Otago University to act with urgency over racism, discrimination, bullying reports

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Reports of systemic racism, discrimination and bullying at a University of Otago school have been acknowledged and accepted by its vice-chancellor, Professor David Murdoch, who says acting on it is an urgent priority.

An independent review into the culture at the school of physical education, sport and exercise sciences - Te Kura Para-Whakawai, came from a kaupapa Māori research group, which literally left the school's building to "maintain their mana".

The group's chair, Associate Professor Anne-Marie Jackson, says the review was not just to have one workplace be free of the three issues but everywhere else as well.

“We had, over a long period of time, multiple issues that occurred, that show through the review, to really acknowledge, then affirm and accept the issues that have been going on for many years. But they’re not just located within Otago. They’re, in fact, across everywhere, i roto i te ao katoa hoki.”

Huge relief

With the review acknowledged and accepted, it’s been a huge amount of relief.

“[It was also] just a sense of real sadness for what we had been experiencing but also what many of our colleagues and others around Aotearoa and the world are experiencing as well. And so for us, there was no sense of a celebration, and that’s still what we're in now, just a real sense of relief and sadness and now looking forward to what's next for us and others within our sector.”

Jackson sees Murdoch’s reaction to the review as "a very positive sign”.

“We’re the oldest university in New Zealand, and so I think it's a watershed moment for our university and really making that commitment that we don't want to have a university that experiences systemic racism.

“He's [Murdoch] just doing the right thing of accepting that and he, along with others, does not want an environment where systemic racism and racism exists. And certainly now what we're in, it is to align the korero with the mahi, so aligning the talk with the action.”