In focus with Tessa Boyd-Caine and Will Tregoning

Tessa Boyd-Caine

In this edition we focus on two of our accomplished Gender and Cultural Studies graduates, Tessa Boyd-Caine and Will Tregoning, in the lead up to celebrating the Departments 25th Anniversary. The University is commemorating this milestone on the 8 November with a celebration of this discipline. If you would were involved with either the Women’s Studies or the Department of Gender and Cultural studies and would like further information about the event please contact fass.alumni@sydney.edu.au. Below Tessa and Will share with us memories from their time at the University of Sydney and reflect on their careers.

Tessa Boyd-Caine BA (HONS) (2000) MCrim (2003) Phd (LSE) undertook a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at the University of Sydney before completing her masters at the Sydney University's Institute of Criminology and a PhD at the London School of Economics. In 2013 Tessa was awarded the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership which took her to New York and Washington DC to research how American philanthropic and charitable organisations develop their transparency and accountability. Tessa is currently the CEO of the National Centre for Health Justice Partnerships, which is a new role addressing how social circumstances such as housing, education and employment play a key role in people's health and wellbeing.

Will Tregoning


Will Tregoning BA (HONS) (2003) PhD (2007) undertook a Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours and PhD in Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. Will began his career as a researcher for Ipsos Social Research Institute working as a research and evaluation consultant to Australian government departments and agencies. In 2014, he became a founder and director of Unharm, a grassroots organisation campaigning to make drug use as safe, positive and ethical as it can be. He also works as a policy consultant to organizations that support drug law reform.



Please may you tell us more about yourself and your background.

Tessa Boyd-Caine: The day I handed in my Honours thesis I went immediately to look for a full time job, and there was an ad to run the public education program at Sydney University's Institute of Criminology. I didn't actually know what criminology was, but I could run seminars and produce publications and I got the job. I loved criminology, especially the strong social justice focus of the program at Sydney. They encouraged me to do a masters and - for the first time - I began to work really hard at my studies. From there I worked on mental health in the criminal justice system, where I spent a lot of time in NSW prisons. But my research interests had sparked and I moved overseas to do a PhD at the London School of Economics. To cope with the cost of living in London I worked as a casual/temp. It was awful, soulless work until one day I landed an assignment at Amnesty International. From there I began working in international human rights organisations, while my doctorate was also looking at the role of European human rights in English criminal justice.

When I came back to Australia I was finishing the book manuscript from my PhD when I was lucky enough to be hired by the Australian Council of Social Service, the peak body for charities and a voice for people experiencing poverty and inequality. I became Deputy CEO at ACOSS and developed a whole new expertise in social policy, while maintaining my passion for advocacy.

I have just started in my new role as CEO of the National Centre for Health Justice Partnership. A Health Justice Partnership is an innovative way of providing access to legal services through health settings. It's been particularly effective for people facing domestic and family violence and elder abuse, who are more likely to seek the service of health professionals than lawyers, even though they might have serious legal needs.

I never set off down a linear path professionally, but in a way I've come full circle - maintaining my commitment to social justice while developing expertise to apply it in a wide range of areas.

Will Tregoning: After completing my PhD in Cultural Studies, I began my career as a researcher and evaluation consultant to Australian government departments and agencies. As a researcher I became aware of the true scale, patterns and demographics of illicit drug consumption across Australia, and the harms of our drug laws. It’s a policy area steeped in violence, fear and failure. As a person who lives in Kings Cross I could see firsthand how destructive that is in the lives of people already marginalized by homelessness, poverty or mental illness. As a parent, I couldn’t hand that on to my children. In 2013, after becoming increasingly disenchanted with the system’s approach to drugs, I confronted my own silences about it and the complicity that entailed. I began to talk to everyone I could about drugs and drug policy. Almost everyone agrees that we could do better in managing the reality of drug use, and there is growing awareness of better approaches in places like Portugal and the United States. In 2014, with a group of friends, I founded Unharm. Unharm is drug law reform 2.0., organizing grassroots campaigning around a vision of what we want: a world where drug use is as safe, positive and ethical as it can be.

What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: Two favourites: campaigning for women's and environmental candidates at SRC elections and playing frisbee.

