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iTaukei Professor at a major Australian University

Earlier this year, Sydney University, Australia's oldest university welcomed a new 40 year old Professor to its ranks. What is of further interest was that his name Jioji Ravulo whose father moved from Suva in the 1970s.

This is an article taken from a newspaper WA Today with link here and reproduced for the purposes of making it an easier read.

‘It’s been a journey’: Meet Australia’s first Pasifika professor

In the few months since Jioji Ravulo became a professor he has been told, often, that he doesn’t look like one.

It evokes a familiar feeling; one he remembers from his teenage years, when he was told after his first shift at a Sydney cinema that he was no longer needed because he didn’t have the right image.

And it’s the feeling that was triggered again when he walked onto the stage to be awarded a PhD for his doctoral thesis on antisocial behaviour in young offenders and the dignitary handing out the certificates quietly asked if he had been such an offender himself.

Australia’s first Pasifika professor, Professor Jioji Ravulo, chair of Social Work and Policy Studies at the University of Sydney with his father Jovesa Ravulo.CREDIT:KATE GERAGHTY

“This appearance has its pros and cons,” said Professor Ravulo who, at the relatively young age of 40, is the first professor of Pasifika heritage at an Australian university after becoming chair of Social Work and Policy Studies at Sydney University in March. “I like to think more pros, in terms of what this might represent to the world from a diversity point of view. But it’s a con in regards to how the world understands how I look.

“That’s where the challenge lies now, even becoming a professor at Sydney University – to potentially show the world that, irrespective of my appearance, or my ethnicity, or my socio-economic background, or the other intersections in my identity, you can still be a professor.” Professor Ravulo’s father, Jovesa, is iTaukei (indigenous) Fijian and grew up in Suva. He moved to Australia in the 1970s, where he met Norelle, an Anglo-Australian. They raised their five children in public housing in south-west Sydney.

Mr Ravulo was a factory worker and his wife – who died in 2013 – was a teacher who became a full-time mother. Money was tight, so he would walk rather than catch a bus, so he could spend the two dollars he saved on bread for the family.

“As we became adults we started to realise the sacrifices the adults had made,” said Professor Ravulo. Both parents understood the value of education and emphasised its importance to their children.

When Professor Ravulo got the job at Sydney University, tears rolled down his father’s cheeks. “Recently I got my business cards and he was so excited,” he said. “He likes to share that with his friends. It represents a broader achievement, for not just myself but the whole community.” Professor Ravulo attended several high schools but did his HSC at Newtown High School of Performing Arts, where he studied singing and drama and considered becoming an actor. Instead, he studied social work at Western Sydney University.

Australia’s first Pacifika professor, Professor Jioji Ravulo (left) with his father Jovesa Ravulo at the University of Sydney quadrangle.CREDIT:KATE GERAGHTY

His first job involved reintegrating young offenders into the community. He combined his love of performance and social work by using music and drama programs to engage them. Music still features in his academic life. “Every time I do a keynote address, or some form of conference presentation, I’ll always start with a song that relates to the underlying theme of what I’m talking about,” Professor Ravulo said. He never aspired to become an academic, but realised there was a dearth of empirical research on the reasons behind the high numbers of young people from diverse ethnic backgrounds in jail, which led him to a master’s degree, then a doctorate, then an associate professorship. “It’s been a journey, coming to this role,” he said.

His work has encompassed youth justice, homelessness, mental health and issues facing Pasifika communities. He helped establish the Pasifika Achievement to Higher Education program at Western Sydney University, to encourage more young people of Pacific Island heritage to take up tertiary study. For 10 years Professor Ravulo has also been helping clubs in the National Rugby League understand diversity. He was originally approached because of his work with Pasifika Australians – nearly half of NRL players have a Pacific-Islands background – but now does mental health first aid training and individual counselling. While rugby league players are often criticised, “they’re still people,” said Professor Ravulo. “When I give them a safe space to talk about their lives, a lot of the time at the end of the first or second session, there’s tears.

“They’ve been given an opportunity, generally, for the first time to talk about the significant social, welfare issues they’ve got. The NRL has traditionally been the sport of the workers. Players have come from various backgrounds. They’re still people. They’re still human. And we need to be better at how we understand the context.”

Jordan Baker : 14/4/2021

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