It’s a big family affair at Australian Catholic University where three sets of siblings are studying the university’s Western Civilisation program.
In their teenage years Agnes, 19, and Millie Jee, 17, shared a bedroom, years of Irish dancing, and a desire to study medicine.
Yet the pair have ended up in ACU’s liberal arts program—Agnes taking on combined arts and law and Millie a bachelor of arts.
Friends Domenica Mitchell, 21, and Catherine Murphy, 20, are both studying a bachelor of arts. They will be among the first cohort of graduates from the unique program next year.
Meanwhile their respective younger sisters, Olivia, 19, and Brigid, 18, are following in their footsteps as first year students—Oliva studying arts and law, and Brigid arts.
All come from large Sydney Catholic families and benefit from generous scholarships on offer at the university through a partnership with The Ramsay Centre, with the two studying the Bachelor of Arts (Western Civilisation)/Bachelor of Laws gaining a $160k scholarship each–$32,000 a year over five years.
“You get a lot of questions when you tell people you’re doing this course,” Domenica said.
“People say, ‘What about your future? You’ll have no job prospects.’
“Australia has a culture where you have to follow one career and it has to be very linear, so people get skeptical when you say you’re doing this course because you want to broaden your horizons.”
The trio of sister siblings say they appreciate the open inquiry approach of the degrees, which aim at giving students an understanding of Western literature, philosophy, art, politics, religion, science and history, and how these traditions have helped to shape the modern world.
“The lecturers are all very open-minded and the students are as well. So the discourse has always been very free-thinking, very critical, and you’re never led to accept just one agenda or ideology,” Domenica said.
“I was initially enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at another university and I felt it was not as broad-thinking.”
Millie was interested in the arts, especially philosophy and modern literature, but wanted her study based more on the contributions of Western civilization, including Christianity, rather than “new age-ish philosophy.”
Catherine discovered a passion for philosophy and appreciates the breadth of the program’s offerings.
“I also wanted to broaden my horizons and have an education that was not so specific and vocational with respect to a career,” she said.
Her sister Brigid said she thought the course sounded “boring” until she began researching tertiary options for herself.
“I’m most interested in literature so I’ve really liked, for example, when we look at politics, how it’s based around political literature, so we can gain a deeper understanding,” she said.
“It’s made ideas I’d never been exposed to before a lot more accessible.”
Professor Robert Carver, director of the ACU Ramsay program in Western Civilisation, has said it draws on the best of the Australian and British pedagogical traditions and the “great books” approach to teaching liberal arts.
“In a time of global crisis, intense polarisation of attitudes, the erosion of civil discourse, and attacks on the very notion of academic freedom, we aim to reawaken curiosity, to rekindle delight in the richly variegated fabric of the civilisation to which we all happen (whether we like it or not) to be heirs,” he said.
Updated 08/06/23 to correct the scholarship amount.