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CLeaR Fellows 2018 – Helena Kaho

Pasifika ‘Success’ at Law School

Helena KahoHelena Kaho is a Lecturer and the Pasifika Academic Advisor in the Law Faculty. Having graduated from the University of Auckland in 2012 with a BA/LLB (Hons)LLM, she joined a generalist law firm in the Cook Islands before returning to New Zealand in 2015 to the Faculty of Law, as the first Pacific islander to hold an academic position at the faculty. She teaches in the core paper Law 121G Law and Society and two Pasifika elective papers, Law 453 Pacific People in Aotearoa: Legal peripheries and Law 428 South Pacific Legal Studies. Her research interests are legal pluralism in the South Pacific and issues affecting Pasifika people in the areas of youth justice, domestic violence and education.

“Pasifika ‘Success’ at Law School”

The aim of the research is to start to better understand Pacific law students’ views of success as a Pacific student and on maintaining a Pacific identity while studying law. My hope would be that the resulting information would assist in developing best practice in teaching and assessment and in supporting our students. To date, the Faculty of Law has fared relatively well in comparison with the rest of the University in terms of several measures of success – retention rates, pass rates, course and degree completions. But these categories provide a very narrow definition of success.

The use of academic achievement (as reflected in students’ GPAs) as the primary measure of success at law school means that Pacific students are often perceived in terms of deficit (for example, in terms of underrepresentation and underachievement). The wide range of complementary skills and qualities our Pacific students possess are invisible in this framework. For example, many have outstanding oratory skills developed through Church activities. Others exemplify strength of character and work ethic in battling structural and other obstacles to remain in law school while continuing to serve their family and community. For many, core Pacific values such as respect, service and community underlie a dedication to social justice and working with and for their respective communities. The research seeks to identify where these skills, values and experiences can be drawn on to enlarge ideas about success in the law school context and in legal practice and to encourage students’ positive experience of law school and practice as Pacific lawyers.