13 Apr 2019

Growing white supremacy at Auckland university 'utter nonsense'

10:29 am on 13 April 2019

Students have accused the University of Auckland's vice chancellor of trivialising their concerns about white supremacists on campus after he said the claims were "utter nonsense".

The University of Auckland Epsom campus.

The University of Auckland Epsom campus. Photo: 123RF

Auckland University's response comes after a group of students told RNZ they were so afraid of a growing white supremacist movement on campus that they were thinking of dropping out.

Vice chancellor Stuart McCutcheon yesterday dismissed reports of a white supremacist movement at the university as"utter nonsense".

That's despite much white supremacist graffiti, posters and stickers appearing around the university in recent weeks, and direct threats being made against some students.

The students don't want to be identified because they fear retaliation by far-right white supremacist students at the university.

But two of them told RNZ that Mr McCutcheon had failed to consider the psychological damage the situation was causing, and said some students had stopped going to class as a result.

They warned that the university's lack of action may embolden others racists who had not previously made their views public.

They said a complaint was made about a student wearing Nazi symbols to class five or six years ago, but he was still studying there and still intimidating others.

They said that they were looking for leadership at this time but Mr McCutcheon's statement was the first acknowledgement of their complaints.

They said Mr McCutcheon had proved he was not equipped to understand the threat posed by white supremacy.

"The vice chancellor has said that university management is 'acting quickly to ensure student and staff safety'. Each investigation underway is so far incomplete, and one of these we know was started almost one month ago.

"Management did not ensure our immediate safety. In fact, they told us that they could not guarantee our safety.

"Furthermore, some examples of this racist activity dates back to six years ago, as we told RNZ, for which no disciplinary action was taken by the university. This constitutes a history of failings on the part of the University of Auckland."

They said racist and white supremacist students had been allowed to remain on campus at the expense of others, who did not feel safe to work in the same spaces as them, having been harassed.

"There has been evidence of increased activity and increasing confidence of two students in particular, but as the Christchurch mass murder illustrates, it can take only one person.

"There has been evidence that some of the individuals in question are affiliated with others who recently had weapons confiscated by the police."

Mr McCutcheon said that was being conflated by social media and a "naturally enhanced sensitivity" following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

"There is absolutely no evidence of an increasing problem and where concerns are raised we act quickly to ensure student and staff safety," he said in a statement.

"The University took complaints very seriously and, in both instances, students were offered support and were met with, even prior to formal complaints being laid.

"Of course, I am sorry that anyone feels threatened or unsafe. We do not condone any sort of harassment and we will always act."

Mr McCutcheon said the university has a strong commitment to ensuring people on campus are safe from any form of harassment or discrimination, and anyone experiencing or witnessing it is encouraged to make a formal complaint.

He said staff had investigated reports of fascist graffiti and posters, but there had been no increase in the incidents of such material on campus and some examples shared on Twitter date back at least two years.

"It is standard practice that all graffiti is removed by security as soon as they become aware of it."

Mr McCutcheon could not be reached last night to respond to the students' most recent comments in which they criticised his statement.

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