The University of Auckland clocktower

Open letter claims white supremacy and ‘climate of fear’ at University of Auckland

There is a ‘climate of fear’ and a rising white supremacist movement on campus, say a group of students at the University of Auckland. Don Rowe reports.

Students at the University of Auckland met last night to discuss what they say is a growing white supremacist movement on campus, and their concerns the university is dragging its feet when it comes to addressing complaints. The students, who we have agreed not to name, say threats of gassing and other acts of violence mean some students are too scared to attend lectures and tutorials, and several are considering dropping out.

Students say complaints about racist graffiti, physical intimidation and xenophobic comments both on and off campus have been downplayed by the proctors, and they are concerned it will take actual violence before anything is done.

A University of Auckland spokesperson told Newshub the first formal complaint it had received was on Thursday, and said the rise in reports of white supremacy are due to an ‘increased awareness’. But students says their complaints go back as far back as 2013, and groups like the European Students Club and Dominion Movement have effectively gone unchecked.

The students say they are ‘extremely fearful’ and believe tensions will continue to rise.

An open letter has been provided to The Spinoff which we republish below.

 

OPEN LETTER TO THE UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND: STOP ALLOWING WHITE SUPREMACY ON CAMPUS

The far right are on the rise at the University of Auckland and we must do something to stop them. We are a group of students at the University of Auckland who are extremely fearful of the presence of white supremacy in our spaces. Many of us are unable to attend class or use our workspaces because we are seriously concerned for our safety.

Recently, there has been a series of incidents of racial harassment at the University of Auckland. Several of these events have been covered by media outlets such as RNZ. These events include people being around campus with swastika tattoos, and people being in our study spaces who, in their own words, are ‘Nazis.’ Some of these people have known links to others who have had weapons confiscated by police in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attacks. The university is regularly plastered with stickers, posters, and graffiti containing white supremacist imagery and slogans. Many of us have stopped attending classes or coming to campus because of frequent racist outbursts from other students. In every incident that we are aware of, the perpetrators of racial harassment have been Pākehā men, and the victims have all been women. All of this has created a heavy climate of fear on campus, which is felt especially by the most vulnerable students among us.

The University of Auckland has consistently failed to address these issues and ensure student safety. In many cases, management has expressed a deep complicity with the harassers through its institutional indifference. The University of Auckland advertises a policy of ‘zero tolerance for discrimination,’ as well as supposedly guaranteeing a ‘safe, inclusive and equitable’ space. Management has recently told us that these principles are merely ‘aspirational.’ This position directly contradicts the University of Auckland’s official Equity Policy, which ensures a safe student learning environment.  

The University of Auckland has allowed white supremacy to breed on campus. This is a direct consequence of its inaction in response to formal complaints laid by students and staff over several years. In the United States, the Anti-Defamation League found that white supremacist recruitment at Universities spiked more than 200% in 2017. Following this global trend, white supremacists have been actively recruiting on our campuses, and they are in our classes. The University of Auckland is responsible for this.

The University has a responsibility to keep students and staff safe from white supremacy. We fear that white supremacists have been emboldened by the terrorist attack in Christchurch and if they are not faced with concrete consequences, our campus will be the next target.

The University of Auckland could instead choose to demonstrate moral courage by combating the spread of white supremacy in tertiary education worldwide. This would fulfill its legal obligation as the ‘critic and conscience of society’ (Education Act 1989). It must do this by combating the spread of white supremacy in tertiary education worldwide. We propose that the University of Auckland implement the following changes to combat the culture of rising white supremacy.

We demand that the University of Auckland:

Eliminate hate speech

The University must provide a definition of hate speech that explains why hate speech is a form of violence. It must provide and substantiate a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech on campus. While the University is a place where critical discussion should be nurtured, hate speech denies the voices of many people and should not be accepted. White supremacists symbols and imagery must be included in the University’s definition of hate speech. To supplement this, the University of Auckland must not host racist speakers at school-related events.

Implement formal training for new students and staff on Te Tiriti o Waitangi

The University of Auckland has a commitment to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. To make this more than lip-service, the University should implement a programme which will teach all students and staff about Te Tiriti and the history of the land on which the University sits.

The University of Auckland has an online course that is mandatory for all students to teach them the principles of academic conduct and integrity. A mandatory course of this nature should be implemented in regards to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The University of Auckland’s ‘Strategic Plan 2013-2020’ emphasises the University’s commitment to Te Tiriti, stating in Objective 11 that one of its key actions is to “develop and implement strategies to assist all staff and students to have a knowledge and understanding of The Treaty of Waitangi/Te Tiriti o Waitangi relevant to their disciplines.” Making a course like this mandatory would be an important step towards this goal.

Support staff to manage racism in the classroom

Currently, teaching staff are not formally trained around conflict resolution in class. This is especially important when tensions are high and conflicts are more likely to arise. A strategy must be implemented to deal with such conflict. Furthermore, staff need training on how groups of white supremacists operate so that they can pick up on the signs early.

When students are flagged as connected to the far right, teaching staff need to be aware so that they can keep themselves and their students safe. This is a health and safety issue for staff. As white supremacy grows on campus, staff need a training on how these groups operate and what steps to take when they are confronted with it in their classrooms.

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White supremacists are trained online in disguising and coding their everyday language, armed with phrases and strategies to avoid being held accountable. They know how to remain under the radar. We have experts who have completed their MA and PhD degrees in understanding facets of the alt-right movement, and we should leverage their expertise to conduct appropriate anti-racist training.

Conduct an internal review of racist course content

In many of our classes, we are taught content that centres European perspectives and histories, at the expense of all other forms of knowledge. This alienates non-Pākehā students and robs us of educational opportunities. We implore the academic disciplines at the University of Auckland to incorporate more non-Western ideas, theories and scholars to their curricula. Centring Western perspectives normalises Western ways of thinking as the only legitimate forms of knowledge. This offers fertile ground in which white supremacy can flourish.

We encourage the University of Auckland to take these demands seriously. We write these in the spirit of collaboration, and to help our University build a culture in which white supremacy has no place.


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