this week, which demonstrate the critical role of academics in supporting public debate in real time. 

ACOSS Poverty and Inequality Partnership Report 

One of the most effective ways to amplify our University’s impact is to collaborate with organisations that share our aim of progressing an equitable and just society. The Poverty and Inequality Partnership between Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) and UNSW is an excellent example. The Partnership provides evidence-based insights that focus national attention on, and provide concrete options to support, the millions of Australians who experience poverty and inequality.

In particular, highlighting where policies create unfair outcomes is important to drive positive change as well as working to prevent increasing injustice and disparity of opportunity. The Poverty and Inequality Partnership’s latest report, Inequality in Australia 2024: Who is affected and how, casts a light on the widening wealth gap and its causes. Read more on the UNSW Newsroom.

Nominate a colleague in the VC Awards

I have often said it is our wonderful people who make UNSW such an incredible place to study and work. The Vice-Chancellor’s Awards recognise inspiring staff who not only achieve great things, but are supportive, respectful colleagues who embody the core values that define UNSW and help make our University a wonderful place. 

If there is a colleague or team you think should be recognised for their work or the way they create a positive environment, you have until Sunday, 5 May to submit your nomination. 

Voting for the People’s Choice Award will open on Monday, 27 May, following the nomination phase. Last year, Evelyn Mike received the People’s Choice Award for her work with the Scientia Program.  Read the story in this edition of Inside UNSW to find out what the Vice-Chancellor’s Award meant to Evelyn

UNSW’s triple threat undebatable!

The debating prowess of our students is well beyond debate, judging by the swathe of UNSW teams’ and individuals’ wins at the recent Australian Intervarsity Debating Championship in Brisbane.

Congratulations to the team who won first place in this peak national competition: Conna Leslie-KeefeLiv Bishara and Lachie Doyle.

Not only did Conna, Liv and Lachie earn the top gong, but Conna was awarded Overall Best Speaker and Finals Best Speaker, Lachie was named Novice Best Speaker and Nathan Choi was recognised as Best Novice Judge.

These are fabulous results and a credit to the UNSW Debating Society. UNSW fielded 10 teams in the championships, in a great demonstration of the depth of talent among our students. An excellent effort? Affirmative.

There’s more Inside…

Just as the countdown to the French Open and Wimbledon begins, so too we revisit Larissa Baiocchi’s college tennis days in the US in this edition’s staff profile.

And if you’re looking forward to summer days and a hit of tennis yourself as the weather cools and daylight saving pales into the background, it may give you comfort to diarise the UNSW shutdown dates for summer 2024–2025Tuesday, 24 December 2024 – Sunday, 5 January 2025, inclusive.

Best regards

Professor Attila Brungs
Vice-Chancellor and President

Walking on Country – by Associate Professor Bernadette Hardy

As we walked on Bidjigal (Dharug Dharawal) Country on UNSW's Kensington campus, we engaged in an ancient protocol in the language from place 'warami’. This word goes beyond a simple hello. Instead, it’s a word for “I can see you have come from far, why are you here, where are we going”. This greeting is the oldest greeting and protocol being practiced on Earth. It brings us in relation to each other and includes Country in the process. 

As we yarned, we engaged with Elders: the towering fig trees, ancient keepers of place whose presence predates our own. These conversations wove a narrative of community and interconnectedness, reaffirming our shared purpose and fostering deeper relational connection with Bidjigal (Dharug Dharawal) Country. It was through active participation in this ancient protocol that we were able to understand why we are here and why we are doing what we are doing. 

Another crucial aspect of our journey was our connection with the waterways of Bidjigal Country. While the once-visible water on the Village Green now flows underground, the stormwater drain serves as a focal point for our efforts in building relationships. Though unconventional, this drain, which sits at the bottom of the deep time sand dunes, now concreted, channels water swiftly towards Botany Bay. Despite its concrete confines, it remains a pathway for the Eel's Dreaming in the Coral Sea and unexpectedly shelters turtles, showcasing life's resilience in challenging environments. Yet, it also presents an opportunity for improvement. Both the turtle and the eel hold Law stories of Law and creation, they are our kin, yet we have no connection, it’s as though they are a backdrop. From an Indigenous perspective, water is not just a resource but the source of all life, emphasising the need for connection and relationality with water and 'hybrid vigour'. 

Our journey concluded at another towering fig tree on Anzac Parade, where I quietly shared a custodial ritual, painting Attila, Phil and Catherine's hands with white ochre from Dharug Country and pressing it against the tree. This ancient protocol of painting white ochre onto guests of Country is gesture of care, respect and safe passage; if we nurture Country, it will in turn nurture us.

Our walk was to deepen our relational connection with Country, echoing our efforts in the School of Built Environment to create a sense of belonging for all beings—human, non-human, and beyond, through design. This sense of belonging is fundamental for academic excellence, fostering an environment where everyone can flourish.

It is my hope that one day, the fig tree will be recognised not just a beautiful backdrop but as a course convenor alongside traditional custodians, guiding us in a shared journey of learning and growth without division, and a sense of belonging for all to thrive together.