Equity news

Catch up on the latest equity-related news

A kōrero can help anxiety: Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week has the theme of “take time to kōrero”, which senior lecturer in counselling Dr Brian Rodgers thinks is good advice.

Dr Brian Rodgers, senior lecturer in Counselling, Human Services and Social Work.

Anxiety is a natural reaction to events in our lives and a signal we need to slow down and listen to ourselves, an experienced counsellor says.

Dr Brian Rodgers, senior lecturer in Counselling, Human Services and Social Work, says his advice on anxiety draws on practical counselling experience.

“It is a natural bodily response to stressful situations, uncertainty, change and so forth. It’s often things that are outside our control. From a counselling perspective, anxiety is trying to communicate something that needs attending to.”

Most of us know when we are anxious through heightened alertness, feeling on edge, an internal pressure, and at the same time hypersensitivity, Brian says. It can involve symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

There is no single cause for anxiety, which may be related to circumstances, such as the global pandemic, work performance, social anxiety, or connection to past trauma or intergenerational trauma.

Anxiety may also be physiological, such as a chemical imbalance that needs to be medicated.

A sense of “overwhelm” can result from too much anxiety.

“From a counselling perspective, ‘overwhelm’ could be the organism trying to take care of itself by shutting down.”

The current global pandemic and associated lockdown have given Brian a recent experience of feeling overwhelmed while working from home.

While he has tried to manage that by reducing his expectations of what he should be able to cope with and do, that brings its own stressors.

“That’s challenging because we have social norms about being able to cope that add to that sense of anxiousness about performing.”

He says that what can help is slowing down and listening to our anxiety instead of dismissing or ignoring it.

“The more we can listen to ourselves, the more we can find the resources within ourselves to address what’s going on. That’s where counselling can be helpful by having someone working with us to help us hear ourselves.

“We can get so locked into our way of seeing things that we can’t see our way out of a situation.”

Brian is aware he is making a plug for counselling; however, he believes, in our society, we need to be talking more openly about our anxieties, including in the workplace.

Team leaders could set an example by talking about their own challenges and checking in with team members.

Our modern lives are full of anxiety-provoking circumstances, yet there is this societal pressure to “get on with it” and “cope”, he says.

“In a way, the high level of anxiety in modern society is telling us that we need to be doing things differently. This is not a simple task and really requires systemic changes.

“To me, this is the opportunity that anxiety presents us with - it is letting us know that something needs to change. The challenge then is to do something about it!”

Counselling options for staff

EAP Services – 24/7 service, free for staff and available online and by phone in lockdown

CALM website: online resources from the University of Auckland

Mental Health and Wellbeing for Staff

Free to Talk
text 1737  for 24/7 phone or text counselling

Postgraduate student offers tips

BSc Honours student Yvonne Ruan offers tips on responding to anxiety

Dogs have their day at Law School for Equality Month

A competition for students to match pictures of staff with photos of their dogs was one of many activities, fun and serious, taking place in the Law Faculty for Substantive Equality Month.  

August's programme of events aimed to promote and understanding of equity, but also had a focus on wellbeing, associate dean (equity) for Law Nikki Chamberlain, says.

“It’s about raising awareness of inequities in our society and remedying those, in addition to focussing on student wellbeing, and having fun.

“There are so many issues we are currently facing on a national and international level. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the simple things in life and create moments which foster joy, safety and unity.”

Sometimes we forget to enjoy the simple things in life and create moments which foster joy, safety and unity.

Nikki Chamberlain, associate dean (equity). Law faculty

The idea of staff bringing their dogs to work at lunchtime 13 August was to foster interactions with students outside of lectures.

Students came up with the idea of the photo competition. Five students matched three of five dogs and owners, winning prizes of chocolate and Law school stress balls.

“Hopefully, these events will flow through to fostering and enhancing the positive culture at the Law School,” Nikki says.

Each week of August was to have events taking place around a theme relating to equality, with the first three weeks planned by the faculty’s Equity Working Group and the fourth by the faculty’s Student Equity Council. While lockdown saw the final week's events and a workshop cancelled, most took place before Alert Level 4.

