Speaking up about racism: Do you feel welcome in Australia?

MELD reporter Nkandu Mwenge’s personal brush with racism has reignited debate in our newsroom. Do international students feel welcome in Australia? Jingwei Lee goes in search for some answers. 

Do you feel welcome in Australia?

Student stories 

Taiwanese student Jennifer Lu was at Boxhill late one night with her friends when three Caucasian girls walked towards them.

Pulling at their eyes till they became mere slits, they shouted, “Oh I can’t see! I can’t see!” – before knocking into them roughly.

“We were so furious. And, of all places to be racist, they chose Boxhill,” Jennifer recounts.

Jacalyn Kow from Malaysia says she has never felt physically threatened in her three years in Melbourne, but racial slurs were not unusual.

“Nothing drastic such as people throwing eggs or shouting profanities, but more like local Australians shouting from the windows of their moving vehicles – things like ‘Go back to China’ or ‘Go back to your country where you belong’,” says Jacalyn.

“My immediate response was one of exasperation and disgust. I did not do anything remarkably obvious, but was upset for a few minutes.”

Speaking up 

Jennifer says because racism is a sensitive topic, people tend to not want to talk about it.

Samantha Sun from China who has lived in Australia for seven years, says culture-specific upbringing also hinders students from vocalising.

“Asians were brought up to listen to others, to follow our parents. When things like racial slurs happen, we tend not to voice out,” she says.

Many Chinese students only feel comfortable discussing their experiences on Chinese language websites, she says.

For Samantha, it’s not a good thing.

“They don’t get their stories out, and retreat into their circle of comfort. They need to speak out on this issue,” she says.

Have you experienced racism in Australia as an international student?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Dealing with racism

Principal research fellow at Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, Associate Professor Dr Yin Paradies encourages students to speak out on racism.

Dr Paradies, who studies the health, social and economic effects of racism, says while it’s understandable that students tend to “get angry and freeze out”, the best thing to do is to try and remain calm and “engage on a diplomatic level.”

However, he cautions that safety should come first.

“If you’re faced with a group of ten drunken guys, it’s best to leave in a hurry,” he says.

He suggests probing the reasons behind the racism, which he says is largely driven by emotions.

“People are frightened and anxious about differences due to their tendency to generalise indirect and direct experiences with ethnic groups,” Dr Paradies says.

“You can ask, ‘Why do you say that?’ or ‘I’ve come here to get an education and that’s good for Australia’. You can engage in a discussion.”

Dr Paradies also recommends getting help from witnesses.

“It can be useful to ask if they agree with the person’s racist remarks,” he says.

It seeks to address the problem of false consensus – that is, when a person with racist views believes that the majority agrees with them.

“The only way to counter that is to have people make it clear that they don’t agree…it’s very useful to respond and challenge their views,” Dr Paradies says.

Is Australia racist?

For the most part, students Meld spoke to believe their brush with racism isn’t representative of the majority of the Australian public, and that Melbourne is generally welcoming towards international students.

“There’s always good people and bad people, welcoming and non-welcoming ones who exist in every community,” says Samantha.

For Jennifer, she looks back at her experience as the exception rather than the norm.

Jacalyn says students have a role to play in creating awareness among the local community.

“International students should be willing to be open to communicating with the local society and not be intimidated by them if and when racism happens,” she says.

Dr Paradies says most Australians are comfortable with racial diversity.

“It’s about 10 percent who are pretty extreme…most people are very supportive and welcoming,” he says.

Do you agree? Share your experiences and views with us in the comments section below.

There are 11 comments

  1. Jayne

    Kia Ora from NZ,

    What a great conversation to have with your students!

    There has been some recent media coverage on racism in NZ and in response; the Unitec Student Media team went out & about last week to ask our students:

    Is NZ are a racist country?

    Check out the replies from both our international and local students –


    We look forward to reading more from your community of students.
    Keep up the great work!

    *Waves & smiles from Unitec Student Media *

  2. Joshua Rodrigues

    I must honestly confess that Sydney in general lacks moral values, esp. in the academia and international students are not only treated as cash cows and denied opportunities to work as casual tutors but also work as unpaid RAs for their supervisors. This is especially true of Sydney Uni. Isn’t it a real shame that NTEU, a vocal advocate of education as a human right remains silent on exploitation of international students? How do you raise money with the Gonski reforms? $2.8 billion cuts to education? Raise tuition fees payable by international students. Ah! what a good idea to overburden parents of young men and women from third world countries? If there is one word to characterise the discrimination against international students, I would use the word racism, defined as an Australianization of corruption and nepotism. Is anyone hearing me?

