Video campaign tackles ‘subtle racism’ at university

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I, Too, Am Auckland Experiences. Runtime 14:47

By Anuja Nadkarni

“Subtle” racial discrimination faced by Māori and Pacific Islander pupils is the subject of a video campaign led by University of Auckland students.

The campaign arose after a PhD study last year showed everyday racial discrimination was one of the main challenges that Māori and Pacific students encountered, says campaigner Raagini Vijaykumar.

The initiative comprises three videos that show the testimonials of 40 students about their experiences at the university, current programmes for Māori and Pacific students, and solutions to the problem.

Vijaykumar says the encounters of “subtle racism” that students share in the video are concerning.

“Just because racism isn’t as overt as before doesn’t mean it’s not an issue that’s affecting people,” she says.

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But “there is a risk of people saying that you’re being hyper-sensitive to it.”

Comments students have heard included, “You speak good English for a Tongan” and “You have a wide vocabulary for a Samoan”.

An accelerant-engineering student of Māori descent says other students told him he was “really smart for a Māori”.

Vijaykumar says while conducting the interviews, she and her team were surprised at how normalised discriminatory comments have become.

Television student Corey Sio, who is in his third year at neighbouring AUT University, says he has also experienced subtle racism.

“I have been told that I am a very intelligent Islander,” he says.

“It’s kind of scary that it’s so subtle now as opposed to old racism. New racism – you don’t really know if they’re being racist or if they’re being honest.


Third-year AUT student Corey Sio talks to reporters Anuja Nadkhani and Anya Truong-George. Runtime 1:51

First-year AUT University student Samantha Bernard, on the other hand, says she hasn’t experienced racism so far in her Bachelor of Arts course.

“I think if anything I’ve received more support because I’m Pacific Islander.”

Bernard says she regularly gets text messages and emails advising her about study groups and providing study tips.

There are also programmes in place at the University of Auckland that assist Māori and Pacific students, but Vijaykumar says “the very fact that they exist and people need a space to go to, shows that mainstream places aren’t catering for them”

Sarah McLean, another of the five students leading the campaign, says the response to the video has been great so far but there has also been some criticism about its focus.

“I think one key thing a lot of people feel in regards to doing the campaign is that we’re doing this only for Māori and Pacific, but we’d rather focus on small groups and tell their story first and then look at approaching other groups as well.”

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Anuja Nadkarni graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Studies (Journalism) from Auckland University of Technology and is now doing an Honours degree in Communications and is on the Pacific Media Centre's 2016 Asia-Pacific Journalism Studies course. Born in Mumbai, India, she migrated to New Zealand with her family in 2002. She also lived in Suva, Fiji, for a while.

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