Moorefield girls discover Deep Harmony

An anti-racism program with a twist is hitting the mark in a number of Sydney public schools. Glenn Cullen reports.

Image: The Deep Harmony program uses arts such as dance to combat racism

As an anti-racism educator in schools, the University of Western Sydney’s Dr Rachael Jacobs admits to seeing her share of shame, guilt, hurt and defensiveness.

And while it’s a subject area that’s meant to challenge and present a range of emotions, Dr Jacobs also felt there must be a better way.

With a background in teaching drama and Bollywood dancing, she began to think about how the arts could act as the glue that makes anti-racism messages stick – paving the way for ‘Deep Harmony’.

A pilot program that has run at three schools, including at Moorefield Girls High on Dharawal Country, Deep Harmony combines storytelling and guided practical modules to approach difficult discussions about racism, with strategies to combat it in everyday life.

There are deep discussions but instead of ending with potential conflict, it wraps up harmoniously with a joyous Bollywood-themed dance.

“When people engage through the arts they find different pathways through some of the challenging parts of anti-racism work,” Dr Jacobs said.

“They learn to co-operate together through different cultural groups and they have learned to be more open to change and to respectfully engage in other people’s art forms and do cultural appreciation rather than cultural appropriation.”

For Moorefield Girls High Principal Natalie Hale, the six-week program was an incredible success and a vital cog for a school in Sydney’s south that represents more than 60 different cultural groups.

“We’re trying to build the right knowledge and the right skills for kids to make sure racism isn’t present in their lives – give them the skills to recognise it, and the confidence to call it out,” Ms Hales said.

“The program has been phenomenal; the message is delivered in exactly the right way to embrace it.”

While the program at Moorefield Girls High School was tailored for Year 7 students, it has the scope to be taught from Year 4 through to Year 12.

Funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, Dr Jacobs said she was hopeful of Deep Harmony returning this year and spreading throughout the country; the thought being that other artists from different backgrounds could talk about their experiences with racism before a celebration with dance or music from their own culture.

“The feedback from the students has been amazing,” Dr Jacobs said.

“They, of course, enjoyed the drama and dance aspects but they also said there were parts of racism they didn’t know about – they had seen elements of it and were uncomfortable with certain situations, but couldn’t name what it was until they did the Deep Harmony program.”

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