Being Asian-Australian in an Arts Degree: Experiences and thoughts of an Asian-Australian Arts student at UNSW

By Roydon Ng

Me: “Hi …”

[Person looks away]

Class then begins with “introduce yourselves” and “what do you hope to achieve from university?”. Person says meet new people. Tutor tells class to shake hands and say hi; person greets everyone but me.

At the poster sale, whilst flipping through the display, person pushes me away and looks at the poster. Not once, but twice. Person calls his mate over who says: “Good on Ya”. People notice, but say nothing.

During class discussions, I state my opinion in light of my ethno-cultural background as the majority of classmates stare shocked that I can speak. Person every time submits counter argument laden with subtly racial put downs.

Lecturer asks for the name of students, who give answers and engage in small conversations. I give answer, lecturer gives blunt yes, no response.


Hello, my name is Roydon Ng. I am a proud Asian-Australian arts student at the university where we are told never to stand still. And no, I am not referring to dancing on the floor of the Roundhouse, where you have to move otherwise you’ll get stuck. Being a minority is a unique opportunity, and as part of probably the second-smallest niche on campus – the Asian-Australian male arts student – you tend to notice a few things (and to say every now and then would probably be an understatement).

Put simply, I am Asian in a predominantly White learning environment, thus I am often outcasted even when I attempt to engage with others. Don’t even get started on asking why I am even doing an Arts degree at UNSW, as what gives you the right to criticise my rebellion against the stereotypical norm, or even suggest that I should be in the Australian School of Business instead of the Morven Brown. To me, it seems that I have adopted the modern values of Australia, such as multiculturalism and equality, to a greater extent than my fellow counterparts – who, despite their misconceptions, I continue to respect.

I must say I love it (sarcasm warning) when in history, politics or international relations, most – if not all – of the curriculum is Eurocentric. What is even better than this is the success of my peers in understanding and applying the ways of the colonial powers through their socio-cultural approaches in the twenty-first century today.

Why is it that when the colonised stand up and make polite requests, their introduction is interpreted as a declaration of war? Likewise in the classroom and society, I will continue to challenge the socio-cultural norm in our society today, where minorities are often silenced.

When people say how far we’ve come in Australia, I stop and think, “Really mate? Can you really say we’ve made progress when you’ve only begun to notice us?” In my opinion, minorities still continue to lack the respect they deserve. And to generalise minorities as one monolithic collective is also of great folly.

Racism and the lack of affirming cultural diversity takes place with many in both the spoken word, subtle actions, and even the lack of words, actions and commitments. Twenty-first century Australia marks about 30 years since our country officially became multicultural, or rather, when it was proclaimed. However, even in the post-millennial decades, Australians all face great challenges in the continual affirmation of cultural diversity.

Rampant attitudes of the White Australia Policy, along with a socio-cultural hierarchy, continues to flourish in what is supposed to be a multicultural country. It strikes a saddening tone that the discrimination of persons with the use of the “I’m Australian” excuse in such a context continues to be permissible. This details in fact how “un-Australian” he or she really is. Victims of racism need not be silent, as inaction against racist attitudes and behaviours in the long run gives rise once again to the hierarchy of racial discrimination.

The term “all Australians” in the context of racial culture should be abolished, as we ought to strive to truly implement a unified multicultural nation where Australian means “all”. Whether it be taking a stand and marching against racism, or being seated at an Australian citizenship ceremony, there is progress to be achieved in the affirmation of cultural diversity, the death of a hierarchy in racial superiority, and the triumph of multiculturalism over the old ways of the past – Australia not only can and needs to lead the way.