  3. We All Smile | Hungry Digital Zombies

    […] With Australia’s multicultural policy and educational entries to visas, the amount of international students meeting our shores is on the rise. We want them to feel welcome but it’s known that they don’t always feel that way, what can we do about that? (See: Speaking up about racism: do you feel welcome in Australia?) […]

  4. KP

    Australia is at least 80% a racist country. It’s not as warm and welcoming as people makes it out to be. I don’t see many happy faces in Australia as we do in other western countries. After being in Australia for a few years now, I see Australia as a developing 2nd world country. Most 3rd world countries are more modern that’s full of life and happiness. Almost all of the people I know and talked to regret studying in Australia, or locals already have plans to move out of Australia asap. Trust me on this one.

  5. JZ

    Racism happened in box hill, Melbourne again. 2 Chinese girls were beaten by 3 Caucasian adolescents in a shop. They kicked victims’ head and stomach, shouting some words like: “Look at the f–king Chinese,they all have the stupid face!”. However as the batterers are under 18, they are released by cop immediately. And it’s hard for victims to get any compensation if those kids have no income. I find it’s just unfair. I may misunderstand this news, but it’s like a way to encourage racism. As an international student I feel like I am not protected by anything. Can I defend myself if kids attack me? Or the law only protect Australian kids but not everyone?

  6. Vernon

    Having lived and studied in Australia for eight months, I experience racism almost on a daily basis. From fellow students outside of the school, in public transport vehicles(from both the fellow passengers and the drivers), in the streets from people who would not hesitate about slinging racial slurs and hurling glass bottles at me, in the shopping centres, you name it. The list is endless. I really regret spending quite a fortune to further my study in Australia.

  7. TTX

    You want us to speak up our experiences on racism in Australia? Okay, I will speak up mine.

    To be fair, I don’t see the fabled “most Australians are comfortable with racial diversity” claim for all these months living in Australia, and the claim that “most Australians are very welcoming and supportive of international students” is complete offal. It’s not like we ever expected any kind of support from Australians or their authorities since we are not Australian citizens. However, all we ever wanted is to complete our tertiary educations in this country without unwanted incidents of any kind because, seriously, we spend a lot of fortunes just to further our studies here. Is that too much to ask for?

    “Only about 10% of Australians are racist and extreme.” Offal! The opposite is true; only about 10% of Australians are non-racist and decent people. They are the minority. The racists far outnumber the non-racists here in Australia.

    Some time ago on a Friday, my sisters and I visited Flinders Street to relax our minds on afternoon and, on our way home in late evening, we encountered a bunch of racist white teenagers who poured water and hurled glass bottles and shouted racists insults at us. I guess we were pretty lucky they didn’t do anything worse to us. Nevertheless, we reported the incident to the authorities and we were ignored. And this is when I learned that the Australian authorities are either denialists who don’t want to acknowledge the sad truth that most white people here are hateful racists or they simply don’t care about anything that’s happening to non Australian citizens in Australia. I guess reporting the incident to Australian authorities was a very stupid move. After all, what are we international students to the Australian authorities other that cash cows that are to be fleeced by them? By the way, this incident is just one of the many racist experiences we have in Australia.

    We have decided to leave Australia at the end of this year and continue our educations somewhere else. By the way, thank you, Australia, for lying to us about the quality of your education system and the standard of living in this country. I’ll be sure to tell my fellow people back in my homeland to not ever come here to further their studies.

  8. Reza

    I used to study in graduate studies of university of melbourne and I think there is a very dreadfully racism there even many professors have racist attitude and a there is a huge racial discrimination there mostly in engineer schools.

  9. Sam Lake

    Racism is a problem in Melbourne. Just ask the number of people who have been beeped at and/or shown the bird for walking on the footpath, minding their own business.

  10. Kyle

    I am from Taiwan. I have been living in Australia for 2 years, currently studying. I have been wanting to complain about my experiences with racism here. I understand that basically racism exists everywhere, but the frequency that this happens just totally shocked me. That happens nearly every week. Sometimes just some random strangers driving by and giving a finger, sometimes they call me by really bad words, or threatening me to give them money, I even got hit by some teenagers. And most of my taiwanese friends have similar experiences. I am so dissapointed because I have so many bad experiences here. I am not talking about all of Australia, because I am pretty sure there are so many nice people out there, too, but the percentage of unrespectful terrible people is just too high that I don’t feel safe here at all. I really can’t wait to finish my study and leave Australia.

Post Your Thoughts