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Auckland Uni staff faced death threats after segregation claims

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Jun 2024, 7:06am

Auckland Uni staff faced death threats after segregation claims

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 18 Jun 2024, 7:06am

The University of Auckland has revealed students and staff received death threats during the controversy over designated spaces for Pasifika and Māori students earlier this year.  

The university’s four pro vice-chancellors revealed the threats in a newsletter posted to the university’s website. The leaders are Equity Professor Cathy Stinear, Māori Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins, Education Professor Bridget Kool and Pacific Professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau, who is of Samoan descent.  

“In March, a temporary sign identifying a space by Māori students and Pacific students was described by political leaders as segregation. 

“The uninformed claim resulted in real harm - including triggering abuse and death threats directed at our students and staff. 

Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific Professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau, Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity Professor Cathy Stinear, Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins, and Pro Vice-Chancellor Education Professor Bridget Kool. Photo / Auckland UniversityPro Vice-Chancellor Pacific Professor Jemaima Tiatia-Siau, Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity Professor Cathy Stinear, Pro Vice-Chancellor Māori Associate Professor Te Kawehau Hoskins, and Pro Vice-Chancellor Education Professor Bridget Kool. Photo / Auckland University 

“These events show the need for better understanding about why such spaces exist in our university.” 

The controversy was sparked in late March when the Act Party shared a photo showing a sign at the university’s business school, reading: “This is a designated area for Māori and Pasifika students. Thank you”. 

Act’s tertiary education spokeswoman, Dr Parmjeet Parmar, said the spaces were nothing short of segregation and she would be contacting universities around the country in an attempt to remove them. 

“It is disappointing that it even needs to be said, but Act’s position is that blocking people from spaces based on their ethnicity is unequivocally wrong.” 

She later released another statement saying she was disturbed by the suggestion that in order to be safe, Māori students needed to isolate from non-Māori. 

The sign that sparked controversy.The sign that sparked controversy. 

“And I worry about the perception of international students who arrived here expecting to study in an inclusive, egalitarian environment.” 

Other political leaders, including Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and deputy Winston Peters also spoke out about the issue. Luxon said at the time that he was “highly disappointed” to see universities offering such spaces. 

Peters took it further - comparing the spaces to the notorious Ku Klux Klan and an “apartheid” way of thinking. 

Auckland University’s pro vice-chancellors pushed back, saying it is “entirely appropriate” to have spaces set aside for different groups - including parenting rooms, prayer spaces and low-sensory environments for neurodiverse students. 

Addressing the specific areas for Pacific and Māori students on campus, the leaders said they were places where students could freely express themselves and their cultures in an academic setting. 

“This is where students can find familiarity, socialise, study and connect - creating a sense of belonging that enables them to thrive.” 

The University of Auckland’s designated areas were a part of its Tuākana programme - an education community for Pasifika and Māori students and staff. 

“It provides culturally tailored support that can make all the difference for their educational achievements and future opportunities.” 

The pro vice-chancellors said they were working together with colleagues to create an environment of mutual respect where people can thrive with a sense of belonging. 

“We are unapologetic and unwavering in our commitment to upholding the mana of Māori and Pacific students and staff.” 

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