6 Jun 2021

Auckland University’s Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath reflects on her career as a leading Pasifika academic

From Smart Talk, 4:05 pm on 6 June 2021

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath (the co-Head of the School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies) explores life as a Pasifika academic. A highlight from Auckland University’s Raising the Bar 2021.

Graduates at the 2020 Arts and Law graduation ceremony

Graduates at the 2020 Arts and Law graduation ceremony Photo: University of Auckland

What’s it like to be in a minority and sitting at the meeting room table, one of very few female, let alone brown, faces?

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath says academia can be a lonely place at the top for a brown female leader navigating power at “the intersection of hypervisibility, invisibility, colourism and gender.”

Touching on real-life examples, Tiatia-Seath speaks candidly about institutional racism, sexism and feminism, as seen through her eyes. She relates how important it is to have a thick skin, and what resilience means when you’re in complex and sometimes hostile environments.

Of particular issue for Tiatia-Seath is the way in which taking on a public role (as one of the very few – too few – Pasifika academic leaders) is expected, despite the cost this enacts on her ability to conduct research and write and publish academic papers.

Because this is still the conventional measure of academic quality within the Western, and New Zealand, university system, someone extremely active in their communities is at a disadvantage.

“Our service to our students, our communities, our families, our peers, our nation, can sometimes outweigh the productivity of our research,” she says. “A lot of the time we’re relationship-building, mentoring, we’re being the Pacific voice at various tables. And we’re spread so thinly. And we’re pulled in multiple directions. The real kicker is the way that universities measure our impact, how brainy or successful we are, as academics, is against a Western framework that completely misses the mark. It doesn’t measure our innovation, our determination, our creativity, and just our drive for transformative change.”

About the speaker

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Co-Head of School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath, Co-Head of School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland Photo: Auckland University

Dr Jemaima Tiatia-Seath is the Co-Head of School, Te Wānanga o Waipapa, School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies, University of Auckland. She is of Samoan heritage and has a public/population health background.

She was one of six panellists on the New Zealand Government’s 2018 Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry and currently a Commissioner for the inaugural Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission.

Her expertise lies in Pacific Studies, Pacific health, mental health and wellbeing, suicide prevention and postvention, health inequities, climate change, and youth development.

She has held various governance positions, including as a current member of the Health Research Council of New Zealand’s Public Health Committee, and as a previous member of the Mental Health Foundation’s Suicide Bereavement Service Advisory Group, the Health Promotions Agency’s National Depression Initiative Advisory Group, and the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s Suicide Mortality Review Committee.


Photo: University of Auckland

Raising the Bar was recorded in association with the University of Auckland