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Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought worth discussing.

DNA reveals a new history of the First Australians

Ever wondered about the genetic history of the First Australians? This article explored some new research in the field:

Our results show very clearly that Aboriginal Australian people living today are the descendants of the First People to enter Australia, who lived between 25,000 to 40,000 years ago.

There is substantial evidence of admixture or intermixing with Asian, Oceanic and European people within the last 200 years. But in the Aboriginal DNA is an ancient story of migration into this continent, far deeper in time than any other population group has so far revealed.

Justine Philip asked this question about migration:

Thanks for an interesting article. With the increase in human population in north-east Australia 10,000 years ago, was that the result of a migration event? It would follow that the dingo also would have arrived at this time - is there any evidence of this in your studies?

Michael Westaway, one of the article’s authors, answered:

Hello Justine - no evidence of a new migration into the continent, what ever the stimulus was it was internal. Many archaeologists have argued that the archaeological record shows a shift in resource use and exploitation of environment types usually poor in resources, intesification of subsistence strategies and development of more complex trade and social networks etc but this they argued occurred sometime after 4000 years ago, not 10,000 years ago. Our suggestion that this demographic transition happened earlier I think is quite exciting, and I should note that many archaeologists are critical of what is called the ‘intensification hypothesis’ and they point out that the archaeological record if a very biased record. So I think the answer is that now a lot more focussed research on this question needs to be done.

Crossroads program: should we teach children that gender identity is fluid? Here’s what the research says

Victoria Rawlings explored the research currently available on gender identity and how issues around gender are currently taught in schools:

Research tells us that issues around gender, sexuality and diversity remain invisible or only tokenistically addressed (sometimes inaccurately) in curricula.

Although sex and relationships education represents a key part of policies to safeguard young people and their sexual health, government guidance is largely outdated. This results in poor-quality programs that are mostly not meeting young people’s needs.

The Crossroads program focuses on challenging and changing the dominant (often essentialist) beliefs, values and expectations around gender and sexuality.

Morgan Carpenter expanded on the article’s comments about intersex people:

Thanks for this article, which mentions intersex people. I would respectfully suggest, however, that being born with sex characteristics that do not meet social and medical norms for female or male bodies does not - and should not - imply that intersex people are, ipso facto, gender diverse. Some of us are, many of us are not. Further, suggesting that intersex people do not have XX or XY sex chromosomes is frequently incorrect.

Misrepresenting bodily diversity as sexuality and gender diversity is not new. Koyama and Weasel write on this here:

Koyama E, Weasel L. From Social Construction to Social Justice: Transforming How We Teach about Intersexuality. Women’s Studies Quarterly. 2002;30(¾):169–78. Available from: link.

Victoria replied with the following:

That’s a good point Morgan- and yet another example about how these categories are dynamic and inconclusive. I appreciate that there are multiple bodily/ biological configurations of intersex people and just touch on the most accessible/ understandable of these here. I would encourage all those that are interested in understanding more about intersex individuals/ communities to read further (there are some helpful links in the article above in addition to the one you have listed).

Has the push to get more disadvantaged students into universities been a success?

Andrew Harvey explained the problems we face equity in higher education isn’t considered:

Student equity is not marginal. While the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program is a relatively small program, systemic under-representation limits the quality as well as the equity of Australian higher education. Equity therefore also needs to be included within mainstream higher education funding, accountability, policies and metrics.

Joanna Mendelssohn touched on the financial troubles faced by students (and how they were once handled):

Its a relief to see extra resources for those students from disadvantaged backgrounds – it is extremely difficult if no one else in your family has been to university, so only the privileged usually know how to get extra help. However one of the biggest barriers remains money.Until the 1970s there were education scholarships that paid people doing BA/DipEd or BSc/DipEd an apprentice wage throughout their studies. The means tested student allowances now are impossible for students to live on, so the biggest problem poor students have is how to juggle the job/s as barista, supermarket stacker etc with study. When students have to work 35 hours a week to stay alive (and maybe support other family members) they can’t do well in a fairly alien university environment. This is especially so when the student sitting next to them in class drives a car and holidays in Bali.

Friday essay: the Australian Mosque

Sam Bowker’s article explored the various forms mosques have taken in Australia, highlighting the more subdued form they’ve taken since appearing in the 1860s:

Australia tends to be overlooked in historic and contemporary surveys of Islamic architecture. Our mosques are not statements of empire, nor are they lavish monuments or national icons. They are manifestations of the local communities they serve. They are comparatively understated, cosmopolitan and suburban.

Alan Whykes shared a story about a particularly Australian minaret:

Back when I was secretary of an Islamic Society, there were huge bits of metal tube lying around the grounds. They’d been there for years. I found out they were sections for a proposed minaret that had never been built. Well I got to work and raised some money and eventually the minaret was built. And officially opened by the head of the government, who said something on the night to the effect that he thought it fitted well into the suburban setting because it wasn’t too imposing. At that point a bloke called Muhammad (duh) came forward somewhat sheepishly admitted that years back he had removed one of the sections of the minaret column because he was convinced it would never be built. And had cut it in half to make a barbecue out of it! That’s how Islamic architecture sits in the Australian context :-)

Hopefully Muhammad didn’t get too much of a grilling.

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