The themes were:

  • Breaking through glass ceilings week
  • Wellness week
  • Identity and education week
  • Student equity-group awareness week (cancelled).

The month kicked off with an evening event on 4 August where three judges, Justice Ellen France (Supreme Court), Justice Whata (High Court) and Judge Moala (District Court), told their personal and career stories.

Around 80 students attended and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, Nikki says.

Students reported being inspired to find out that judges have the same human experiences as the rest of us, Nikki says.

“They had to overcome adversity and struggles and, despite that, they persisted and succeeded.”

In Wellness Week, clinical psychologist Dr Mary Miller held a workshop on techniques for overcoming stress and anxiety. This has been so well received, the faculty plans to have ongoing seminars aimed at giving students tools to meet the demands of their chosen field.

There have been educative sessions for staff, specifically on gender identity, with Rainbow Law talking about the use of pronouns, and a talk about students from refugee backgrounds.

Workshops that both staff and students can attend will be considered in curriculum development, says Nikki.

A workshop about equity in assessment took place, with another on indigenising the LLB cancelled, due to Covid-19 lockdown.

The student-led week was to include a self-defence class and te reo lessons.

Unfortunately, a Covid-19 lockdown meant the events from 18 August had to be cancelled.

For faculties looking on in envy, Nikki can’t recommend highly enough holding a substantive equity month.

The name “Substantive Equality Month” encompasses both equality and equity. Equity acknowledges that achieving equality, involves that, due to systemic issues, such as racism, ableism, sexism and ageism, people aren’t starting from the same starting point.

N.B. Permission was received for this event, according to the rules that would otherwise forbid dogs on campus. See Campus Rules.

Renaming honours outstanding achievements

Dr Terry O'Neill at the door to the centre renamed after him in 2021.
Dr Terry O'Neill at the door to the centre renamed after him in 2021.

The University’s main facility for students with disabilities has reopened for Semester Two with a new name recognising Dr Terry O’Neill’s decade of achievements in the role of Director Student Equity.

The Todd Foundation Centre has been refurbished and renamed the Terence O’Neill Centre, following a decision by the University’s Naming Committee.

“The renaming recognises Terry’s fantastic leadership in disability services and the role model that he has been for students with disabilities,” says Prue Toft, Acting Pro Vice-Chancellor Equity.

Terry says he is surprised and humbled by the news, which recognises the work of many people over many years.

When, in 1998, the Todd Family Foundation confirmed it would donate $50,000 establishment funding, Terry and Lynne Crabb, who were co-managing Student Disability Services, were delighted.  

“There was a need for a safe, quiet, appropriately equipped, accessible space for students with disabilities. It was a real breakthrough,” Terry says.

The Todd Foundation Centre was established in the Recreation Centre and recently moved to Commerce A.

While co-managing Student Disability Services, Terry was completing his doctorate in Sociology and Social Policy focusing on issues of disability, sexuality and masculinity.

As a teenager, Terry was warned by an ophthalmologist that his visual impairment meant he wouldn’t cope with tertiary study.

After school, with worsening eyesight caused by chorioretinitus, he worked at a number of jobs, including as a freezing worker and caregiver.

Terry describes his life journey as a 'game of two halves' marked by the decision in his mid-thirties to finally put aside that early medical advice and, with some trepidation, enrol at the University of Auckland.

“I realised very quickly that tertiary study would be transformative.

“It also opened up opportunities for meaningful and stable employment – an issue that remains challenging for many people with disabilities.”

After graduating, Terry worked for ten years at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission before taking up the student equity directorship.

Terry’s passion for human rights has been driven by his lived experience as a gay man with a disability.

“Looking back, the University has made huge progress in terms of the ways it responds to, the amazing diversity in the student population."

New figures from the Strategic Management and Reporting system show the proportion of Māori and equity-group students has increased from 25 percent (10,852) in 2018 increasing each year to 31 percent (13,332) in 2021.

Terry is leaving this year, after a decade of outstanding achievements. His work has included significant programmes to support Māori, Pacific, refugee-background, low socioeconomic, Rainbow students and other equity-group students.

