Enough is enough: Student protest against white supremacy
By Eloise Young
Auckland University students protested in the University quad on Tuesday to make a stand against the white supremacist stickers found around the University campus. The students arrived at ten that morning and planned on moving around campus to spread their message that this behaviour is unacceptable.
What sparked the students protest was Auckland University Vice-Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon’s comments around the raised issue. McCutcheon said the posters and stickers found around campus are “unfortunate”, but that it is not the University's responsibility to take them down.
The students protesting today expressed how angry they were at McCutcheon’s comments around the stickers. They felt the Vice-Chancellor was not enforcing the University's strict “zero-tolerance” against racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.”
Kowhai Paewhenua, the student who reached out to her followers on Instagram about protesting said she was angered by McCutchoen’s words and she felt the need to “speak up” about the ongoing issue. Paewhenua said that “if he [McCutcheon] isn’t willing to speak up about white supremacy being hate speech and not freedom of speech then he’s just going to support the fact that we could have mass shootings at this school. I’m not going to stand for that. We need equality and white supremacy is against all minorities.” Paewhenua said going forward people needed a shift in mindset. “What needs to change is their understanding that white supremacy, what they speak is hatred.”
Other students in the protest showed clear signs the protest was aimed at the Vice-Chancellor and that through their protest they were demanding change. One student commented that she wanted McCutcheon to “listen to us and accept that white supremacy exists at the University of Auckland.” Another student explained how she felt the University was not upholding its promise to students that discrimination of any kind is not acceptable. She said she wants “actual acknowledgement of the Zero-Tolerance Policy that we apparently have at this university. The fact that this has spread around the University but isn’t actually implemented in a way that actually protects its students needs to change.”
A student in the protest said that though she does not experience discrimination herself, she was there in support of those around her who are greatly affected by the posters and actions on campus. She said “I stand here today with my friends, my whānau in support of our Māori, Pasifika and other ethnic communities at the University who experience discrimination at this university every single day. It’s not ok and I won’t stand for it. The University isn’t doing anything about it and that makes me really mad.”
The protesters’ painted signs expressing the need for change and words of anger towards the University’s lack of action around the stickers and white supremacist existence on campus. One sign in particular stood out. This sign was painted by Rhoen Hemara and read “I will not attend a university that supports the harsh discrimination of my people.” Hemara explained that he has met many students and some staff members who disagree with academic systems which support Māori and Pasifika students. Hemara said “I definitely think there is a discrimination towards not just Māori and Pasifika but to many minorities.” Hemara believes this ongoing behaviour at the University has made a lot of students uncomfortable and made them not want to come to University due to fear of safety and the discrimination going around campus. “It reeks in this university how bad it is.” When asked what inspired him to protest Hemara said, “last night was just the last straw. When they released that article about McCutcheon essentially not taking action to remove any of those white supremacy propaganda was just not on.”
The protesters have made it very clear that the University's reluctance to take action is not acceptable. They believe the Zero-tolerance Policy has been completely ignored, leaving students feeling neglected and unprotected.
Photo by Sarah Thomson