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SEED projects 2018 – He vaka moana: Navigating Māori and Pasifika student success

I am who I am: enhancing teaching, learning and research success for Pacific students

Dr Melani AnaeDr Melani Anae (Faculty of Arts)

This project investigates influential factors contributing to Pacific students’ success (primarily a secured ethnic identity), and whether established support initiatives influence their success. It aimed to ascertain the nature of trends of teaching/learning and of equity programme patterns which support or constrain success. It called for strategies, changes to environments, teaching/learning communities and curricula that allow students to think, write about and act on their ethnic identities.

We surveyed a cohort of students on the course, ‘NZ-born Pacific Identities’, to discover their experiences of the course and their utilisation of Pacific support initiatives across the University. We conducted focussed life-story interviews which explored, firstly, understandings of success, ethnic and cultural experiences, family life, and schooling, during the first week of classes; secondly, their ‘identity journey essays’ (mid-course); and finally focus group interviews at the end of the course. The identity journey essay is a creative essay documenting the student’s ethnic identity journey or an episode of ‘realisation’ of a secured ethnic identity, based on their course learnings. It comes after a literature review of western and Pacific theories of ethnicity; analysis of the local/global ethnic identity journey of a published novelist, poet, rapper, musician, or playwright from an ethnic group other than their own; components on the Pacific diaspora in New Zealand, Pacific activism, and ethnic identity journey discourses of Pacific and other ethnic minority groups in New Zealand; and finally, the oral presentation of their identity journey essay, presented either individually or as a group, in the form of an oral presentation, song, poem, dance, play, rap, or video/short film.

Courses/pedagogies like these interrogate how individual success is understood, described, and explained by Pacific students themselves. Students in the final focus group interviews explained how the power of a secured ethnic identity provides them with a ‘sweet spot’ – grounding, a balance, new-found confidence, self-reflexivity, and a new self-respect with which to view and pursue success, their studies, and their University and life experiences.

Finally, the survey data highlights the absolute need to review and fine-tune existing fragmented Pacific student support initiatives and integrate them rather than offer more generic student support programmes. Rather than Faculty generic support, students prefer support systems from their community (department-based teachers, mentors and tutors) which attend to their academic and pastoral needs simultaneously. Similar findings were highlighted in a 20-year-old survey on Pacific support services on campus.