Working as part of RMIT’s Reconciliation Action Plan Committee is not just a job for RMIT staff involved – it’s also a passion.
Marc Schonhardt, Principal Advisor Strategy and Communications in the College of Business Office, says he has always been interested in Indigenous engagement.
“I have always had an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander work and culture.
“I studied economics and sociology at university and it was interesting to find out about the different groups people belong to in society; and during my studies I took the time to become more knowledgeable about Indigenous affairs.
“In my previous role at Monash University, I signed up to do the cultural awareness training straight away, and when the College of Business Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Palmer, asked me to join the RAP Committee at RMIT I was pleased – it’s a privilege to be part of,” Schonhardt said.
He grew up in Guetenbach, a small town in the Black Forest in south-west Germany with a population of just over 1200, before he moved to Australia.
“I find it interesting to learn about different views and ways of looking at the world from how western society sees things, so the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewpoint is fascinating to me,” he said.
Tristan Damen, Manager Course and Program Administration in the Academic Registrar’s Group and on the RAP Committee for the Education portfolio, is also very engaged with Indigenous people and matters in Australia.
“For my undergraduate degree at university in Queensland there was not much engagement with Indigenous issues, but as a postgraduate at the University of New England I studied Public Policy and its impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Political systems around the world have systemically disadvantaged Indigenous people over time, so it is great to be part of a positive initiative like the RAP here at RMIT.
“It is also a two party process for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians to engage and reconcile as well – so for me it’s important to be involved,” Damen said.
Mark Jones, Manager, Social Enterprise Services at RMIT Connect and the RAP rep for RMIT Connect is Aboriginal.
“My family are from Broome and we are part of the Aboriginal Yaruwu people from the Broome region in Western Australia.
“I’ve only been a RAP representative for a few months, but already I’ve had some great experiences from it,” Jones said.
On Sorry Day Friday 26 May this year, he presented to the RMIT Connect group about things you need to know including a harrowing story about his own Aboriginal mother and how she was treated all her life for being too white to be properly black.
“I think it really stunned some people in the team when I revealed that the woman I was talking about was my mother, but I feel that people are very open and genuine in their interest about Aboriginal stories and Reconciliation at RMIT,” he said.
Jones also found that the RMIT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Awareness Training is having a real effect on people.
“One staff member who did the training then texted me on their mobile phone in the evening after they had done the training, sending me a photo and some information about the Stolen Generation.
“The training had informed them and opened up their mind to what happened in the past, to the point they actually texted me in the evening after work about what they had learned which really moved me.
“There’s a great feeling at RMIT with the Reconciliation Action Plan, a lot of interest and goodwill which is really authentic and great to see,” he said.
Damen also sees RMIT moving forward with the RAP and building on what has been done at the University already.
“I think the RAP is genuinely encouraging constructive participation for Reconciliation at RMIT, and it’s great that in the Academic Registrars Group the RAP is wholly supported by the ARG Executive.
“This year we’re encouraging staff to engage with NAIDOC Week in a few different ways.
“They can choose to just attend the NAIDOC Week morning tea at Ngarara Willim Centre, or they can take part in the NAIDOC March – by offering different options we are hoping to make engaging with this important Indigenous week more accessible to ARG staff, depending on their team’s capacity and workload at the time,” he said.
Schonhardt was interested in getting as many people as possible in the College of Business to help celebrate NAIDOC Week this year.
“We have a First Nations Food Hall event for NAIDOC Week to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and achievements.
“The food for our event is coming from Indigenous owned companies from all over Australia – as food really does bring people together to celebrate and find out more about a culture,” he said.
The College also held a successful Indigenous Business Studio for staff and students, with Indigenous businesses from around Victoria.
“It’s good to see staff being more interested and engaged in Indigenous issues and culture through the RAP, and that feeling and engagement continues to grow in my College and throughout RMIT,” Schonhardt said.
When he joined the RAP Committee Stacey Campton, Director, Ngarara Willim Centre, asked him three questions: What does Reconciliation mean in your eyes?, What are your goals for joining the Committee?, and What is a personal contribution you can make to Reconciliation?
“I found this interesting, valuable, very useful and something totally different, as most Committees I’ve been on don’t do this when you join, but I think it would be a good idea for all Committees to do it.
“The questions made me think about our RAP, and why and how I could be an active part of it … which is an extremely positive way to be part of Reconciliation at RMIT,” Schonhardt said.
Story: Deborah Sippitts