As an Arts undergraduate, it was the chance to get involved in campus life, mostly through student politics, that turned my passion for social justice into advocacy skills and networks that I still rely on today. That's also when I discovered Ultimate Frisbee, a competitive team sport. I started playing for Sydney University Ultimate Frisbee Association (SUUFA) and frisbee became a great network for when I traveled and lived overseas, including in London, Germany and Beijing.

Will Tregoning: The first half of my PhD when deadlines were far away. I loved the collegiality in the Gender Studies department. It was full of great people, academics and students.

Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: I loved Gail Mason's classes in Women's Studies: they were funny and engaging and wove together popular culture, social attitudes and public policy. They sparked my early interest in Criminology.

Will Tregoning: Here are a couple. Alan Cholodenko in the Art History and Theory Department, for the fantastic density of his lectures and essay questions. The questions would seem absurdly impossible at first reading, and then very satisfying to answer. I think it helped me a lot with conceptual analysis.

Fiona Probyn in the Gender Studies Department for being generous and curious and interesting. I loved the groundedness of the work I did with her.

What is your proudest achievement?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: I'm really proud of my work for oral health. There's an awful adage that you used to tell someone's income level by their shoes, now it's their teeth. 40% of people in Australia go without preventive, routine dental care because they can't afford it. When you're embarrassed to open your mouth because of your teeth, your relationships suffer, you don't go to job interviews - it affects people's health, their social lives and their ability to work. In 2012 I was a member of the National Advisory Council on Dental Health appointed by the Federal Health Minister, which put oral health into Australia's universal health system. Over time this reform would achieve a massive change in access for people living on low incomes, in remote and rural areas or otherwise unable to access routine oral health care. It lasted 6 months before a change of government, although the current Government has also recognised its critical importance for health and wellbeing.

Will Tregoning: I'm not really proud of anything for long. I mostly think about the future.

Who inspires you?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: Malala Yousafzai. More broadly, people who can stir your heart through human stories that achieve major impact. I was lucky to hear Senator Elizabeth Warren give a speech while I was doing my Fulbright scholarship in the US: she kept a 3000-plus room on tenterhooks while she talked about how America was failing its people because of poverty, poor education and lack of employment. Also writers like Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingsolver who craft beautiful, engrossing human stories about power, sexism and environmental degradation.

Will Tregoning: Many people. I'm particularly inspired by people who speak up for justice, people who bring a special sort of intensity to things that I love, and by people who are generous in subtle and beautiful ways.

What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: You can't control the people and things around you; the only thing you can control is yourself.

Will Tregoning: My mantra oscillates between 'Why?' and 'Be' without ever really settling either way. I am driven by the shortness of life, the craziness of making life worse for other humans on this tiny speck of dust floating in endless space, and an awareness that we are often more free than we think.

What has been the most memorable success you have had?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: I was the inaugural recipient of the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Nonprofit Leadership, through which I spent 4 months working with American charities and philanthropists looking at how they sustain public trust and confidence. It's an agenda I am deeply committed to, having been involved in the establishment of the national charity regulator in Australia, and I continue to work towards public accountability with nonprofit sector. The Fulbright program has a focus on cultural exchange and that was equally memorable: I saw art, poetry, dance and theatre that were truly unforgettable.

My time working in an international human rights organisation in Delhi (India) comes a close second!

Will Tregoning: I spend much more time thinking 'What's next?'

What are your plans for the future?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: Right now I'm focused on starting up the National Centre for Health Justice Partnership. It's part of my continuing commitment to strengthening civil society through strong, independent and effective nonprofit organisations and community participation.

Will Tregoning: I plan to help build a powerful people's movement for drug law reform, live well with other people, and grow food.

What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

Tessa Boyd-Caine: Making the most of your time at university doesn't just mean hitting the books. I majored in student politics for my undergraduate and just scrapped through my BA with Honours - a PhD certainly wasn't on my horizon. It was when I discovered criminology that I also learned how to study hard and enjoy it. In my working life I draw as much on the skills and experience I gained through student politics as what I learned in my courses.

Will Tregoning: For students who are young people, I'd recommend they think politically about the way that the priorities of electoral politics tip towards older generations, and start organising.