Pacific distinguished professor Ratuva breaks down socio-political hurdles

Distinguished professor Steven Ratuva
Distinguished professor Steven Ratuva ... “I want to show them [Pacific students and scholars] that nothing is impossible, you can reach the top.” Image: Stuff screenshot APR

By Lee Kenny of Stuff

He has worked as an academic in five different countries and now Dr Steven Ratuva has been made a distinguished professor – the first Pacific person to ever hold this highest professorial title.

The Fiji-born University of Canterbury political sociologist and director of the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies has been recognised for his pioneering research in a range of fields, including ethnicity, security and politics.

Dr Ratuva has been promoted to the highest role in academia and wants to inspire other Pacific students and scholars to break down the “political and cultural” hurdles that often stand in their way.

“I want to show them that nothing is impossible, you can reach the top,” he said.

“There is always the perception that Pacific people are not as smart, just good in rugby and not so much academia.

“It’s a myth that we need to break through.”

Dr Ratuva said he was honoured to receive the appointment.

First time for a Pacific scholar
“It’s the first time a Pacific scholar has received the title, anywhere in the world,” he said.

“There’s a lot of research around the world about how minorities internalise the perception about them. It’s about breaking through those psychological and cultural perceptions.”

Dr Ratuva joined the University of Canterbury in 2015 but has also worked at universities in Fiji, the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.

“I grew up in an environment where education was very much encouraged and promoted. In my family alone, there are about 15 degrees altogether.”

Dr Ratuva worked for the Suva-based University of the South Pacific (USP) before joining highly respected think tank the Institute of Development Studies, based at the University of Sussex, in southern England.

“It’s the leading development institute in the world. It’s ranked above Oxford and Harvard, they compete for second position,” he said.

The father of two is a prolific author and in the last two years alone he has written and edited five books, including a three-volume global project on ethnicity, the largest and most comprehensive on the subject.

Connecting the boxes
“A lot of those issues are interconnected; politics, economics, culture,” he said.

“Often in academia we break them up into little boxes. In my work, I try to connect those boxes.”

Last year, Dr Ratuva was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society Te Apārangi and has won the society’s Mertge Medal for New Zealand social science research excellence.

He is currently co-leading a University of Canterbury and USP joint project on climate crisis, covering 16 Pacific countries.

Dr Ratuva is one of four Canterbury academics recently awarded the role of distinguished professors. The others are Maggie Lee Huckabee, Charles Semple and Michael Hall.

This article was first published by Stuff and is republished with permission.

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