Terry had a lead role in the University’s inaugural Disability Programme for students and staff with disabilities and is delighted that this work is now being transitioned into the first whole-of-institution Disability Action Plan (DAP).

“I’m very pleased that the DAP is strongly supported by the University’s senior leadership, reflecting extremely positive changes I have seen across the organisation since I started as manager of Student Disability Services in 1997.”

While much has been achieved, there is still much to do.

When Terry packs up his office,  including his print of his maunga –­ Taranaki,  his legacy will be the part he has played in assisting innumerable students to succeed at University against the odds – just as he did.

Covid-19 a blow to women’s research

Covid-19 lockdowns are likely to be impacting women’s research at the University of Auckland, in line with reports from overseas, feedback to the Equity Office Te Ara Tautika suggests.

International reports show a downturn in articles sole-authored or led by women submitted to academic journals, as well as severely impacted productivity of women researchers in lockdowns, see Gender equity – Women

“This is an issue that needs to be carefully monitored and addressed, both with direct support and through policies and guidelines, such as flexible working and Achievement Relative to Opportunity,” manager staff equity Cathie Walsh says.

Prue Toft, Acting Pro-Vice Chancellor Equity adds: “This is also a critical equity issue for a research-led university.”

During the first lockdown this year, the Faculty of Arts responded to colleagues’ reports that working from home was having a severe impact on the productivity of researchers with carer responsibilities, deputy head (research) in Social Sciences Dr Carisa Showden says.

“Because caring is frequently gendered, that does mean more women than men were reporting impacts. But some of our male colleagues are joint or primary caretakers and they too have  reported serious setbacks in their research capacities,” Carisa says.

The faculty asked researchers with children for more detailed feedback and was able to offer financial support for some, while noting others didn’t even have the capacity to make use of the relief efforts.

Some anonymised comments from the feedback include:

  • Between 6am and 8pm, my default position has had to be a fulltime parent to three young children… So my research has largely ground to a halt.
  • I was listening to the faculty Zoom meeting while making playdough for the [kids].
  • My ‘study’ is the kitchen table, the hub of the house.
  • Like many academic staff, we are both migrants and don’t have any family here in the country for extra support… I’m unable to catch up with my writing commitments.
  • My sense overall is that the burden of these situations tends to fall disproportionately on women. While I can’t speak for other families, I’m grateful to be part of a bubble where my male partner and I are dividing the childcare load equally during this time.

My ‘study’ is the kitchen table, the hub of the house.


Meanwhile, Associate Professor Nicola Gaston from the Department of Physics contributed to a statement from the Australian Academy of Science raising the alarm about the risk of lockdowns for the careers of women academics in STEM, where they are already in the minority.

The statement from the Science Academy goes on to warn that women from diverse backgrounds face additional barriers.

In this country, Nicola says, through her role as co-director of the MacDiarmid Institute, she is seeing a pattern emerge that accords with overseas reports of parents being particularly affected by lockdowns.

“Research funding applications have been let slide due to a lack of bandwidth and obviously publication has gotten harder — none of these impacts are exclusively on women but, when it comes to the tangibles (time to submit grants and publish papers), the impacts appear unequal.”

It is important leaders at the University of Auckland appraise themselves of this risk from Covid-19 lockdowns and utilise the relevant policies, procedures and resources, Cathie says.

There has been significant work, in response to the pandemic, on resources to support staff and leaders in remote working, including a Flexible ways of working hub.

There are a number of resources, case studies and FAQs to guide academic leaders and managers in reviews and promotions, where employees have been impacted by Covid-19. See Achievement Relative to Opportunity, on Combining parenting with a career, and the Flexible ways of working hub.

Employees are encouraged to keep records of how Covid-19 has impacted their performance.

Workbridge at the University: supporting students with disabilities into work

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Equity Office on behalf of the University of Auckland with Workbridge in 2019, assists our students with disabilities to overcome access to equitable employment. 

Workbridge is a specialist employment service who have developed partnerships with the Tertiary Sector, focussed on supporting people with all types of disability, injury or illness.