Wellbeing of First Nations' youth
PhD student Georgia Durmush is working to see a more positive representation of First Nations youth, especially in research, and says it’s time for universities to start listening to their voices.
“My thesis explores how Indigenous youth aged 18 to 25 in higher education conceptualise their own wellbeing,” Georgia explained. “I’m looking at what are the drivers, what are the barriers and, most importantly, how can universities better support their needs.”
Following her passion
Georgia herself is a proud Wailwan woman from the Gomeroi Nation in Warren, NSW, and is personally invested in her research.
“I was drawn to this topic because I have a real passion for wellbeing and seeing our mob thrive and succeed,” she said.
Georgia is undertaking her research, with help from an Ursuline Sisters scholarship, through ACU’s Institute for Positive Psychology and Education (IPPE), which is a natural complement to her studies.
“I just love IPPE’s aim and vision, which is strengths-based and focuses on the success of First Nations people.
"What I’ve found is research from the past has centred around a deficit narrative. My passion is to change that narrative and create a more positive representation of our people.”
Raising their voice
Georgia is now in the second year of her PhD and has come to see that research into First Nations youth wellbeing is very limited – for now – and it doesn’t engage with young Indigenous voices.
“What I believe is that at the end of the day, it’s First Nations people that understand their wellbeing needs best – and universities need to start listening to their voices, world views and recommendations.
“There’s a wide gap in the literature and not much on First Nations youth because we only had the right to receive higher education in the late 1960s,” she explained. “So, the literature focuses on Indigenous students in general, but not on the youth age group I’m looking at. And it’s so important because over 50 per cent of our Indigenous population are under the age of 25 – their world views and voices count.
“Plus, we’re now seeing higher completion rates for Year 12 and more Indigenous young people are going on to uni. These are our future and emerging leaders, which makes their wellbeing so important.
“The biggest issues with Indigenous youth wellbeing right now is we have high youth detention rates, high suicide rates and a lack of Indigenous voices in health care and education systems. So much of this could be resolved if we made sure Indigenous voices are embedded into literature and research, so that policies and educators and health practitioners can learn to create models that better suit the needs of First Nations people.”
While Georgia is hard at work with a view to completing her PhD next year, she still lends her voice to organisations like the Georges River Council in NSW, her local community.
“They reached out to me recently for NAIDOC week to include a First Nations youth voice in their virtual program. I was on a youth panel and had a yarn with two law students, including my twin sister, about what NAIDOC means to us, issues in the community, and how Australians can be allies and uplift and empower First Nations voices.”
Georgia also did another interview for the council with a representative from NSW Uluru Youth Dialogue about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is a call for structural reform and creating a better future for Aboriginal people.
“We yarned about why it’s important, why First Nations people need to have a voice in parliament and a treaty, and the significance of practicing truth telling. It was a great experience and it means a lot to have our voices embedded by the council.”
A bright future
Once Georgia has completed her PhD, more research is likely to be in her future.
“I love learning new things and it gives me the ability to make positive change and personally contribute to changing narratives. It’s so important for First Nations youth like me to thrive, not just in higher education, but everywhere. And I want to make a contribution to our voices in research.”
And for others thinking about a PhD, Georgia’s advice is to just dive in.
“Choose a topic you’re passionate about. It will give you the drive to keep going. Have confidence in yourself too. Nothing is easy, but if you’re passionate and enjoying it, that’s all that matters.”
Learn more about where higher degree research at ACU could take you.