UWS responds to Muslim Students' Association event

Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor, University of Western Sydney

The students were wrong. Without a doubt the representatives of the Muslim Students' Association (MSA) at the University's Parramatta campus made a mistake in requesting the segregation of men and women at a recent event.

A recent article by Sarrah Le Marquand in the Daily Telegraph implied the University tolerates a form of subtle sexism by virtue of what occurred. The University rejects this assertion. Contrary to some reports, UWS has never condoned gender segregation, and all of our students are well aware of this. It will not recur at any future event held on our campuses by any student or community group.

To set the record straight, the actual content of the MSA's guest speakers – by all reports – was perfectly reasonable and dealt with challenging contemporary issues affecting young Muslim men and women. Even the journalist from the Daily Telegraph, in seeking comment from attendees, had to acknowledge the cultural dimensions of the event and the relevance of the discussion.

There has been comment about one of the guest speakers, but most readers would appreciate the University ­­– any university – is loathe to interfere in freedom of expression and the independence of our student associations. We are and should be open to promoting public discourse and new ideas, even when they are challenging. We are very careful about the sensitivities surrounding radicalisation but remain confident that, by working with our students, we can promote mature and occasionally challenging debate. This is the approach now, as evidenced by the event last week, and will continue to be the focus in the future.

As a leading institution in multicultural western Sydney, UWS is deeply committed to the principles of social cohesion and tolerance. One of the most troubling aspects of the backlash last week was just how fragile social cohesion is in our community, and how much further we need to grow as a democracy and a society. Perhaps some of the commentators should read the pages of social media comment to appreciate just how vicious and racist much of the vitriol was, and unfortunately continues to be. At the very least, we should hope for more informed debate in this country when it comes to the challenges we are facing. 

In fact, the University of Western Sydney has the largest Muslim student population of all the universities in Australia, and we are proud of our relationships with and across the Muslim communities in Sydney. We are the Australian leader in ensuring that Australian Muslim youth have an effective access to quality tertiary education. As far back as 2007 UWS organised a ground-breaking 'Muslim Students at Australian Universities' conference, and we continue to host a range of international and sometime controversial speakers dealing with issues of sex and religious discrimination in Islam.

Some argue that Muslim youths are not settled in Australia. Yet research carried out by UWS has demonstrated that the vast majority of Muslims in Sydney live everyday Australian lives. Their primary hopes and dreams are ordinary aspirations around employment and education ­– they are not fixated on geopolitics or theology. Informed international scholarship acknowledges that young Muslims in the west are the hope and future for positive relations between Muslims and non-Muslims on this planet. UWS is committed to playing a formative role in that future. Nonetheless, we all need to be vigilant and we need early interventions, and UWS is proudly working with NSW Police in providing evidence-based evaluations of their counter-radicalisation programs.

The University is also currently organising a national 'Advancing Community Cohesion' conference (15-17 July) at the UWS Parramatta Campus. Everyone is invited to be a part of this important exchange of ideas. UWS will continue to address the issues as they are, and search for solutions without mischief making and prejudice.


21 May 2015