2011 VC's Equity and Diversity Award recipients
A project that has helped year 12 high school students to develop a better understanding of Australia’s asylum and refugee policies is the main winner in the 2011 UQ Vice-Chancellor’s Equity and Diversity Awards, announced this evening.
The Vice Chancellor’s Awards evening is the highlight of UQ’s annual Diversity Week, which provides an opportunity to celebrate the increasing diversity of the UQ community and to raise awareness of current issues that are impacting on the world’s diverse people, groups and communities.
The Award - valued at $10,000 - was presented to members of the Asylum and Refugee Law Project (ARLP) by Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield.
Created by a small group of law students in May 2010, ARLP aims to encourage school students and the wider public to explore and critically analyse Australian refugee law and policy and consider its human effects.
Project Supervisor and Senior Lecturer in Law Dr Peter Billings said, following completion of an immigration and refugee law subject, students wanted to contribute to debates around forced migration in the Asia-Pacific region and the processing of asylum seekers in Australia.
“The students had a desire to deepen their understanding of immigration and refugee policy, not for academic credit, but so that they could contribute to public debate in an informed way,” Dr Billings said.
“As a lecturer, it’s rewarding when a group of students shares your level of interest for an area of the law and the role it plays in the community.”
Group member Marissa Dooris said what started as a few people meeting after class in the moot court had developed into a multifaceted project, with students engaging with politicians, the general public and high schools.
In September 2010, six of the students facilitated a pilot lesson on asylum and refugee law with a class at Mansfield State High School.
“I actually contacted my old modern history teacher and said ‘I want to take my learning beyond the classroom, can I bring it into yours?’” Ms Dooris said.
“That lesson was well-received.
“In the future we hope to roll out a public education program that will enable high school students to engage with complex and controversial human rights issues.”
In the lead-up to Refugee Week in June, ARLP members took their legal concerns about Labor’s moratorium on the processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers to then Federal Member for Bonner Kerry Rea.
Following that meeting, the group established a blog as a forum to dispel inaccuracies about asylum seekers and refugees.
Ms Dooris said the blog had received more than 9000 hits, with student commentary covered extensively by the mainstream media in the lead-up to the Federal election.
“All group members contributed carefully researched and reflective commentaries in the week preceding the election, and we received favourable feedback from members of the general public,” she said.
“All posts were peer-reviewed and read by their supervisor, which was a time-consuming but healthy process.”
The group continues to grow, with students from other academic disciplines, such as international relations and education, becoming involved in ARLP initiatives.
The Vice Chancellor’s Equity and Diversity Award money will be used to expand ARLP’s public education program, with several more high school visits planned for later in the year.
An on-campus workshop is also in the works, which would allow high school students to gain insight into life at university while learning about asylum and refugee law.
Further information about ARLP can be found on its website.