Meet the Village: supporting Pasifika learners in Halls

By Melissa Leaupepe | Resident Manager – O’Rorke Hall Villages: Fasito’outa & Nofoali’i, Samoa

Living away from home is uncommon for Pasifika youth as we are brought up to remain close to family. However, for many Pasifika students in university, the setup of their home environment is not often conducive to academic success. In 2020 the University of Auckland released the Vaka Moana scholarship fund for Pasifika students from low socio-economic areas. Recipients receive funding for a full year’s stay in one of our catered halls of residence, and a laptop to support them with their studies.

In 2021 a survey was conducted to gauge the various perspectives of Pasifika Students living in Accommodation. Results show that although 91% of the students chose Accommodation for a better study environment, only 41% wanted to engage in any study related events and academic support, thus seeing a portion of students lose their scholarships by the end of semester one. It became evident that there was a need for Accommodation staff to increase engagement and support for our Pasifika residents by instilling cultural values and elements into their residential experience.

In early February, I was collaborating with staff from the Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific and Te Papa Manaaki (Campus Care) offices to discuss establishing a village of support for our Pasifika students in Accommodation. The concept of the ‘Village’ is common knowledge across the Pacific nations where the values of relationships, collectivism, service, respect, spirituality, family, and love are strongly upheld.

These discussions led to implementing a Study Fono initiative devoted to creating a consistent and dedicated study space in O’Rorke Hall with wrap around support from staff that instils a level of accountability and expectation for our students to succeed. All Pasifika students in Accommodation are strongly encouraged to attend a study session once a week and will be checked in regularly by the village support team to uplift and assist them as they progress on their academic journey.

On the 4th of April, staff, students, and families gathered at Waipārūrū Hall for the ‘Meet the Village’ event that celebrated the launch of our Pacific Study Fono program. The objective of the night was to introduce residents and staff to the Village Support Team as well as the program itself. Our MC, Student Support Advisor and UniBound’s favourite Uncle, Cameron Webster kicked off the night with formalities and an ice breaker game which was won by Waipārūrū Resident and Top Achiever Recipient, George Gray.

Your ancestors are right there beside you and you have an
army that are here to back you all the way. Achieving excellence and graduating
is the end game…. Your leadership, your excellence…you’re going to change

Dr. Jemaima Tiatia Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific, University of Auckland

We were honoured to have the Pro Vice-Chancellor Pacific, Dr. Jemaima Tiatia speak to our Pasifika residents, giving a heart-warming speech on the importance of academic success as well as Mental Health and Wellbeing. Speaking to the attendees, Dr. Tiatia stressed that “mental health and wellbeing are so fundamental to your journeys at this University… And in [hard] times you need to…lean on your support systems [that] the University offers.” Central to this initiative is the cultural and collective approach to learning and success. Dr. Tiatia reminded students that “Your ancestors are right there beside you and you have an army that are here to back you all the way. Achieving excellence and graduating is the end game…. Your leadership, your excellence…you’re going to change generations.”

The event proceeded to introduce the Accommodation Head of Operations, Tara Baker who talked about Accommodation’s Residential Experience framework ‘The Waka to Success’ and highlighted the various engagement opportunities in our halls. Manager of Student Conduct and Care Liz Hosking-Clement led us through the University’s standards and expectations and Campus Care Team Leader, Avi Nair followed up with a presentation on the expectations of the Study Fono.

As with every Pacific cultural proceeding, we closed the event with a prayer and blessing of the food catered by Accommodation’s Flame Tree Kitchen. A traditional supper consisting of Samoan chop suey and rice, curry, and potato salad, and custard pie for dessert left every plate clean and stomachs happy and full.

The Meet the Village event was a joyous occasion that celebrated not only the launch of the Study Fono, but the coming together in support of our Pasifika students living on campus at the University of Auckland.

I’d like to take this opportunity to honour and acknowledge our Village support team for their ongoing commitment, work and love for this project: Sili Mireta Ropati - Pacific Strategy Adviser | Cameron Webster - Student Support Adviser | Avi Nair - Campus Care Team Leader | Chanel Tafa, Bex Aliioaiga, and Meliana Ngata - Campus Care Case Managers

View some photos from the event!