White nationalist posters return to Auckland University campus

From Checkpoint, 5:43 pm on 1 October 2019

A senior lecturer at the University of Auckland says management needs to take a stand against white supremacist propaganda on campus, or it runs the risk of scaring away future students.  

A new wave of posters and stickers promoting a recently-launched white nationalist group were spotted at the university at the end of September.  

The university says the views expressed by the group are abhorrent but are protected by freedom of speech.

In April, RNZ reported dozens of Auckland University students were becoming increasingly afraid of what they described as a growing white supremacist movement on campus.

They said after the Christchurch mosque shootings more students were expressing extreme views and white supremacist propaganda was being plastered on campus walls.

Auckland University Students' Association president George Barton says the latest campaign is “completely unwelcome”.

Vice Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon has told the University's student magazine Craccum that the group's posters are "unfortunate" but are protected by free speech.

Rhys Jones, a senior lecturer at the University is disappointed by that response.

He says the University should draw a line and show those beliefs aren't tolerated on campus.

“That would really show that we value the safety of vulnerable students and staff, more than we do the rights of white nationalists to spread their harmful rhetoric.”

Dr Jones says the University's response could put off potential students.

“This type of thing does make it less safe for people of colour, people who are subject to racism and other forms of bigotry.

“So if there were international students looking to come to New Zealand to study, this might actually play into a decision to maybe not come to the University of Auckland if they see that as a potential threat.”

Emails released to RNZ show the ongoing saga is concerning families.

At least two relatives of prospective students contacted the University in April, expressing their unhappiness with its response to students' fears.

One said he was worried his migrant brother wouldn't be looked after on campus as the security for people who look like him "appears not to be a priority".

George Barton says families should be concerned. He says management hasn't acted, so staff and students have.

“The [Vice Chancellor] isn’t the only person that speaks on behalf of the university community. The university community has decided that these posters and stickers aren’t welcome, and have taken action into their own hands on this.”

A small group of students staged a protest on campus on Tuesday morning.

One of them, Rhoen Hemara says the University of Auckland needs to create a safe environment for students.

In a statement, the university says the views expressed by the group are totally inconsistent with its commitment to be a safe and equitable place for all staff and students.

But it says the Vice-Chancellor has made it clear the University is a place where a range of opinions can be held and are allowed to be debated.

It goes on to say it is difficult to draw a line between freedom of speech and speech that invokes hatred and violence - and until that line is crossed, the University of Auckland has a responsibility to uphold the principles of freedom of speech.