Diverse and inclusive communities

The Diverse and inclusive communities research cluster aims to foster and support cross-disciplinary research activity within the School of Arts and Social Sciences.

In particular, we are interested in:

  • Theorising, developing and evaluating innovative strategies that respond to the needs of diverse communities.
  • Interrogating the borders and boundaries of communities – who is included and who is excluded – with a view to strengthening community connections and wellbeing for those who are commonly excluded.
  • How people come together and collaborate to resolve their own issues and how they can access resources to which they are entitled.
  • Exploring the philosophical and practical implications of such things as policy change, insecurity, climate change, social unrest, religious background and/or orientation, and natural disasters.

How we work:

  • We cross-fertilise ideas to build research and teaching.
  • We support early career researchers through mentoring to build connections and generate programs of research.
  • We engage in open discussions to enrich our research and deepen our knowledge of theory, pedagogy and methodology.
  • We explore opportunities within the university and wider communities to collaborate on research and to involve diverse stakeholders, including students, as co-inquirers.


Current projects


Aquarius and beyond

Aquarius and beyond is a research program that explores the impact and potentials of the counterculture on communities in the far-north coast of New South Wales. The program was launched in May 2013 with the Aquarius and beyond: 40 years on two-day community conference. To date the program has included projects such as: the character of the local countercultural movement in relation to the global counterculture since the 1960s; the ongoing development of grassroots environmental and social movements since the Terania Forest Blockade of 1979; vernacular owner-builder architectural styles emerging in the region; the relationship between pre-Aquarius Festival locals in Nimbin and post-Aquarian ‘new settlers’; and practical knowledge of social sustainability developed on intentional communities. The program evolves in response to community, researcher and student interests.

Researcher: Rob Garbutt

Contact: Rob Garbutt


An Aboriginal history of North Lismore

This is a collaborative program involves the Banyam/Baigham Aboriginal knowledge holders of North Lismore, academics and students as co-researchers and co-creators of written and creative outputs. The program first took shape with the development in 2014 of heritage signage that acknowledges the Aboriginal significance of the land on which the Lismore Showground is situated. Currently the researchers are developing accounts of the theft from the grave and repatriation of Bundjalung Elder Neddy Larkin.

Researcher: Rob Garbutt

Contact: Rob Garbutt


Exploring the changing dynamics of Immigrant African families in Australia (2017-18)

The project will explore the process of acculturation and the interrelationship of professional expertise, ethnic and national identity and their role in the psychological well-being and adjustment of African immigrants. The study will also identify the diverse African-origin immigrants to Australia and the different roles that they now play in their various roles as citizens, permanent residents and productive members of society. It will also look at the human capital of Africans that benefits Australia while investigating the subjective experiences of their immigration process. 

Researcher: Glory Gatwiri

Contact: glory.gatwiri@scu.edu.au


Fostering resilience in creative writing student communities

This research has as its focus the application of resilience in practice through student engagement activities for creative writing students at a regional university. Southern Cross University offers an Associate Degree in Creative Writing award via on-campus and online study, and the Writing program team has employed various methods to foster a community of writers with our students. The purpose of this community of writers goes beyond the desire to provide information and opportunities for student writers.

Southern Cross University creative writing students require higher than average registration with Equity and Access services, and report mood disorders, depression and anxiety as consistent obstacles to successfully progressing through their degree program. These experiences are commensurate with the findings of studies by Andreasen (2008) among others in regards to creative practitioners. A targeted Wellbeing program was introduced to students university-wide, and the ethos and messaging of this program has been continued through the establishment and maintenance of a social media group for creative writing students. The ongoing focus of this group is building resilience in this community of writers. An open dialogue about creativity, mental health and wellbeing is encouraged and student writers are provided with resources towards fostering a sense of community and resilience.

This research will reflect on this experience and how establishing an online community has proved effective for creative writing students. The research will examine how student resilience has increased through successful completion of subjects with positive outcomes in retention, but importantly student responses to mental health challenges.

Reference: Andreasen, NC 2008 The relationship between creativity and mood disorders, Dialogues Clin Neurosci 10(2) pp251–255.

