Māori students question if uni is a safe space

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The fear and intimidation Waikato University professors have experienced when calling out racism has been putting prospective students off from going to university, the Māori Tertiary Student's Association has said.

Te Mana Ākonga, the Māori Tertiary Students' Association, are the latest group to send an open letter to the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins calling for a nationwide review into racism at all universities.

An open letter was also sent to Hipkins on September 14 calling for a national review to commence urgently, signed by 36 Māori professors across the country.

Te Mana Ākonga tumuaki takirua Mamaeroa Merito says it's been a difficult time for tauira (students).

"It has actually been quite a jarring experience for our tauira to see our rangatira really struggling and feeling the need to speak out on these issues, but not only that, also then feeling fear and intimidation when they have done so and that obviously impacts on our tauira negatively.

"In some cases that have been reported back to us, we have prospective students that are now reconsidering which universities they want to go to because of all the fear and intimidation that has come to light that our rangatira are experiencing."

She says a review would create a better system, one that met the Treaty of Waitangi and which would restore Māori faith in tertiary institutions that had been shaken.

"Their starting to question whether or not tertiary education is a safe space for them and that's one of our driving points for why we think there needs to be a nationwide review.

"It's already hard enough to be a Māori student in tertiary education, and that's reflected in our outcomes, but now the fact of the matter is that it's impacting potential Māori students and that's where we feel the need to call our minister to intervene, to review so that we can create a better system and a better sector."

Merito says they've had an acknowledgement from Hipkin's office that their letter has been received, but no response from him.

Professor of Māori Studies at University of Auckland, Margaret Mutu, was one of the 36 professors who called for a review over a week ago.

She says they'd also only received an acknowledgement, and was disappointed at the slow response.

"This is a major issue, not only in the universities where it's really bad but also across the country, so it will benefit them to take it seriously."

"I think it's a matter that has to be addressed in this country and to hide behind whatever, including that it is election time, is just not good enough."

Mutu says universities were "burying their head in the sand", and until a review was undertaken, the institutions wouldn't know the true extent of racism.

"A review would point out exactly what racism looks like and how it behaves inside of a university, and it's only once you know what you're dealing with, that you can then address it."

The minister wasn't available for comment but said in a statement, he would be responding to both letters "shortly".

Hipkins says reports of systemic or structural racism were taken "very seriously" and the government was committed to strengthening Māori-Crown relationships.

He says the government would consider the findings of the Waikato University independent review into specific claims of structural racism at the university.

Meanwhile, a letter was sent to the University of Waikato calling for them tackle racism in their institution.

That was signed by over 6800 professors, students and graduates from New Zealand and across the globe, with 43 per cent of the signatories from overseas.

Meriana Johnsen /RNZ.

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It's subtle.

Posted on 25-09-2020 13:53 | By morepork

If someone is attending University it is reasonable to assume that they have some intelligence. Nobody with any brains can support a Racist view of life, so we shouldn’t expect it to be tolerated in Higher Education. But here we have people from overseas joining a petition that has nothing to do with them. Doesn’t that sound like somebody "organized" a problem? Racism, real or imagined, has become another bandwagon. People feeling intimidated for speaking their minds is a matter of how they feel, not what was said or done. In the absence of any physical evidence to show coercion or intimidation, it may be that the bandwagon is making people hyper-sensitive to being offended and they start to look for offense where there is none. I feel for lpm67 and it is reprehensible that speaking to equality is now considered "Racist" in some quarters.

Yes racism does exist in education

Posted on 23-09-2020 13:13 | By lpm67

...and has to sometime. During my nursing training I was told to leave the classroom when I politely asked that shouldn’t we treat all patients equally to the best of our abilities, and years later I got rammed for the same thing at Massey, again for stating we should treat everyone equally.


Posted on 23-09-2020 12:13 | By surfsup

It’s already hard enough to be a Māori student in tertiary education, and that’s reflected in our outcomes. A statement like this has to be questioned and hard evidence put forward to back it up. Maori students have scholarships open to them that non maori cannot apply for. If the outcome for Maori at University is lower than non maori is that racism or just normal life. The racism card gets rolled out for everything and anything and like the boy who cried :wolf" no longer has the same impact.