Unacceptable 'isms'

I was recently invited to meet with a number of our Māori and Pacific staff and students to discuss the "soft racism" that they sometimes experience. Examples included other students or staff making derogatory comments to the effect that Māori and Pacific students are unworthy of being at university; have all come via entry provisions such as UTAS; are unlikely to succeed; or are predisposed to crime. Those exposed to comments of this kind are understandably distressed. In fact, 80% of our Māori and Pacific students enter the University above the guaranteed minimum entry score, and all students must reach the same levels of achievement to complete their qualifications. But in order to achieve our goals we do need to have alternative pathways for those who have had different opportunities and experiences prior to coming here. Students who gain entry via foundation courses, UTAS or other alternative routes are as equally valued members of the University as other students.

I daresay that if I had talked to students of other ethnic groups, I would have heard parallel stories - for example, the claim that Asian students are unfairly over-represented in the medical programme. In fact, the proportion of Asian students in our medical programme is mainly reflective of the ethnic distribution of young Aucklanders.

Racism, often delivered thoughtlessly or as "humour", derives from a tendency to ascribe negative characteristics to another group, and assume that the characteristics of some members of a group apply to them all. Likewise sex-ism, age-ism, and so on. As well as being damaging, such "-isms" do not withstand scientific scrutiny, differences within human groups being typically much greater than differences between groups. On both counts, they have no place in a university.

I encourage all those who experience racism or other forms of discrimination to follow appropriate complaints processes, and all those who witness it to challenge the behaviours. Information is available at:

Academic disputes and complaints
Equity Policy

Meanwhile, feedback from students and staff at the meeting is helping us to consider further ways we can enhance equity in the University.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon


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