Tag Archives: Diversity Week

What does diversity look like?

With the first ever UC Diversity Week just around the corner, we’ve been hearing from students about their experiences here at UC (to check out our previous posts, take a look here and here).

Diversity Week, 16-21 March, is a chance for the campus to come together and celebrate our diverse community but what happens when you can’t see that diversity at face value? How do we recognise an individual’s background and experience if we don’t know what it is? Hannah Livingston, 27, a second year student, talks about her experience.

Before I began studying at UC, I thought uni was a place for young, wealthy, smart kids. I thought of students who live in cold damp houses in Riccarton and live off noodles and cheap beer. If they do show up for lectures they’re hungover and scrolling through their Facebook feeds tagging (or untagging!) photos taken at yesterday’s BBQ on Ilam fields. This, I thought, was the typical student. And to look at me, you might think I fit this mould. I’m tall, blonde, have a decent fashion sense and I’m told, I don’t look my 27 years.

However, have a conversation with me and you’ll realise you judged this book by its cover. I went to a public school, I didn’t get University Entrance or even pass NCEA Level 3 and I grew up in Mairehau. I’m also the only person in both sides of my extended family to stay until the end Year 13 to eat my lunch, let alone contemplate ever becoming a university student when I’m ‘old’. I’ve spent years living abroad working for successful multi-national companies but at 25, I broke up with my boyfriend and moved back into my Mum’s house in Christchurch, where she does the groceries and even has double glazing. I treat University like it’s my job. I come in at 9am and stay till 4pm, regardless of the lecture times I have that day. I’m consistently focused on doing well because I have no option to fail. I have no option because on my way home, I pick up my 3 year old son.

I tell you this, because I think there is no typical student. My normal routine might be different to yours but at the end of the day we share the same lecture theatre. While my social circles may not revolve around one of the many clubs on campus, that doesn’t mean I do not participate in campus life. The gym, the library, the common areas and cafes are all places you could find me. Just because I might not look, speak or act the same as you doesn’t mean we won’t have anything in common (and for the record, I was also carving up the D-floor at Tea Party last year). One of the awesome things about UC is that we have a multicultural and colourful community and it is up to individuals to embrace that by having an open mind to meet and engage with people who don’t fit their own mould of ‘normal.’

I encourage you to have a conversation this week with someone whom you might otherwise not. Be it, the girl in the wheelchair in the library, the Asian guy in the student kitchens, the Muslim girl quietly waiting outside the lecture hall or the white kid you’ve already have labelled as a ‘typical’ student. After all, we are all UC.

Thanks Hannah! Let’s rise to that challenge. Look forward to seeing you at Diversity Week starting next Monday.

Diversity Week

UC Diversity Week – What it’s like being a UC student in a wheelchair

Kia ora everyone! With Diversity Week just around the corner we are hearing from students about who they are and how they experience our campus. Last week we heard from Josiah about why belonging is important.

Today, we hear from Imogen, about what it’s like being a UC student in a wheelchair.

Hi! I’m Imogen. I’m a 2nd year student who coincidentally has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to navigate campus, so finding a university that could accommodate my needs without hindering my experiences was vital for me. Considering course fees, hall costs as well as my wheelchair, I decided staying in Canterbury and living with my parents would be the most financial beneficial option, also let’s not forget the advantages of living with your parents! No cooking, cleaning or mandatory social niceties! But also from a mobility aspect Christchurch and the campus, is one of the flattest universities in New Zealand so it seemed the best choice.

Now I’m not looking for a pity party or that dreaded word inspirational. I get enough of that from complete strangers on the bus thank you! I personally don’t feel inspirational, or brave; quite the opposite actually, I’m just me and I get on with my life anyhow. Starting university, I was petrified like every other person at Orientation. But I had different issues to think about than others when deciding where to go to university. For example, is the campus mainly flat? If not are there accessible ramps and or lifts? Do the lecture theatres have space to accommodate wheelchairs whilst allowing the students to feel part of the discussion? Did the university have good emotional and physical support systems for those students in need? Thankfully at the University of Canterbury the answer to all these questions was YES!

