Students and University on one waka
Rhianna Morar (Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa) is a wahine Māori with a desire to see students and the University Council paddling the same waka.
“Students want to be studying at a world-class university, the best university in New Zealand, and the University wants to be that place. We are looking towards the same goals,” says Rhianna, reflecting on her new role as one of two elected student representatives on University Council, joining student Hugo Lawrence
Rhianna is the first of her whānau to attend university, and is studying an LLB (Hons)/BA/ majoring in Political Science and International Relations, with an interest in tikanga Māori and Treaty of Waitangi jurisprudence.
“I kind of fell into politics. I saw things around me that I wanted to change and had to work out how to do that. I was the Board of Trustees student representative at high school, and that opened the doors to what governance looked like at that level.
“I like thinking about things from a high level, at a strategic level. Once you get that high level direction going, then everything else falls into place and follows.”
Rhianna has been active within Ngā Rangahautira (the Māori Law Students Association) and the Feminist Law Society, as well as having represented students on the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Assocation (VUWSA) in a number of roles. Her role as VUWSA’s Academic Vice-President gave her an insight into writing submissions and being in meetings where she was the only student among professional and academic staff.
“One thing I admire about the University at an operational level is that they take students seriously. I’ve always felt treated as an equal colleague to the staff members I was working with.”
Social action is a particular interest for Rhianna, with a focus on human rights and the recognition of indigeneous students’ lived experiences. “I did a lot of social action through social studies at high school, and a lot of stuff with Amnesty International. When I got to University, VUWSA was that hub that embodied things I cared about like student welfare, the price of renting, holding the University to account and learning how to partner with them on things that are beneficial across the board.”
She believes that there is more to be done to ensure student consultation happens in a representative and widespread way, and suggests the pathway may be through a closer relationship between VUWSA and the University administration.
Rhianna wants to ensure that students’ experience of the University is one of a supportive environment, with a focus on student wellbeing.
“In first year you want to know you can go to Student Learning and be listened to, and here are these processes, and you’ll be treated with respect. You need to know that if you’re going through something and you need to get an aegrotat, that this is accessible. That there’s counselling available. That there are support networks in place, particularly for Māori, Pasifika and international students.”
She also wants to see more being made of valuable academic opportunities such as research assistant roles.
“I feel like being a research assistant and co-authoring chapters with academics, even just learning what their academic interests are outside of the classroom, has been hugely beneficial to me in terms of not only my studies, but helping me understand my own interests and what I’d like to do afterwards.”
Rhianna Morar began her two-year term in January 2020.