The effects of Aboriginal tertiary students' perceived experiences of racism and of cultural resilience on educational engagement


  • Jordan Gibbs Murdoch Children's Research Institute
  • Yin Paradies Deakin University
  • Graham Gee Murdoch Children's Research Institute
  • Nick Haslam The University of Melbourne



racism, Indigenous tertiary students, cultural resilience


Racism pervasively impacts the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and is a substantial barrier to accessing, engaging and succeeding within secondary education. Cultural resilience and support have been identified as critical to Aboriginal success within racist institutions. However, research examining experiences of racism and cultural resilience among Aboriginal tertiary students is limited. This study explored the relationship between racism, cultural resilience, and educational engagement and academic outcomes in a sample of these students (N = 63). We proposed that higher perceived racism would be associated with lower engagement and academic outcomes. The study also developed a new measure of Aboriginal tertiary students’ experience of racism during their studies, which demonstrated good reliability and validity. Experiencing racism was associated with perceiving a less supportive learning environment, and with lower learning outcomes, developmental outcomes and overall student satisfaction.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Jordan Gibbs, Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Jordan Gibbs is a proud Peerapper man. He is a research assistant at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in the Intergenerational Health Team, and a research assistant at the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology. His primary work has been in the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in health and secure settings.

Yin Paradies, Deakin University

Prof. Yin Paradies is a Wakaya man who is Chair in Race Relations at Deakin University. He conducts research on the health, social and economic effects of racism as well as anti-racism theory, policy and practice across diverse settings, including online, in workplaces, schools, universities, housing, the arts, and health. He also teaches and undertakes research in Indigenous knowledges.

Graham Gee, Murdoch Children's Research Institute

Dr Graham Gee is an Aboriginal man, also with Celtic heritage, from Darwin, Northern Territory. He is a psychologist and senior research fellow at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. His research focuses on Aboriginal mental health/social and emotional wellbeing, and healing and recovery from trauma.

Nick Haslam , The University of Melbourne

Prof. Nick Haslam is Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne. He has published widely on topics including personality, intergroup relations, psychiatric classification and stigma.


Australian Council for Education Research (ACER). (2012). Australasian survey of student engagement 2012 institution report [AUSSE research briefings].

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). (2012). Guidelines for ethical research in Australian Indigenous studies (revised 2nd ed.).

Asmar, C., Page, S., & Radloff, A. (2011). Dispelling myths: Indigenous students’ engagement with university [AUSSE research briefings]. Australian Council for Educational Research.

Behrendt, L., Larkin, S., Griew, R., & Kelly, P. (2012). Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: Final report. Australian Government, Dept of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Berman, G., & Paradies, Y. (2010). Racism, disadvantage and multiculturalism: Towards effective anti-racist praxis. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33(2), 214–232. DOI:

Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., & Carlson, B. (2016). The legacy of racism and Indigenous Australian identity within education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 19(4), 784–807. https// DOI:

Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., Denson, N., & Bansel, P. (2013). Teacher racism, academic self-concept, and multiculturation: Investigating adaptive and maladaptive relations with academic disengagement and self-sabotage for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian students. Australian Psychologist, 48, 226–237. DOI:

Bodkin-Andrews, G. H., Denson, N., Finger, L., & Craven, R. G. (2013). Identifying the fairy dust effect for Indigenous Australian students: Is positive psychology truly a [Peter] Pan-theory? In R. G. Craven, G. H. Bodkin-Andrews, & J. Mooney (Eds.), International advances in education: Global initiatives for equity and social justice (pp. 183–210). Information Age.

Castle, B. (2019). Public health’s approach to systemic racism: A systematic literature review. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 6(1), 27–36. DOI:

Coates, H. (2011). An overview of psychometric properties of the AUSSE student engagement questionnaire (SEQ) [AUSSE research briefings].

David, E. J. R., Schroeder, T. M., & Fernandez, J. (2019). Internalized racism: A systematic review of the psychological literature on racism’s most insidious consequence. Journal of Social Issues, 75(4), 1057–1086. DOI:

Day, A., Nakata, V., Nakata, M., & Martin, G. (2015). Indigenous students’ persistence in higher education in Australia: Contextualising models of change from psychology to understand and aid students’ practices at a cultural interface. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(3), 501–512. DOI:

Department of Education. (2018). Summary of the 2017 full year higher education student statistics.

Frankland, R., Bamblett, M., Lewis, P., & Trotter, R. (2010). This is ‘forever business’: A framework for maintaining and restoring cultural safety in Aboriginal Victoria. Melbourne: Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency: Victoria.

Gee, G. J. (2016). Resilience and recovery from trauma among Aboriginal help seeking clients in an urban Aboriginal community controlled health organisation [Masters and Doctor of Philosophy (Clinical) Psychology thesis, The University of Melbourne].

Gee, G. J., Dudgeon, P., Schultz, C., Hart, A., & Kelly, K. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing. In P. Dudgeon, H. Milroy, & R. Walker, R. (Eds.), Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practices (2nd ed., pp. 55–68). Department of The Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Gunstone, A. (2008). Australian university approaches to Indigenous policy. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 37(1), 103–108. DOI:

Gunstone, A. (2009). Whiteness, Indigenous peoples and Australian universities. Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association e-Journal, 5(1), 1–8.

