Facebook images have students concerned about the group's motives.
A University of Auckland student group is being accused of promoting white supremacy - but the group say the situation is just a misunderstanding.
With orientation festivities set to kick off as semester begins next week, students, staff and members of the public have expressed grave concerns over the university’s decision to allow a group calling themselves the European Students Association to hold a stall to promote their group.
The club’s Facebook page - which features Celtic and Germanic iconography and 19th century painting The Proclamation of the German Empire - offers little explanation of the group’s intentions, however some are interpreting the imagery as reminiscent of that used by far-right and white power groups.
A header image shows James Cook superimposed over a New Zealand flag along with the phrase “strength through honour”. It has also posted "our pride is our honour and loyalty", a statement similar to "my honour is called loyalty", a common translation of the Nazi SS slogan.
In response to the accusations the group have posted a statement on the page, refuting claims of racism:
Founded in early January, the group has recently come to the attention of the community at large who have taken to social media to express their concerns.
I attended @AucklandUni and I'm appalled they're giving white supremacists space during O-Week to intimidate & recruit— Stephanie Rodgers (@bootstheory) March 1, 2017
Madison*, a 21-year-old University of Auckland student who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, said that she is familiar with the founders of the group and considers them to be “really unsafe people”.
“They have no regard for human rights. They see millions of people as sub-humans. One of them talked about how Islam is a cancer. They use violent rhetoric.”
She said that they are a direct threat to safety on campus.
“Especially for people of colour on campus, LGBT people on campus, Jewish people on campus - that does not make you feel safe when those views are allowed to recruit.”
A University of Auckland spokesperson has confirmed that the group will have a stall for one day at the clubs expo next week, though the club is not formally affiliated with the university.
The spokesperson stated that “while the university promotes a safe and inclusive campus environment, they have no evidence there is any form of discrimination or racism.”
The Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) have released a statement expressing their disappointment with the University of Auckland's decision to permit a potentially offensive organisation to have a presence at the University of Auckland Orientation.
AUSA say they “share the alarm of students that this offensive group will be sharing our campus during Orientation".
“The presence of a group that uses such historically evocative imagery, particularly in a time of fear and oppression all over the world undermines their safety."
AUSA president Will Matthews said he had met with the university clubs management and the university proctor on Wednesday to discuss complaints made by “a number of students” over the nature of the club.
Matthews said it was standard practice for new clubs that had formed over the summer to be allowed to hold a stall at O-Week before the affiliation process, as the AUSA was not operating then.
The European Students Association will be up for affiliation midway through week two of the semester, a process which is decided by a vote of AUSA members.
“Then the student body will be able to have a say over whether or not they want that group to be formally recognised”, Matthews said.
“I think the students at the University of Auckland want to ensure that they balance the right to free speech with the safety of students on campus, as well as standing up for basic human rights.”
A spokesperson for the club, who declined to identify themselves, said via Facebook Messenger, that the controversy was a "misunderstanding" and that they are “open to and inclusive of all people”.
“We are for people who have an interest in European culture, but also to represent Europeans in the sense that AUPISA represents Pacific Islanders.”
Club get-togethers, the spokesperson said, might involve “hiking or perhaps snorkelling, just general activities.”
“We will try give it a European cultural theme to it.”
Madison, however, considers explanations such as this to be disingenuous.
“I think it’s a pretense. If it were about European activities, then they wouldn’t have chosen all the iconography and pictures.”
“I’m uncomfortable with it and it’s clearly a political group.”
With concern growing internationally over racist and Islamophobic rhetoric, Madison feels that groups such as this are part of a larger problem.
“I think the reason why it's come up right now is because of the political climate. The rise of right wing, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
“These groups feel way more comfortable being out in the open, recruiting, pushing their violent agendas”.
With outrage growing at university’s lack of intervention, she said that she and her fellow students would be willing take action to get their message across.
“We’re going to make sure that our voices are heard on this."
"We think it’s extremely important to not allow fascists to openly organise on campus.”
Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy has issued a statement saying she will be keeping an eye on the club.
“I am a Kiwi with European heritage and I’m very proud of my Irish roots," Devoy said. "But being proud of my heritage doesn’t mean limiting the rights of anyone else.”
*Name has been changed.
Clarification: A reference to former Auckland mayoral candidate Adam Holland being a spokesperson for AUESA has been removed. The club dispute Holland's invovlement.