Researcher: Lynda Hawryluk

Contact: Lynda Hawryluk
Personal Researcher Page: https://works.bepress.com/lynda_hawryluk/


Reducing Health Disparities for Older LGBTI Australians - ARC Linkage Grant 2016-2019

This project brings together researchers and key organisations in the health, aged care, and LGBTI sectors to build a much-needed evidence base to optimise health and aged care services throughout Australia. It will utilise quantitative and qualitative methods to provide detailed data on the health and support-related challenges and needs of older LGBTI Australians, as well as the educational and support needs of service providers, and will develop essential resources to support policymakers and service providers in reducing the health disparities faced by older LGBTI Australians. Research team: A/Prof Anthony Lyons, La Trobe University; Dr Catherine Barrett, La Trobe University; Prof Victor Minichiello, University of New England; Prof Mark Hughes, Southern Cross University; Prof Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, University of Washington, USA.

SASS staff member: Mark Hughes.

Contact: mark.hughes@scu.edu.au
Personal Researcher Page


Advancing Social Work Research - ARC Discovery Grant 2017-2020

The aim of the Advancing Social Work Research project is to increase the production, utilisation, and impact of social work research in Australia in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of human services. It is designed to enhance conceptual, methodological, and empirical understandings of the distinctive nature of social work research and its contribution to human services policy and practice. Research team: Professor Clare Tilbury, Griffith University; Professor Mark Hughes, Southern Cross University; Professor Christine Bigby, La Trobe University; Professor Mike Fisher, University of Bedfordshire, UK

SASS staff member: Mark Hughes.

Contact: mark.hughes@scu.edu.au
Personal Researcher Page


Implementing an Integrative Model of Supervision to Strengthen Leadership Capabilities in Child Protection 2016-2017

Working with vulnerable children who have experienced abuse and neglect is recognised as a complex, psycho-socially challenging field of social work practice. It has been argued that the morally and emotionally demanding nature of this work poses particular challenges for practitioners and their managers. Statutory child protection practitioners must manage the tensions inherent in their dual role of legally mandated intervener and 'helper' within what has become an increasingly accountable and externally scrutinised field of practice. Within this context, this study is focused on leadership and supervision in statutory child protection practice in Victoria, Australia. The overarching aim of this project is to explore the relevance of an integrative model of supervision for the child protection workforce. The study will seek to understand how child protection managers experience development in a contemporary model of supervision and to analyse their capacity to implement the model in the workplace. 

Researcher: Dr Lynne McPherson

Contact: lynne.mcpherson@scu.edu.au


Exploring the client-worker relationship in Men's Behaviour Change Programs Project

This research will explore how the client/ worker relationship influences men's changes in attitude, behaviour, and their overall retention in programs. The study will utilise case study research techniques through in-depth interviews with Men's Behaviour Change Program (MBCP) participants, their workers, the workers' supervisor and partners/ex partners in three sites in Northern NSW and southern Queensland. Further information

Researcher: Dr Elizabeth Reimer

Contact: liz.reimer@scu.edu.au


Pathways to support for parenting challenges within the 2484 area

Most parents find parenting difficult at times, no matter their socio-economic circumstances. Many reach out for help from trusted people close to them in their social network, such as family, friends, doctors, clergy and teachers. While a good source of general and popular parenting advice and support, these people are not usually knowledgeable about a diverse array of relationship, child development and parenting theories and techniques. Nor is it their primary role to support parents with parenting and family challenges. Relatively few parents seek help beyond these networks even when they continue to experience parenting challenges. They are only likely to seek help from specialist parenting and family work professionals when they have reached crisis point, or are forced to because others have noticed child protection issues. By this time much damage may be done to parents' relationships with their children. Disengagement from parents is particularly risky for children and places children at greater risk of experiencing a range of personal and social issues that can become very costly for the individual and the society more broadly. YET:

  • very little is known about how parents experience asking for, and receiving help, across their social systems (informal and formal),
  • and of how these systems interact.

The aim of this project is to ask parents from a diverse range of social and demographic circumstances to analyse the networks of support they use to seek help for parenting challenges and to examine, in depth, how they sought help when faced with one significant parenting challenge.

