2013 Roberta Sykes Scholar
A scholarship jointly funded by the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation (RSIEF) and the Harvard Club of Australia.
Kathleen Jackson is a Wiradjuri woman from Gulgong in NSW, who was recently accepted to undertake a PhD in African and African American Studies at Harvard University. The course is fully funded by Harvard for six years. Kathleen has also been awarded the Roberta Sykes Harvard Club Scholarship, a scholarship jointly funded by the RSIEF and the Harvard Club of Australia. This scholarship will provide funds for travel expenses to the USA, fees, and textbooks for a Harvard Summer School course, as well as relocation costs.
Kathleen attributes the influence of a Darkinjung (Central Coast) Elder, as being a driving force in her academic career. The Elder told her of the trouble he was having with lawyers who were using their education to bamboozle him and how, consequently, he had to be vigilant at all times. He conveyed the importance to her of young Indigenous people going to university in order to help the broader Indigenous community.
She began her university studies through the Yapug Bridging Course at University of Newcastle in 2008 and went on to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Law degree.
Kathleen says "Harvard is basically a history nerd's dream come true. I just can't wait."
In 2011, Kathleen was awarded a Bachelor of Arts with Distinction, along with the Sarah Wheeler Prize for outstanding results in History. Kathleen was a participant in the 2012 Aurora Study Tour to Oxford and Cambridge universities in the UK and to Harvard, Columbia and New York University in the US.
Kathleen said of the trip, "The Aurora Study Tour was an amazing experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think attending world-renowned universities like Oxford and Harvard was a possibility. This trip helped to open a world of possibilities. It equipped me with the necessary skills to confidently take on the strenuous admission processes and fine-tuned my ability to express my work clearly to a wide range of audiences. While it was, at times, a challenging experience – these places, or rather the idea of these places can be intimidating – it has been such an enriching experience."
It was incredibly surreal to have historians whom I have admired for a long time telling me that I have what it takes - I still almost can't believe it."
Kathleen was able to meet with Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Chair of Harvard's African and African American Studies. This meeting led her to the conviction that the Doctoral Program there would be the ideal place to continue her research with access to some of the best sociologists, historians, linguists and lawyers working in the international field of race relations.
Kathleen's PhD topic will examine the phenomenon of 'passing' in the United States and Australia. The term 'passing' refers to 'passing as white' by African Americans or Aboriginal Australians with lighter skin complexion 'to overcome social and political hardships'. She wants to use the strong foundations and methods used in African American Studies to gain a deeper understanding of 'passing' in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. In Kathleen's experience, most people have a family member who pretended to be white (or something else) at some point. Her own great-grandfather 'passed' to protect his family from intolerable policies and prejudices. Kathleen's PhD will explore the legal, political and geographical influences of the phenomenon.
Kathleen believes it is incredibly important to gain an understanding of the history of racial identity in Australia as it continues to play a huge role in the lives of Indigenous Australians. Kathleen explained that it took a long time for her to directly address racial identity because it has always been an open and painful wound for her. Since starting this research she says she has begun to heal and she hopes that her work might help others understand themselves and their family history too.
Kathleen's own experience of higher education has provided her with insight into the problems many Indigenous students are confronted with while undertaking tertiary studies. She wants to be a part of the movement that helps overcome the legacy of decades of negative policies. Kathleen says, "It is crucial that we understand our history to ensure the prosperity of our future."
Kathleen wants to help youth reclaim their autonomy and resist succumbing to negative stereotypes. To do this, she believes it is important to have Indigenous academics throughout university disciplines, not just within Indigenous Studies departments.
Kathleen's advice for Indigenous high school students is:
"To work hard and to try. Apply for everything and be open to opportunity. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't and while you can't miss something you never had, you can regret never giving yourself the chance to find out. Find the path that works best for you. My path has been a bit of a zigzag and I've never really been entirely sure if what I was doing was the 'right' way but it has been my path – no one else's. I think Oscar Wilde says it best, "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
For more information about the next Aurora Study Tour,
Contact Allison Wong at Allison.Wong@auroraproject.com.au or phone + 61 2 9310 8421.