N is an international student from Malaysia studying in Australia. N is a Muslim and she wears a hijab (the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women) that shows her face but hides her hair and sometimes the neck. There are a few other students from Malaysia that are studying health with N. N is determined to make the most of her time in Australia and looks forward to meeting other Australian students. N notices that very few people will say hello to her or take the initiative to introduce themselves. The local students often talk to each other but rarely appear to notice her. N decides to take the initiative herself and say hello to some of the local students in her lecture. N, like many students, has a spot in the lecture theatre where she likes to sit. Near to where she sits is a local young man so she says hello to him each time she sits in the row. The young man says hello back but then talks to other local students next to him. The young man never initiates saying hello. After several months of this N feels the attempt to engage him is futile so she decides not to bother saying hello. She sits in her same seat but doesn’t greet him and hopes that he might say hello. Instead the young man finally turns to her, and says, somewhat annoyed, “Oh, so aren’t you speaking to me anymore!” This is the only time he has initiated speaking to her.
As part of her course, N has to do some placements in a hospital setting. She often finds that she gets ignored. For example her supervisors don’t speak to her, but they will direct questions at other students, particularly those not wearing hijabs. Other staff may just look away, so she finds it difficult to approach anyone when she needs assistance. N has attended all of her required placements and spent all the time with her allocated supervisors. At the end of the semester N receives her assessment which states that she has failed to attend her work experience placements. N is very upset and decides to talk to her subject co-ordinator. N’s co-ordinator phones the hospital supervisor and explains N’s claim that she did attend all her placements. The supervisor has a very loud voice and N hears him say, “Is she one of the Muslim students?” The co-ordinator says yes and the supervisor states, “Well, they all look the same to me”.
Ignoring people and denying their existence is very upsetting. Being regarded as just another member of ‘that’ group denies you your sense of being an individual. Discrimination is not always about race. People can also feel discriminated against because of their gender, their sexuality, their religious beliefs or their different education.