2 May 2019

Students Association backs complaints about racism at Auckland University

8:10 am on 2 May 2019

The Auckland University Students' Association is backing students who have complained about a growing white supremacy movement on campus.

Auckland, New Zealand - March 1, 2017: Sign and logo of University of Auckland set near modern dark gray offices in green park like environment. Gray sky.

Photo: claudine van massenhove

Last month, RNZ spoke to students fearful of a movement they said had ramped up in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack.

University vice chancellor Stuart McCutcheon dismissed the claims describing them as "utter nonsense".

Now students and staff have met to discuss their fears as well as other harassment, bullying and discrimination.

About 80 people packed into the Waipapa Marae at Auckland University yesterday. Media were not allowed in.

But students who spoke to RNZ afterwards said a self-described Nazi spoke at length about the bullying he had suffered on campus and how it had made him stronger.

This was in response to a young Jewish student who told the meeting how she had been harassed by white supremacists.

Mr McCutcheon did not attend the meeting. He has rejected claims of a growing white supremacist movement saying the complaints are being conflated together on social media with a "naturally enhanced sensitivity" following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Pasifika student Natasha Ah-Hing said Mr McCutcheon just did not understand.

"He has no personal ... relationship to ... the word racism.

"He hasn't been a victim, or he hasn't experienced it. So for him, he doesn't have that tie.

"He isn't able to see it the way we see it, who are on the ground experiencing it every day."

Jennifer Sarich, a sociology student, said the university needed to pay attention.

"One of the stories that came up in there was someone was saying 'is it going to take for me to be shot for this to be taken seriously?'

"I think people who are in power really need to listen to the victims, or the people who are experiencing this racism, and ... re-educate themselves."

Students are calling for a review of the university's complaints system and for more to be done to address discrimination on campus. The Students' Association will be presenting its plan next week on what should be done.

Association education vice president George Barton said it was clear white supremacy was one of a number of problems.

"We have heard credible concerns from students. And what this hui has confirmed is that there is a problem with bullying and harassment and discrimination and, in particular, racial discrimination, at the university.

"That needs to be addressed."

Ms McCutcheon declined to be interviewed, but a spokesperson said he would consider carefully any recommendations from the Students' Association.

The spokesperson said the university was continuing to investigate two students but it said there was no evidence to suggest those complaints constitute what has been inaccurately characterised as a wave of white supremacy.

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