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Award Winning Pacific Academic Doesn’t Shy Away From Hard Questions

Sereana Naepi

Award winning Pacific academic Sereana Naepi knows well that you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland recently presented the sociologist with a Research Impact Award for her work that seeks to address inequity and racism, experienced by Pacific people.

She co-authored Aotearoa, New Zealand’s first study on Māori and Pacific science researchers in 2020, showing universities as culturally unsafe learning environments. Her earlier 2019 study sought to understand why Pacific people made up only 3 percent of academic staff across Aotearoa. Touching on universal issues that many indigenous communities face, the research sparked a global conversation. To bring about meaningful change for Pacific people, the Fijian senior lecturer is a researcher prepared to ask the hard questions.

“My dad said to me after doing one of my breakfast interviews, if you keep doing that they will fire you.”

However, Naepi said the award was more than an acknowledgement of her work, it demonstrated that academic freedom was functioning. “It shows a mutual understanding, that things need to get better and my research can play a part in that process.”

She described the award ceremony as a huge moment, especially sharing it with other researchers whose work was being recognised. “Having my work recognised is always a big moment. I do the work I do because I want change, and I think that’s why a lot of people get into research, so getting to celebrate with others was a really nice feeling.”

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Naepi says her research is underpinned by the values of ‘service and change’ that will have a positive impact for family and Pacific communities.

“Pacific students will often reach out and say I used your work, or colleagues will say they used my work to advocate for more Pacific hires at their university etc. That’s the type of thing that makes me excited as it shows that the work can be used at a national and individual level for change.”

The mother of two said her unique Pacific perspective contributed to producing strong research.

“I think this is built into how we do Pacific research… that will make an impact for our communities and it can be really tangible things, like do we have enough Pacific academics? Or really Blue Sky, like what does it mean to be Pacific in the academy and how do our values shift when we work in these spaces? Both types of research have the capacity to impact our communities. It’s an incredible privilege to work in the university but it's my Pacific perspective that makes my research strong – it is the Pacific (and Māori!) women who have supported and nurtured my growth that has paved the way for me to do research like this.”

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