Researcher: Dr Elizabeth Reimer

Contact: liz.reimer@scu.edu.au


Study: It takes a town - Who are you connected to?

Much of what has been done to prevent and intervene regarding child maltreatment has been focused on individual pathologies of the parents and immediate family, and considered families separate from the community. However, social cohesion has been shown to provide a protective influence against, and to mediate, some child maltreatment factors within communities. There are a few examples of community development projects making use of the research on the links between community disadvantage and dis-empowerment, to try to develop a more caring and cohesive community with collective responsibility for the needs of children and families.

The It Takes a Town (ITAT) project in Murwillumbah, Australia, (which is the focus for the study), sits within the type of community development project outlined above. This study proposes to add to the body of knowledge about such ideas, and to empirically test how a focus on building a community-wide attitude and behaviour of generosity and responsiveness to, and support for, the needs of others in the local community, impacts on social cohesion.

Researcher: Dr Elizabeth Reimer

Contact: liz.reimer@scu.edu.au


Living safely in a world of climate change

The aim of this research is to understand the impacts that climate change has, and will likely continue to have, on our well-being as well as physical safety and security. As climate change is commonly described as a ‘threat multiplier’, the research will first look at personal adaptation strategies of those who are on the frontline of climate change, i.e. climate change scientists. Informed by an Ethical Security Studies research framework, the research aims to deepen the theoretical framework of a non-confrontational approach to safety and security so as to, in a second stage, expand its relevancy to building communities’ well-being and safety resilience to climate change.

Researcher: Dr Jean S. Renouf

Contact: jean.renouf@scu.edu.au
Personal Researcher Page: https://works.bepress.com/jean_renouf/ 


Relationist Social Welfare and Policy Planning: Displacing ideology for social well-being (2017-2018)

Advances in human evolutionary theory have demonstrated that people are not the individualistic utility maximizers expected by the dominant neoliberal ideology of western societies. A critique of this ideological approach and expansion of the logic of a better informed relational approach to social behaviour assists theorists to understand the motives and strategies of social policy and social welfare practice. The approach develops a new strategic approach for welfare ethics as a motivational force for workers in the field. It is then applicable in cross cultural contexts as a middle ground skirting the dilemmas of absolutist and relativist approaches to culturally safe intervention. Studies in Australia and Melanesia are used to demonstrate its application when dealing with perpetrators of sexual exploitation of children. Reflections are continued upon how we arrived where we are today and what might be done about change.

Researchers: Lester Thompson, and Liz Reimer.
SASS staff member: Lester Thompson.
Contact: lester.thompson@scu.edu.au
Personal Researcher Page


A co-operative inquiry into teaching and learning about case management at Southern Cross and Charles Sturt Universities

Case management remains a foundational process in social work and welfare practice despite problems with the term itself and its continuously changing nature as it evolves to meet industry agendas. It's theory and practice is taught within SCU's Bachelor of Social Welfare course. We selected a cooperative inquiry method to undertake a peer review of the case management curricula. To date, our critical reflections of the 'declared', 'taught' and 'assessed' curricula have confirmed the curriculum is robust. We have also shared teaching and learning strategies for keeping abreast of the influences and impacts of changing industry demands on the scope of case management practice. Case management is integral to social work and welfare practice and while it might be influenced by developments in industry, we aim to enable our graduates to recognise and critically analyse the tensions that arise when taking an empowerment driven approach while working within organisational systems. 

Research partners: Rohena Duncombe and Monica Short, Charles Sturt University; Sue Trembath and Dr. Louise Whitaker, Southern Cross University

Contact: Dr Louise Whitaker


Fostering the capacity of graduates of Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Social Welfare to critically self-reflect

Critical self-reflection refers to the identification of deeply seated assumptions about the social world and the individual's connection with it. Critical reflection is not only a teaching and learning tool used to educate future social welfare/ workers; it is considered an emancipatory teaching method, engaging learners and hence future practitioners, in the co-creation of understanding and knowledge. This project aims to improve the teaching and learning of critical self-reflection in Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Social Welfare course. It involves a formative peer review of the critical reflection curricula and the development of the curricula.

Researchers: Dr Louise Whitaker and Dr Elizabeth Reimer
Contact: Dr Louise Whitaker