Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung man Elias Jarvis joined Trinity College in 2022 and says that college has given him the opportunity to make friends, access support and share his culture.
Elias grew up on Wadawurrung country in Ballarat and said he learnt the importance of his Aboriginal culture and heritage from an early age. His mother has long been involved in consultancy on Aboriginal affairs and Indigenous health, and Elias says it made him aware of complex issues, like accessible education for Indigenous people and cultural safety in workplaces and medical settings, while growing up.
Elias became particularly interested in criminal justice after learning about the mass incarceration of Aboriginal people, who he says are often victims of colonisation, so is hoping to help drive positive change. He is working towards that by studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Indigenous studies and media and communications, with plans to then study law.
Elias isn’t waiting to graduate before prompting change, however. At Ballarat Grammar he was heavily involved in his school’s reconciliation action plan, and now, at Trinity College, he’s part of the First Nations student committee, Kumergaii Yulendji.
‘Coming to college, the fact they had an established committee that students can join was very appealing, because I’m passionate about getting involved in stuff like that,’ he says. ‘We have people from all over the world who come to Trinity. Some people may have a lot of understanding [of Aboriginal culture], some people may have a little, so a big part of what we [Kumergaii Yulendji] want to do is educate people.’
Elias says that the Indigenous cohort at Trinity is made up of a tight-knit group of students that hang out and support each other, and he’s found members of the broader community to be receptive to learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
‘The students and staff have been really warm and welcoming when it comes to these things, and they're really keen to get involved and listen to Aboriginal people, which is really good because Aboriginal people expect to be met with scrutiny and apprehension.’
Though Elias quickly found a close network of friends on campus at Trinity, he admits he was nervous coming into college. ‘I knew no one, so I remember being so nervous about meeting new people because in high school, you've had so many years to make friends and get into the groove of things. Starting at college was overwhelming, but I remember within the first couple of days I just felt so comfortable and you meet so many new people.’
These people are what Elias says makes the college experience so special. ‘I feel like it's such a broad, diverse group of people. Trinity is not too big and it's not super small – like where it's awkward or cliquey. Everyone is so different and you meet people from all over the country and all over the world,’ he says, adding that meeting people studying all kinds of things – as opposed to just those doing your degree – creates a more well-rounded university experience.
Elias has also found that college life has been beneficial for his studies – firstly because Trinity is right next door to the University of Melbourne, and secondly because of the college tutorial program. ‘I had a couple of tutorials for my university subjects and that was really helpful with upcoming assignments and being able to discuss the content that we'd been going over. And it shows in the subjects that I go to tutorials for, my results are much better.’
As well as getting involved in the First Nations committee, Elias has gotten involved in the ER White committee – a student group that researches and selects artwork to purchase for the college. ‘I've always been interested and passionate about art, whether it was actually making art myself or just viewing art. Throughout high school I always picked art as an elective,’ he says. ‘Having a student body of likeminded people [at Trinity] who are passionate about art and having the capacity to acquire great pieces was really appealing.’
All in all, Elias says that living at college presents a great opportunity and encourages others, particularly those with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, to apply. ‘It elevates your university experience to the next level through things like social events and academic tutorials. It really provides the next level of experience.’
And he offers words of reassurance to those who may be nervous about joining college or who are the first in their family to go to university. ‘I think there's nothing to be worried about,’ he says. ‘With any big change, it's natural to be nervous or a bit scared, but it's an incredible reward.’
Read more about support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at Trinity College.
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