Student Response to Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon
12TH APRIL 2019
STUDENT RESPONSE TO VICE-CHANCELLOR STUART MCCUTCHEON
Students are frustrated at the trivialising language of the Vice-Chancellor whose role is to ensure the safety of the university community. There is clear evidence that there is indeed a presence of white supremacist activity, and a number of students have experienced this very directly. We're looking for leadership and proper engagement from the Vice-Chancellor. His public statement was the first acknowledgement of our complaints that we have seen, and he has not approached any of us personally.
Part of what we are encountering is that time and time again, we are having to convince management that white supremacy is a significant problem. Again, our Vice-Chancellor is now proving to us that he is not equipped to understand that white supremacy constitutes a threat.
The Vice-Chancellor has said that university management is “acting quickly to ensure student and staff safety.” Each investigation underway is so far incomplete, and one of these we know was started almost one month ago. Management did not ensure our immediate safety. In fact they told us that they could not guarantee our safety. Furthermore, some examples of this racist activity dates back to 6 years ago, as we told RNZ, for which no disciplinary action was taken by the University. This constitutes a history of failings on the part of the University of Auckland.
Racist and white supremacist students have been allowed to remain on campus at the expense of others, who did not feel safe to work in the same spaces as them after having been harrassed. There has been evidence of increased activity and increasing confidence of two students in particular, but as the Christchurch mass murder illustrates, it can take only one person. There has been evidence that some of the individuals in question are affiliated with others who recently had weapons confiscated by the police.
This issue is not “confined to one faculty”. It affects all students University-wide. As you may be aware, there are currently over 600 signatures on a change.org petition called ‘Demand No Tolerance For Racism At The University of Auckland,” started by undergraduate students. It cannot be argued that this affects a small group of students.
The University of Auckland’s procedures are not transparent, and are totally unsatisfactory. Management have been unclear about the nature of these investigations and have not communicated adequately, or at all, to those affected by their decisions. In doing so they put our safety at risk. Furthermore, particular management roles are occupied by people with inadequate awareness about the dangerous nature of white supremacy and who lack digital literacy. Our safety is not guaranteed while those enacting these procedures occupy these positions.
Many students do not have confidence in the processes that the University has in place. It appears that management are more concerned with protecting institutional reputation while following a lethargic, overbearingly bureaucratic and uninformed process that protects the white supremacists in question - as opposed to addressing minority students’ concerns over immediate safety. When complaints were made, the students who made them felt hurt and humiliated. No real support or sensitivity was offered. Meetings with management leave students feeling let down by university officials who have failed to act swiftly with cases of discrimination, in spite of the University of Auckland’s branded posters located across campus which read, “zero-tolerance for discrimination.” In some cases, the proctor didn’t see complaints as sufficiently serious to bring to the University Disciplinary Committee.
The prolonged response by management is particularly appalling in the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks. Many of our most vulnerable students, including those who are no longer coming to classes because they are too scared, are not willing to come forward and make formal complaints. They do not feel confident that the University of Auckland can guarantee their safety, or even keep their complaints anonymous. This is especially troubling, given that some who have made complaints have been told that complaints cannot be made formal without putting forward their names.
The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand has reached out to support us. They request “urgent, decisive action on neo-Nazism at Auckland University”. We attach their press release in full below.
12 April 2019
Holocaust Centre of NZ Calls for Urgent, Decisive Action on Neo-Nazism at Auckland University
The Holocaust Centre of New Zealand urges Auckland University management to take decisive action now over the physical and psychological intimidation of students by a small group of neo-Nazis through the University’s campus. This type of action, hate speech and physical intimidation, has no place in New Zealand society. As our prime minister has committed herself to make New Zealand safer, in the wake of the Christchurch attack, we call on the University to do the same. The cancer of neo-Nazism needs to be excised by Auckland University management.
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”. - Elie Wiesel
We would have hoped that the Vice Chancellor would have first, reached out to the students to address our concerns rather than minimise what is a serious problem to the public. Secondly, we hoped that he would respond with the dignity and sensitivity in the way that the Holocaust Centre has.