Higgins, R., Murphy, B., & Jobling, K. (2013). Improving the wellbeing of Melbourne-based Aboriginal people with chronic disease and experiencing depression, anxiety or a related mental health disorder: A Wurundjeri community driven initiative. Study findings and recommendations. Study findings and recommendations. Melbourne: Heart Research Institute, The University of Melbourne, Wurundjeri Tribe.

James, R., Bexley, E., Anderson, M., Devlin, M., Garnett, R., Marginson, S., & Maxwell, L. (2008). Participation and equity: A review of the participation in higher education of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and Indigenous people: Report to Universities Australia. The University of Melbourne, Centre for the Study of Higher Education.

Kickett, M. (2011). Examination of how a culturally appropriate definition of resilience affects the physical and mental health of Aboriginal people [PhD thesis, University of Western Australia].

Kirmayer, L. J., Dandeneau, S., Marshall, E., Phillips, M. K., & Williamson, K. J. (2011). Rethinking resilience from indigenous perspectives. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(2), 84–91. DOI:

Krieger, N. (2020). Measures of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and gender binarism for health equity research: From structural injustice to embodied harm – an ecosocial analysis. Annual Review of Public Health, 41(4), 1–26. DOI:

Martin, A. J. (2006). A motivational psychology for the education of Indigenous Australian students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 35, 30–40. DOI:

Martin, A. J., & Marsh, H. W. (2006). Academic resilience and its psychological and educational correlates: A construct validity approach. Psychology in the Schools, 43(3), 267–281. DOI:

McClelland, G. H., & Judd, C. M. (1993). Statistical difficulties of detecting interactions and moderator effects. Psychological Bulletin, 114(2), 376–390. DOI:

McDonald, R. P. (1985). Comments on D. J. Bartholomew, "Foundations of factor analysis: Some practical implications.". British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 38(2), 134–137. DOI:

Merritt, S. (2007). An Aboriginal perspective on resilience. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 31(5), 10–12.

Moodie, N., Ewen, S., McLeod, J., & Platania-Phung, C. (2018). Indigenous graduate research students in Australia: A critical review of the research. Higher Education Research and Development, 37(4), 805–820. DOI:

Page, S., Trudgett, M., & Sullivan, C. (2017). Past, present and future: Acknowledging Indigenous achievement and aspiration in higher education. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 4, 29–51.

Paradies, Y., Ben, J., Denson, N., Elias, A., Priest, N., Pieterse, A., Gupta, A., Kelaher, M., & Gee, G. (2015). Racism as a determinant of health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 10(9), https// DOI:

Paradies, Y., & Cunningham, J. (2008). Development and validation of the Measure of Indigenous Racism Experiences (MIRE). International Journal for Equity in Health, 7(9). https// DOI:

Pechenkina, E. (2017). “It becomes almost an act of defiance”: Indigenous Australian transformational resistance as a driver of academic achievement. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(4), 463–477. DOI:

Pechenkina, E. (2019). Persevering, educating and influencing a change: A case study of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander narratives of academic success. Critical Studies in Education, 60(4), 496–512. DOI:

Pechenkina, E., & Anderson, I. (2011). Background paper on Indigenous Australian higher education: Trends, initiatives and policy implications. Department of Education.

Peters, A. (2017). Moondani yulenj: An examination of Aboriginal culture, identity and education. Swinburne University of Technology.

Reilly, R. E., Doyle, J., Bretherton, D., Rowley, K. G., Harvey, J. L., Briggs, P., . . . J. Atkinson, V. (2008). Identifying psychosocial mediators of health amongst Indigenous Australians for the Heart Health Project. Ethnicity & health, 13(4), 351-373. DOI:

Rodgers-Falk, P. (2011). Growing the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law graduates: Barriers to the profession [unpublished report for the Department of Education].

Shkolnikov, V. M., Andreev, E. M., Jasilionis, D., Leinsalu, M., Antonova, O. I., & McKee, M. (2006). The changing relation between education and life-expectancy in central and eastern Europe in the 1990s. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(10), 875–881. DOI:

Sonn, C., Bishop, B., & Humphries, R. (2000). Encounters with the dominant culture: Voices of Indigenous students in mainstream higher education. Australian Psychologist, 35(2), 128–135. DOI:

Stein, S. (2020). “Truth before reconciliation”: The difficulties of transforming higher education in settler colonial contexts. Higher Education Research and Development, 39(1), 156–170. DOI:

Trowler, V. (2010). Student engagement literature review. The Higher Education Academy.

Ungar, M. (2013). Resilience, trauma, context, and culture. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 14(3), 255–266. DOI:

United Nations. (2009). World conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance: Declaration and programme of action.




How to Cite

Gibbs, J., Paradies, Y., Gee, G., & Haslam, N. (2022). The effects of Aboriginal tertiary students’ perceived experiences of racism and of cultural resilience on educational engagement. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 51(2).




Similar Articles

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.