Three generations of Samoan scholarship at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

The Latu family story started three generations ago when current Faculty of Law student Yasmina Latu’s grandparents met and married whilst students at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Yasmina and Brenda-Heather Latu
Yasmina and Brenda-Heather Latu

The Latu family story started three generations ago when current Faculty of Law student Yasmina Latu’s grandparents met and married whilst students at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Yasmina’s grandmother, Netina Galo, was one of the first Samoan scholarship students to attend the University, graduating with a Master of Arts with Honours in English in the early 1960’s. Yasmina’s grandfather, Fangufangumana Latu, was one of the first Tongan students at the University during the same years, later completing his Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland.

Netina, who is now 88 years old and living in Samoa, went on to become the first woman to hold the post of Registrar / CEO of the Samoan Land and Titles Court. She oversaw the first extensive review of the Land and Titles Court in 1977, first established under German rule in the 1860’s, which was a remarkable achievement for the 1970’s. She was also an Assessor with the same Court before her retirement. Her two sons and grandson are lawyers, as well as her daughter Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu—Yasmina’s mother.

Brenda first completed her LLB and BA degrees in 1985 at the University, eventually becoming the first woman to be appointed as Attorney General of Samoa in 1996, a constitutional post she held for nine and a half years after, she says, “I was extremely well trained at the Crown Law Office in Wellington from 1988-1996.”

Today, Brenda is a partner with her husband George Latu in Latu Lawyers, a firm based in Apia, Samoa. Brenda has very fond memories from her time at the University. She says, “My enduring memories are of the people I met along the way and the lifelong friends which I made at the University (some of whom my daughter has met) and the experience of learning in a place which you are fiercely proud of.

“There were exceptional teachers and positive and dynamic tutors, and even when you stumbled (and failed a paper or two), the Faculty was fully supportive and committed to ensuring you completed your degree.”

Brenda particularly recalls a lecture on International Law given by Professor Robert Quentin-Baxter, Professor Ken Keith and Professor Tony Angelo. She is understandably nostalgic seeing her daughter Yasmina 31 years later, studying a conjoint Commerce and Law degree.

One thing Brenda warned Yasmina about was the Socratic Method of teaching which the Law School is known for – this has stood the test of time. Brenda remembers, “The first taste of the Socratic method with Professor Lindsay McKay in Legal Systems on the first day of class in 1980, was a revelation, and a shock to the system. It was challenging and exhilarating in equal measure and heralded the end of any expectation that university would be like high school.”

This method is something Brenda warned her daughter about before making the move down to Wellington from the University of Auckland but Yasmina says, “Mum gave me fair warning about the Socratic Method. It is not as scary as it sounds!”

The support from the Faculty of Law towards Pasifika students seems to have resonated already with Yasmina, very much like it did with her mother, “One similarity from what Mum has told me about from her years at the University, is the amount of support. I have only been here for four weeks but have noticed and have come to appreciate the help available to us, like weekly tutorials, MPI tutorials, PASS groups and our Pasifika advisor.”

Brenda adds, “I have been impressed with the care taken with Pasifika, women and undergraduates in general at the University and applaud all that has been done to make university a less daunting and a more inviting option for all the community.”

The Faculty enjoys seeing an increase in the number of Pasifika students entering the halls of Old Government Buildings to study Law. The Faculty of Law has recently introduced a supplementary admissions process for Pasifika students in order to give yet more students an opportunity to progress into second year Law and to succeed with their Law degree.

Yasmina says, “As Pasifika people, we are very blessed that the University recognises and gives us these opportunities. I certainly hope it creates Law graduates that are more reflective of the social-makeup of Aotearoa.”