AUSA have released a report outlining the state of intolerance and discrimination on university grounds.
The report is the result of a special hui held earlier this month in the university’s marae. The hui – given the name ‘Zero Tolerance’ – asked students and staff to speak up about instances of discrimination they’d been subjected to during their time at university. A reaction to the perceived uptick of white supremacist rhetoric on campus, the hui’s ultimate goal was to establish the depth and breadth of the university’s problem. Around 70 students and staff attended, many of whom shared stories of bigotry, inequity, and intolerance.*
The report, released on AUSA’s Facebook page late last week, details a number of key problems students touched on during the meeting. They include (but are not limited to):
- The complaints procedure: Students and staff felt the university’s complaints programme was inadequate for a number of reasons.
- Firstly, as it stands, complainants must give their name when making a complaint. Some of those who spoke noted that the requirement dissuades students from speaking up, for fear of being ‘called out’.
- The report also notes that, once a complaint is made, the university has an “unfettered discretion” to decide whether or not to follow-through on it. This discretion means the university has the ability to turn a blind-eye to complaints where it is in the university’s interest to retain the status-quo.
- In addition, the report warns the complaints process is sometimes too slow and opaque for students liking.
- Finally, the report says the procedure focuses on punishing those identified to be offenders. AUSA says this focus on retribution – rather than rehabilitation and mediation – is ill-advised. Attitudes wouldn’t be changed by simply striking students from the roll – instead, the university needs to establish a process through which students can be educated on how to avoid repeating past mistakes.
- The university’s lack of a proactive approach to limiting discrimination: According to the report, students and staff felt as though the university had not done enough to ensure everyone knew their responsibilities on campus. Speakers wanted to see the university actively cultivate an environment which respects and encourages individuality.
- Student and staff training: Students and staff felt there wasn’t enough training on how to recognise and combat discrimination on campus. In particular, the report asks the university to focus on teaching staff and students how to spot discrimination, what to do when it happens, and to establish where/to whom it can be reported to.
The report finishes with a call to action. It asks the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon, to implement two recommendations:
- Recommendation One: The university establish a ‘Special Working Group on the Prevention of and Response to Discrimination at the University of Auckland’ (SWG). The SWG would sit alongside the Harassment Governance Group (a similar group set up to monitor harassment on campus grounds), and would be made up of a mixture of students (taken mostly from the AUSA executive) and staff members (which would include Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon as well as several Pro-Vice Chancellors). The SWG would be tasked with scrutinising the university’s current policies and procedures for potential problems, which would involve interviewing students, staff, and policy experts. Ultimately, the SWG would be expected to present the university with a list of more in-depth recommendations by the end of the year.
- Recommendation Two: The university issue a statement which publicly acknowledges there is no space for discrimination on university grounds.
Following the release of the report, Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon immediately took steps towards fulfilling recommendation two, telling AUSA “[the university] does not condone any form of discrimination”. He also indicated he would be happy to move forward with the SWG, so long as some time was set aside to consider how best to implement it.
Craccum is hopeful the lessons learned from the events of this year will induce a real and lasting change on campus.
*To maintain privacy of those who shared their experiences, Craccum has chosen not to publish any.