Guidelines for Addressing Cultural Issues at University Events

Based on the Guidelines for Addressing Cultural Issues for State Events issued by Premier's Department and Community Relations Commission, November 2001 and produced with the permission of the Community Relations Commission.

1. Introduction

The Western Sydney University respects and values cultural diversity. We also recognise the unique position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and heritage.

It is important that all people feel welcome and respected at functions hosted by the University. Therefore event organisers are expected to consider the diversity of tastes, beliefs, and preferences of guests. Please note, the more significant the function, the greater the expectation of 'exact' protocol.

2. Planning and Consultation

Prior to issuing invitations, ascertain the possible requirements of guests. These requirements may influence the choice of venue, caterer, entertainment, program and protocol at the event.

To ascertain accurate dietary or disabilities access needs, request information on special dietary or disabilities access requirements of guests, where practicable, on any RSVP form or point of contact. Where guests are being invited by phone, request this information when the invitation is extended and or the reservation is taken.

In cases when it is believed or known that the guest of honour, or a significant number of guests, has special dietary requirements, more specific research and preparations are needed. For example, contacting an organisation that can advise on specific requirements.

3. Catering

Organisers of official functions need to ensure, as much as possible, that individuals' needs are accommodated, within the context of an official function. Providing appropriate foods and beverages is one way of recognising and responding to needs. As a matter of good practice, always serve a selection of vegetarian and meat foods on separate trays and ensure a variety of non-alcoholic drinks are always available.

The following guidelines regarding the dietary requirements of some religious groups are general descriptions only. For a full description of dietary requirements, contact the appropriate religious organisation.


If the guest of honour, or a significant proportion of guests are monks or nuns of the Buddhist religion, provide only vegetarian food. Do not serve alcohol unless those guests advise that they have no objection to alcohol being available for other guests. Lay-people of the Buddhist faith also prefer vegetarian food, and do not drink alcohol.

It is acceptable, however, to serve alcohol to other guests at the function.


Do not serve meat and alcohol to guests of the Hindu faith, although alcohol on the premises for other guests is allowed.


If the guest of honour is an observant member of the Jewish faith, or if this applies to a number of the guests, the services of a kosher caterer should be engaged. Jewish dietary law prohibits the consumption of pork products containing pork derivatives such as gelatine, lard and animal shortenings, as well as shellfish. There are also prohibitions against mixing meat with dairy products, including food preparation utensils. Procedures are also prescribed for the slaughter and preparation of meat which means that observant Jews will avoid meat that has not been prepared in this way.

The presence of alcohol on the premises is acceptable.


If Islam is the religion of the guest of honour or of a significant number of guests, the services of an halal caterer should be engaged. Islamic dietary law prohibits the consumption of pork, products containing pork derivatives such as gelatine, lard and animal shortenings, as well as shellfish.

The guest of honour should be asked if it would be preferred that alcohol was not served. If a small number of guests are observant Muslims, a small selection of halal products, on separate trays from other dishes, is appropriate. Alcohol on the premises for other guests is allowed.


Observant Sikhs do not drink alcohol or consume meat. Also, observant Sikhs do not smoke.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders

Organisers of catering for functions need to be mindful of the very high diabetes rate among Aboriginal people, especially those of mature age. People who are insulin dependent need to know exact meals times so they can plan their medication and 'therapeutic snacks' accordingly.

4. Choice of Venue

Sometimes for religious reasons, the guest of honour, or a significant number of guests, cannot drink alcohol or be in premises where alcohol is served. In such cases where possible, try to avoid organising a function at a venue that regularly serves alcohol, even if it is intended not to offer alcohol at the function. This guideline applies particularly to devout Muslims and Sikhs.

Gambling is strictly against the precepts of the Muslim and Sikh faiths. Venues likely to present difficulties include licensed clubs, hotels, licensed restaurants and casinos.

If such venues are to be used organisers should:

  • specify in the invitation that alcohol will not be served;
  • consult prospective guests and explain the reason for the venue;
  • ensure that guests do not have to walk through areas where
    alcohol is being consumed;
  • ensure that alcohol is not on display in the function room.

5. Seating

In general, religious members (officials) should be seated at the front of the room, and lay members at the back.

Buddhist monks of the Theravada tradition, who come from Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Malaysia, and Muslim clerics, prefer not to be seated next to women.

6. Greeting/Receiving

Most people are comfortable shaking hands in greeting and parting with others. However, women from some Asian-Buddhist communities, and Buddhist monks, may prefer a traditional greeting. In this instance, people should join their palms together and raise them up to face level while saying their greeting.

Some practising Muslims and members of the Jewish faith do not shake hands with the opposite sex. Again, this information can be ascertained when consulting with the appropriate agency. Usually observing how these people prepare to greet others is a good indication of their expectations and practices.

7. Dress

Most male lay participants at an official function will wear Western style attire as designated on the invitation. However, some may attend in their national costumes, depending on the occasion. In general, members of religious orders such as Christian priests, Buddhist monks and nuns, or Muslim Imams will wear religious gowns or robes.

8. Welcome to Country

Guidelines for the arrangement and performance of Welcome to Country ceremonies and acknowledging indigenous custodians of the land at University events are available from the External Relations Unit, Division of Corporate Services.

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