Pasifika people are Aotearoa’s fourth largest ethnic population, 66% of whom are born in Aotearoa and over 50% are under 25. This growing population has, and will continue to have, an increasing presence in tertiary institutions. Education for Pasifika people is a priority area of work for the Ministry of Education and the government, with a targeted focus on improving education outcomes for Pasifika people. The University of Otago is also committed to meeting the needs of Pasifika people through its Pacific Strategic Framework 2013-2020. While both the government and the University are striving to address inequities for Pasifika people, Otago Pasifika students still have to ask a dominantly Caucasian student population for a seat at the table.
Many Pasifika students move to Dunedin to pursue a tertiary education, and most Pasifika students are the first in their families to attend university. They come to Dunedin representing themselves, their families, their congregations, and their communities. They are the product of their parents, family and community’s hopes and dreams. Pasifika students hold a heavy weight on their shoulders just by being away from home, and are exposed to fewer opportunities due to limited access and resources. Pasifika-specific initiatives and spaces are therefore needed to ensure that Pasifika students receive equal and equitable opportunities and representation.
The University of Otago Pacific Islands Students’ Association (UOPISA) was established to raise the Pasifika student voice across the university, as well as provide culturally appropriate support for our Pasifika associations. The UOPISA President is the Pasifika student leader and representative, elected by Pasifika students, to speak on behalf of Pasifika students. This makes it fitting, and just, that the UOPISA President represents Pasifika students on the OUSA Executive. OUSA needs a Pasifika leader on their team in order to engage better with Pasifika students, and it’s about time we do something about it. This also gives OUSA, and the University, the appropriate representative who can speak on issues from a Pasifika student perspective.
Last October, the OUSA referendum included a question to establish a voting ex-officio executive role for the UOPISA president. A total of 81.5% of voters were in favour of this amendment. However, referendum quorum was not met (not enough people voted) in order for amendments to be passed. This Wednesday, 17 April, there is an opportunity to vote for this amendment at the OUSA SGM that was postponed from March. Last year’s referendum showed that there is strong support in favour of this question, yet we encourage attendance for the SGM to avoid issues like meeting quorum.
Overall, the OUSA Executive has lacked representation of Pasifika students and has done next to nothing for many years to try and change that. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pasifika students now seek a Pasifika-specific seat at the table.