11 Feb 2021

Pasifika AUT students highlight lack of support at Manukau campus

7:16 pm on 11 February 2021

A group of Pasifika law students at Auckland University of Technology have raised concerns about the lack of support for Pasifika in its legal studies programme at the Manukau campus.

Although these concerns have been brought to the attention of the faculty, the students believe that they are still being ignored.

AUT Auckland University of Technology

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

In 2016, AUT began offering courses for its Bachelor of Laws degree at its Manukau campus.

In an interview with news programme Te Karere, AUT explained that part of the reason for offering courses in Manukau was to help increase the overall number of Māori and Pasifika lawyers.

Despite promises from AUT of mentor programmes and meaningful support, some students have told RNZ Pacific that such assistance was never forthcoming.

Annette Collins is now in her fourth year studying law at AUT and feels the university has misrepresented the degree of support available to Pasifika students.

In particular, the possibility of receiving assistance from the Pacific Islands Law Student Association, which is referred to on both AUT's website and in the law school prospectus.

Collins said that she had heard from a couple of students that one of the reasons they had enrolled in the first place was the possibility of receiving support from Pasifika Law Students Association.

AUT Law student, Annette Collins

AUT Law student, Annette Collins Photo: RNZ Pacific

Despite AUT's prospectus and website still referring to the association, Collins stated that it had "been confirmed by AUT staff that it is a defunct association".

Having discussed these issues with other senior Pasifika law students, Collins has come to believe that the lack of support for Pasifika is not new.

"From the years that I've been enrolled in the programme, since 2018, and discussions that I've had with fellow students as well as those who have either been enrolled since 2016 or at the same time I was enrolled, there's been a great number of concerns over the lack of Pasifika support."

Concerned about the struggles of first year Pasifika law students, Collins approached the faculty.

She has had meetings with several AUT law faculty members to discuss ways to support new Pasifika law students, but she said these have not yielded any meaningful additional support.

Annette Collins running a workshop for a mentoring programme she started.

Annette Collins running a workshop for a mentoring programme she started. Photo: Supplied

So, to address the lack of support from the faculty, Collins and other senior Pasifika law students attempted to start their own mentoring programmes for junior Pasifika law students. Despite contacting the Pacific Advancement Office, Collins felt that Pasifika students were not getting the support that was promised.

"And what I mean by that is the resources to run the workshops, that being room space, or even whiteboard markers. Even though I reached out to a staff member concerning the need for that support, I was met with, 'look I will get in contact with you' and that just never happened."

With the help of another student, Collins managed to run a two-day workshop aimed at training senior students to mentor both Pasifika and non-Pasifika law students, who needed study support through the programme.

Despite this small success, she said that the faculty's lack of support for the intiative had left her disheartened and discouraged.

"We know law is difficult, and we don't want the answers, but what we would like is support for Pasifika law students and for AUT to meet us halfway."

Michelle Unasa Va'afusuaga Maua, she was an AUT LLB South Campus Scholarship recipient.

Michelle Unasa Va'afusuaga Maua, she was an AUT LLB South Campus Scholarship recipient. Photo: Supplied

Michelle Unasa Va'afusuaga Maua is a fourth year law student at AUT. She enrolled at the university after receiving a scholarship to study law at the South Campus.

"I came to AUT to study there thinking there was going to be a massive support for our Pasifika and Māori students, and it has not been my experience at all, if anything there has been no support for Pasifika students."

Maua said she believed her schloarship to study law at AUT would mean peer support or mentoring would be included but that was not the case.

She said that when she first enrolled in AUT's law programme, there was a student association called MAPLA (Māori and Pasifika Law Association) who were intially there to support. However, this association disbanded in 2016.

According to Maua, the following year the Pacific Island Law Student Association (PILSA) was created, to support Pasifika law students. However, the new association was short-lived and failed to deliver any meaningful support.

"And after I signed up for it, there were no initiatives run by the PILSA group. It's been inactive since 2017."

Maua, Collins and a few other students got together to address the lack of support for Pasifika law students.

"So we had come together to run with our own money on a voluntary basis, [to provide] support for Pasifika students in their first year."

Maua said one guest lecturer she approached was willing to write to the dean highlighting the lack of support for Pasifika students.

She and other senior law students had spoken to some first year students who told her they felt overwhelmed and disappointed that there was no support for Pasifika.

"We got to talking and that's how the initiative of us volunteering our time to kind of mentor the first year students through their exams came about."

AUT Law student, Carol Brown

AUT Law student, Carol Brown Photo: Supplied

Carol Brown is a third year law student who agrees with Collins and Maua: "The problem is, that there is an absence of support from AUT law, mainly at South Campus," she said.

Another first year student, who did not want to be named, said that without the support of Collins, Maua and Brown, she wouldn't have continued her studies. She said the only reason why she applied to study at AUT was because of its campus in Manukau.

She said she did not expect to be spoon-fed the material, but a support or mentoring programme would have made a huge difference to her first year at South Campus.

In response to the concerns raised by students, AUT Law School student support and success associate head Alison Cleland said the South Campus tried to "offer an accessible, friendly place to study law".

Khylee Quince, AUT Associate Professor of Law.

Khylee Quince. Photo: Supplied

However, AUT Law School associate professor Khylee Quince said students needed to be more engaged.

"The establishment and operation of student associations are a matter for students. The association for Pacific students at AUT law has been non-operational for several years due to a lack of student commitment," Quince said.

"Until 2016 Māori and Pacific students operated a joint association, when they devolved into separate bodies - the Māori association has continued, the Pacific one has not, despite periodic prompts from staff. Academic staff work with student associations, but are not involved in their operations.

"In the absence of a specific association, Pacific students have been welcomed into Te Aro Ture, the Māori law students' association and the general students' association AUTLSS (AUT Law Students Association).

"The school and faculty provide academic and pastoral support to all students in association with these established bodies.

"I am not aware of any independent student-driven initiatives that have been mooted outside of existing bodies and processes. We are committed to providing appropriate support for all students, and to hearing any concerns students have."

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