Paris Mordecai’s family grew from three to more than 300 the day Murrup Barak, Institute for Indigenous Development came into her life.

“There’s an amazing Indigenous community there. They are all brothers and sisters,” the second-year Bachelor of Arts student and Chancellor’s Scholar says. “We are all from different nations from all over the country. It’s nice to have a space where we can chat and find out about each other.Paris wants more indigenous students to enjoy uni as much as she does, especially warm sunny days spent in System Gardens.

“At the start of semester we get together and talk about how our breaks were, and at the end there’s an end-of-semester celebration.

“It’s good, because that community is always in jeopardy when you come off country. I went to a high school which did not have a very big Indigenous cohort, so it’s nice to have that at uni, where they are all your brothers and sisters and friends.”

Paris’s involvement with Murrup Barak started well before she moved to Melbourne from Lismore, New South Wales, where she lived with her parents and younger sister.

They get in touch with you if you put them down on the form with VTAC. They help you with your enrolment. They run a week-long transitioning camp on campus the week before orientation.

Paris added, “I don’t think I could have handled coming to uni without that camp. By the time I got to class I had people I knew, and I knew I had Murrup Barak if anything went wrong.”

A fresh cohort of smiling students join Murrup Barrak at the transitioning camp.

With her sights set on honours followed by a masters, Paris credits the camp with shaping her studies at Melbourne and her plans for a career in academia.

“On the first night they do a formal dinner and they invite professors, who talk about their work.

“There was one professor, and she was so interesting and I was so inspired, I thought: That’s where I want to go. I want to be you!”

Paris’s ATAR of 94.7 was enough to give her the pick of almost any University of Melbourne undergraduate degree, but she says it was the lower ATAR requirement of 90.00 for Indigenous Chancellor’s Scholars that enabled her to take up her studies, because it secured scholarship funding that otherwise requires an ATAR of 99.90.

“If it wasn’t for the lower ATAR for Indigenous students being 90, I wouldn’t be at the University, because I would not be able to afford it without the scholarship,” she says.

“Melbourne was my dream from the beginning. Now I’m here and I’m absolutely loving it.”

Paris says changes to the Access Melbourne program that guarantee entry to specific courses for Indigenous students, subject to ATARs and prerequisites, bolster the University’s commitment to increasing Indigenous enrolment.

She believes the Access changes provide clear benchmarks for students such as her sister, Phoebe, who are weighing up their options for university.

“My younger sister is in year 12 and she’s really worried about getting into uni, the whole study aspect, so to have the guaranteed entry is definitely something that will help her.”

The Indigenous guarantee covers all of the bachelors courses for which non-Indigenous students also can obtain guaranteed entry under the Access Melbourne program: Arts, Biomedicine, Commerce, Design and Science.

It also covers the two specialised degrees available only to Indigenous students: Bachelor of Arts (Extended) and Bachelor of Science (Extended).

Paris hopes the new guarantees will encourage more Indigenous students to follow in her footsteps.

“It would be such an opportunity to come to the best university in Australia, with such an amazing Indigenous cohort,” she says.

Paris – just two days past her 18th birthday when she arrived at Melbourne in 2016 – relied heavily on the companionship of Murrup Barak in her early days at the University, dropping into the Institute’s Parkville building virtually every day to catch up with familiar faces or seek advice from the experienced staff.

“I was in Student Village living on my own,” she recalls. “It was quite daunting, but I was so excited.

“The staff at Murrup Barak are amazing. They will help you themselves, or they’ll connect you with someone else who can help.

“They were helping me with my subjects, because it was a very confusing process. They helped me with my application to [Trinity] college.”

Paris counts Murrup Barak as one of her favourite study spots around campus.

“Most of the time I study in Murrup Barak, because there are printers and computers there – and they have food too!

“It’s lovely. They have common rooms and they have these amazing lounges. When you walk in there’s often someone napping because they are so content.

“Every Wednesday we have a lunch, there are movie nights… Last year, when I had to look after myself, I was there every day. There’s always people there that you know.”

Now a member of the Indigenous Student Representative Committee within Murrup Barak, Paris encourages all Indigenous students to see what Murrup Barak has to offer.

“I feel like some students don’t take advantage of Murrup Barack enough – it is such a valuable service.”

Find out more about Murrup Barak, new guarantees for Indigenous students and how to apply for Access Melbourne.

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