For the past six months, six University of Auckland students and I have been working steadily on a video project inspired by African American students at Harvard University who initiated the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign. Building off research I conducted in 2013 with three colleagues, our “I, too, am Auckland” project presents Māori and ethnically diverse Pacific students who offer their perspectives on dealing with everyday colonialism and racism on campus.
Though of neither Māori nor Pacific heritage myself, this project has been very personal for me, as I know it has been for our entire “I, too, am Auckland” team (pictured above), not only because of how much work we put into it, but also because our team holds a strong commitment to social justice. Additionally, this project has been special because it merges rigorous academic work with activism in a way that aligns with Māori and Pacific values — emphasizing oral traditions and privileging Māori and Pacific voices.
As our project attempts to demonstrate, Māori and Pacific students frequently face what Derald Sue and colleagues term racialized microaggressions and Philomena Essed terms everyday racism (for Māori students who are indigenous to Aotearoa, the term “everyday colonialism” applies). Students in the above video explain how microaggressions materialize in multiple forms and stem at least in part from Eurocentric curricula that too often presents Māori and Pacific content from a deficit standpoint. The ramifications of these microaggressions are hardly trivial, influencing some Māori and Pacific students to question their own abilities, and drop out. But as the interviewees also assert, they and many of their peers turn the racism they absorb and use it as a motivational factor, showcasing an unfair but powerful resilience.
In our second video, above, students detail how many of the on campus microaggressions are tied to “targeted admission schemes” that assist some Māori and Pacific students entry into select disciplines (many are admitted through general admission). However, this video also profiles three Māori academicians, who along with students, explain why these programs exist, accounting for historical and contemporary factors in society at large. As Dr. Elana Curtis rightfully points out, these “affirmative action” policies are actually forms of restorative justice.
Finally, we close our project with interviewees providing solutions for change, stressing that as an academic community, we can no longer ignore the significant consequences of everyday colonialism and racism, and that true change can only come if those who enjoy privilege support anti-racism movements. It cannot only be minorities who are burdened with fighting the fight.
So proud of the students and staff who bravely spoke up to address this matter, as well as our “I, too, am Auckland” team. Ku’e!
“I, too, am Auckland” Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/i2amAKLD