Māori and Pacific students ‘battle racism and tokenism’ at university

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Māori and Pacific STEM postgraduates
Māori and Pacific STEM postgraduates report feeling alone and isolated at Aotearoa New Zealand universities. Image: Richard Tindiller/RNZ

RNZ News

New research details the extent of racism, othering and tokenism faced by Māori and Pacific postgraduate students in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The paper, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, was based off responses of 43 Māori and Pacific students in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) subjects.

Many of the respondents detailed being made to feel out of place, having their place at university questioned, or being made a token representative for funding applications.

In one instance, one Māori student’s name was added to a funding application by the faculty despite them expressly saying “no”.

“My name (my mana and reputation) was used against my will to secure funding for a project that I refused multiple times to be part of,” one participant said.

Lead researcher Dr Tara McAllister of the University of Auckland told RNZ Nine to Noon there were a lot of shocking stories.

“Every time I read people’s responses to the question I had to kind of mentally prepare myself for reading, you know, really horrific experiences of racism and all the kind of other things that go with that,” she said.

Students felt alienated
The survey results pointed to students who often felt alienated by the assumptions of colleagues, or isolated as the only Māori or Pacific student in the building; students whose very place in the university was often questioned.

“Sometimes … people make comments that we are only where we are because we are Pacific people,” another participant said.

Māori and Pacific academics make up less than 5 percent and 2 percent respectively of all academics.

To combat this, many universities have been trying to increase the number of Māori and Pacific students in the institutions.

But another of the researchers, Dr Sereana Naepi, said that would do little to keep those students in academia, and the very structure of the academy needed to change to be more culturally accommodating.

“We haven’t taken on the structures that make people leave the system and so that’s really what we’re talking about: how do these different experiences help us to understand how the structures at play make Māori and Pacific choose not to enter the academy or enter the research workforce,” she said.

Dr McAllister said many rangatahi surveyed said they felt alone and isolated, but all the responses showed that their experiences were not isolated.

“I hope they read our paper and feel less isolated knowing that we’re doing this work to try and change things and knowing their negative experience may have been less isolated.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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