'Tokenism' discouraging Māori, Pasifika tertiary students

Source: 1News

An AUT lecturer says Māori and Pasifika students are being discouraged by "tokenism" in universities and that fewer are pursuing academia as a result, leading to a less diverse research workforce.

"Tokenism is about being welcomed in, it's about being told that 'we want you to be here', but then once our Māori and Pasifika postgraduate science students are in place, there's no duties, no care, there's no mentorship, there's no support," Dr Leilani Walker told Breakfast.

"In fact sometimes, there's even what feels like use of our ethnicities and our identities in order to further other peoples' careers.

"What we've found is that not only have (Māori and Pasifika students) been socially isolated but sometimes actually, they've been used to diversify funding applications and sometimes against their will.

"This is an example of how their identities and their places within these universities are being used to benefit other people."

She said that this leads to fewer Māori and Pasifika academics, and that as a result, wider society misses out on having a diverse research workforce that can deal with complex issues - with the Covid-19 pandemic as an example.

"The potential ramifications are really widespread, basically."

Walker said she herself had experience of "being called in the eleventh hour to do the 'Māori bits' on an application and to kind of fulfil cultural roles".

"Which in and of itself for one person doesn't mean a great deal, but the importance about the research is that we see that there are these repeated experiences across all these different people and we can see that there are patterns emerging and that there are commonalities and so that's why this research is powerful.

"The few number of Māori / Pacific academics is an example of what the impacts are of these experiences".

Walker's group of researchers spoke to more than 40 Māori and Pasifika postgraduate science students about their experiences.