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University of Auckland will not remove designated spaces despite backlash

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Mar 2024, 1:58PM

University of Auckland will not remove designated spaces despite backlash

NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 28 Mar 2024, 1:58PM

The University of Auckland has stood by its decision to have designated areas for Māori and Pasifika after intense backlash.  

Deputy Prime Minister and New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters said the spaces were comparable to far-right racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.  

Photos show a sign outside a study area in the central Auckland campus saying: “This is a designated area for Māori and Pasifika students”. 

A University of Auckland spokeswoman said they were proud of the support they provide their students and the spaces would not be taken away. 

A sign at Auckland University has stirred controversy online.A sign at Auckland University has stirred controversy online. 

Given the school has a large group of students with “diverse interests and needs”, a dedicated response is required, the spokeswoman said. 

She added that there are many designated rooms for teaching, research, study and extra-curricular purposes. 

“We are proud of the community we have created for students and the support we provide for their success,” the spokeswoman said. 

The Act Party tried to get the spaces shut down, claiming they are reminiscent of an “ugly past”. 

Act’s stance was slammed by Te Pāti Māori as “damaging and inflammatory”. 

“What we are seeing from the Act Party is only another attempt to misrepresent tangata whenua and paint the picture that Māori get preferential treatment. The assertion is damaging and inflammatory to their divide-and-conquer rhetoric that they have been pushing since the 2023 campaign,” a Te Pāti Māori spokesman said. 

“Safe spaces for minority groups in universities aren’t new. They exist for equity groups such as students with rural backgrounds, migrant students, Māori, Pacific and our disabilities whānau. What we see here is another targeted attack on Māori tauira. 

“Creating safe spaces to empower minority communities to thrive and achieve while creating a sense of interconnectedness should be celebrated.” 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said he hasn’t seen “the detail” of the segregated sections but, at first glance, he said, they looked “totally inappropriate”. 

“There is no place for discrimination or segregation in New Zealand. Universities should be places of inclusion, not exclusion,” Luxon said. 

He did not respond when asked about his deputy’s comments comparing the action to the KKK. 

University of Auckland law student Shakeel Shamaail, of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kurī and Taranaki descent, was outraged at the Act Party’s position, saying the spaces are vital for wellbeing and counter discrimination they face daily. 

Shamaail said Māori and Pasifika students deserve exclusive spaces and it is a long-standing tradition. 

“At no point are we ever going to give up on this fight and pretend like the discrimination we are up against is all right,” Shamaail said. 

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