The comfort and wellbeing of the student is at the forefront of the Disability Resource Service team’s mind when they gain more students. The members of the team were my first impression of the University and all I can say is WOW! Do they know how to welcome you! From help with academic workload and special examination conditions to safety procedures in the unlikely event of an earthquake, and giving private tours of the campus to point out all the wheelchair access points into all buildings around campus. To advice about appropriate clubs the Disabilities Resource Centre and their extremely capable team could not have helped me feel more comfortable with managing my disability and university work.

Okay I can hear you saying, “But really what’s the university like access-wise?”  I’m serious! The university itself is generally very accessible, and you have to take into consideration that the campus is currently under construction like most of the city. So there are obstacles everywhere but what place is all flat? There are lifts or ramps into every building and nearly all the lecture theatres are wheelchair accessible, unfortunately not all in the Engineering block are. Also most lecturers and tutors are accommodating when it comes to giving you slack if you’re late to class and helping sort out special assessment conditions.

When starting university I was terrified, my favourite mantra – “Suck it up, how old are you?!” – was used a lot in those first few weeks. This internal pep talk helped me to wheel outside my comfort zone. But through attending several orientation events (I may have been forced by a friend initially but you’ll have a ball once your there, honest) and joining clubs I’ve found great friends. Clubs are a great way to get information and get an overview of all the campus. My one objection is there’s NO UC FILM SOCIETY! What’s the world come to? Maybe I’ll start one, who knows…

Thanks for that advice Imogen! Look forward to seeing you at Diversity Week coming up on March 16th.

Diversity Week

UC Diversity Week – who needs to belong?

Kia ora guys! I’m getting really excited for UC Diversity Week which is coming up in a couple of weeks. The week is all about learning more about the huge diversity of culture and experience we have at UC and talking about ways we can become a more inclusive campus so that everyone feels they really do belong here.

As a warm up to the week, a few students have kindly agreed to share who they are and what they’re in to with this awesome blog over the next few weeks.

So first up, Josiah Tualamali’i, a second year Law, History and Political Science student, tells us a bit more about himself and why feeling like we belong is important…

Hi there my name is Josiah, and I am part Samoan and the student representative on the UC Pasifika Strategy Board and the Promotions Officer of the Samoan students association CUSSA. In these roles, I work with people who are key to ensuring academic, spiritual and pastoral support for Pacific students at UC but more importantly in making sure the university is a place that is empowering, accessible and breaks the barriers for Pacific students to attend and engage fully in all areas at UC.

I went to a conference in the summer on Te Tiriti o Waitangi. During a discussion on having a sense of belonging in Aotearoa one participant of Chinese and European descent said that even though she was born in New Zealand and has lived here all of her life she did not feel like Aotearoa was a place which accepted her. One of the people listening to this conversation tried to tell her that it was her fault that she feel like this saying, “well, it’s what you’ve made of it.” I jumped in here and replied that it is fault of society if someone did not feel that New Zealand was a place of belonging. He began to justify what he had being saying by telling her that she shouldn’t care what society thinks about her. I then said that is not easy and as people we have a desire to be accepted, loved and belong, so, not caring isn’t a solution!

I bring this story up to say that it is vital that all students, especially Pasifika, Māori, learners with special education needs and new students, feel like they belong here at UC, and are valued by our teaching and learning community. It is not good enough for those of us who are comfortable and safe in our friend groups to pass the buck and say it is someone else’s job to help them. A sense of belonging is something we collectively create or impede. If in the story above the group member who responded had instead said something to affirm or support the person in what was a deeply personal discussion, it is possible that this woman would have finally found a place where she felt safe and wanted to belong.

Thus it is crucial that we are people who actively try to comprehend differences between people and not dismiss them, we are after all an institution which is supposed to be the “critic and conscience of society.” Our campus could be the New Zealand leader of all tertiary institutions when it comes to being a campus of people who care about others and ensure together we all have a sense of belonging, but ultimately we all have to want to do it.”

Faafetai tele lava Josiah.

Look out for more Diversity Week information in the coming weeks!

Diversity Week