In my role as careers consultant at La Trobe university, I enjoy the diversity of students that I work with. It was a challenge after working at relatively homogeneous RMIT Vietnam, but a refreshing one. I enjoy being amongst a wide range of nationalities, backgrounds, perspectives, goals, languages and cultures.
But one thing I’m struggling with is how I talk about ethnicity and nationality with my students, particularly when it comes to their resumes. I know that Australian employers can be reluctant to hire international students and that prejudicial hiring practices are a significant barrier for non-Anglo job seekers. I feel that I need to address it in my consultations, but I fear that in doing so I contribute to the marginalisation of these students.
I feel uncomfortable when asking the question “what is your visa status?” I dislike the idea that I am signalling to the student that I see them as a foreigner and expect others to as well. They may have a “foreign” name, a “foreign” accent, “foreign” schools or jobs on their resumes… yet they could be a citizen of Australia, which is more than I can say. Some of my students were born here, yet because of their name, religion, or accent, may be viewed as foreign by employers and thus placed at a disadvantage. I have also noticed that I tend to assume that students with Greek or Italian names are true blue Aussies, due to the way these nationalities have become part of the social fabric of Melbourne, whereas an Asian or Indian name will raise the question of nationality and foreignness in my mind.
More than once I have asked lazily “are you an international student?”, and felt sheepish when I’m told “I’m a citizen”. More than once I have had Australian born students ask me if they should use their actual name or an English nickname on their resume. Several times I have coached students on how to achieve “culture fit”, often a convenient proxy for discrimination. Far too often I have been totally unable to suggest any useful advise to a highly employable student who has received zero interest from employers. In these cases, even my expressions of sympathy feel hollow and condescending.
My solution for some students is to address the hidden work rights question up front, by listing their citizenship or visa status at the very top of the resume, near the contact details. It is contrary to the recommendation of “no personal information” on Australian resumes, but I see it as a necessary compromise in the face of discrimination.
I’m not sure what the answer to my discomfort is. I do believe that it’s an important matter and that my advice can help students achieve their goals, but how can I address it without inadvertently perpetuating an othering experience for these students?