Empowering communities through education

A group of students supporting each other's learning in the Indigenous Education and Research Centre.

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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

30 June 2023

Related Study Areas

Helping students find success

Education lays the foundation for success and a higher quality of life. JCU Bachelor of Social Work Student Stanley Lenoy knows this well. As he completes an Honours thesis that considers the impact of local men’s groups on Indigenous communities, Stanley is using his own education as evidence for driving positive social change.

Pursuing a university education was always a lifelong dream of Stanley’s. Five years ago, he was able to make that dream a reality at JCU. After completing the Tertiary Access Course to meet the prerequisites for a Bachelor’s degree, Stanley embarked on a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History. But everything changed when he enrolled in a Social Work elective.

The subject drew upon much of Stanley’s personal and professional experiences, and he thrived throughout the semester. “I have a history of being involved in the Indigenous space, including Indigenous housing, health and jobs, and all of that falls into the social work space,” Stanley says. “I happened to get the highest grade in that subject for the whole cohort.”

Having discovered a new passion, and with a longstanding belief in helping those coming behind him, Stanley switched to the Bachelor of Social Work (Honours) and eventually took on two additional roles.

“I can’t emphasise enough how the Indigenous Education and Research Centre (IERC) has helped me from the beginning,” Stanley says. “The two main highlights of my time at JCU have been being actively involved in developing the curriculum for social work students through the Indigenous Advisory Board and tutoring Indigenous students at the IERC.”

Stanley has found that he and his students needed the same help when starting uni: learning how to learn. “Once I learned how to learn, everything else just fell into place. So, I help students with things like academic reading and writing, being efficient with their learning and managing their time,” he says.

The glass sliding doors into the Indigenous Education and Research Centre.
Social Work student, Stanley Lenoy.
Left: The Indigenous Education and Research Centre. Right: Social Work student, Stanley Lenoy. (Supplied by IERC.)

Education is the key

When reflecting on the 2023 NAIDOC theme, ‘For Our Elders’, Stanley says there are two main things that come to mind.

“There is a disconnect between our Elders and our young people,” he says. “I observed this myself.”

Stanley’s work in Indigenous support has taken him to hospitals, clinics, homeless shelters and outer-regional Indigenous communities. Over time, he’s found that while many young Indigenous Australians aren’t participating in or aware of cultural traditions passed down from their Elders, the Elders and older generations aren’t sure how to engage their youth, either.

“I believe that’s why we’re having a lot of problems with our youth. They’re not being educated, and they’re not learning from our Elders,” Stanley says. “But I hear young people saying, ‘Our Elders are holding us back’. That’s valid, because you do have to go through Elders for decision making in your community, and many Elders cannot read or write, so even things like email communication can be quite slow.

“Education is imperative. Until the start of 2023, I worked in the homeless space in a child safety role, and the biggest contributor to homelessness in young Indigenous people is illiteracy. If they can read or write, it’s only enough to get by.”

The 2022 Commonwealth Closing the Gap Report shows only 34.3 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were developmentally on track in the five key domains of early childhood education. Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 20 – 24, 63.2 per cent had completed Year 12 or an equivalent qualification.

With a lack of education clear in both old and young generations, Stanley emphasises the impact of Indigenous Australians’ recent history. “There was a purposeful stratification of Indigenous people, particularly on missions, that continues to affect Indigenous people today,” Stanley says. “Because of internal policies that were passed not even thirty years ago, there is an element of systemic racism at work here, which further complicates an already complex issue.”

Activities that can bring multiple generations together present potential avenues to overcoming both the disconnect between Elders and youth, and the education divide. Community hubs, men’s sheds and repair cafes all have the potential to bring cohesion to a community, and enable many to learn a new skill or piece of knowledge.

Staff and students in the Indigenous Education and Research Centre.

Committed to make a difference

Stanley is now working on his Honours thesis, and he’s committed to using it as the foundation for making a real difference in local communities.

Men’s groups and hubs in communities are common in many neighbourhoods, and are most often associated with fundraisers, barbeques or a place to get your bicycle repaired. But Stanley says men’s groups also provide a space for men to socialise, support each other and discuss common struggles while getting hands-on with a practical activity. After all, the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) says, “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder”.

“I observed that these men’s groups, particularly those in Indigenous communities, have potential to support behavioural change, even for issues like domestic violence or substance abuse,” Stanley says. “The groups can improve men’s overall wellbeing, including their education.”

Through these groups, men have access to practical help and support. They can lean on the strengths of the other men. Stanley himself has spent much time in men’s groups and has helped many attendees to craft resumes and job applications. He also advises them on how to overcome barriers to employment, including illiteracy and criminal backgrounds.

Stanley aims to use his Honours thesis as the foundation for further research that examines the impacts of men’s groups on their participants’ wellbeing. His research can act as the evidence that policy makers need to standardise evidence-based practice that would funnel support and funding into local men’s groups.

His motivation comes from the potential he sees in these groups, and is committed to do what he can to practically support them. “I decided, ‘if I’m going to do this [Honours thesis], I want there to be some practical outcomes that can be used in developing policies and programs’,” he says. “I looked into the existing literature and none of it addressed men’s community groups. Most of the relevant literature on men’s wellbeing didn’t offer frameworks or practical solutions that could be readily applied.”

Four senior men sit around a table playing cards and smiling.
Three senior men sit together and laugh.
Support from community is vital for men's health and wellbeing.

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