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Auckland Uni kicks out student over mental health

CONTENT WARNING: rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment

The Situation

An international student was expelled from Auckland University this summer, ostensibly over her deteriorating mental health. This student was studying a conjoint degree with the university and had two semesters to go before graduating. When she arrived in New Zealand at the age of 16, she alleges that she met an older man, with whom she developed a sexual relationship. She claims this man later threatened to publish her intimate photos. This was the ordeal that she says led her to develop a mental health condition, for which she sought treatment.

In July of 2016, an agreement was apparently drafted by Auckland University, which required this student to “promptly inform the university of any changes to the state of her mental health,” which it is understood that she signed, at the age of 17.

In October of 2019, this same student alleges she was raped by a patient in an Auckland mental health unit. This is currently under investigation by the NZ Police. It was after this alleged incident that the student, who had never failed a paper up until this point, began struggling with her grades.

In a rather shocking move, Auckland University responded by cancelling her enrolment. In a letter which has since been made public, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Adrienne Cleland, wrote, “It is clear that there has been a change to the state of your mental health leading up to these events, and you did not promptly inform the International Office about this change as you were required to do […]” The letter ends, “The University has cancelled your Student Agreement for your breach of enrolment conditions, thereby terminating your enrolment at the University.”

No longer enrolled in Auckland University, the student was informed by Immigration New Zealand that her visa was no longer valid and that she would be issued with a Deportation Liability Notice within five days. It is understood that this was delayed so that she could seek legal representation.

The Reaction

After this case became public knowledge, I spoke to an NZ mental health expert who wished to remain anonymous. They told me that incidents of sexual assault are not uncommon within Auckland mental health units, particularly between patients. They also said that there has long been advocacy for gendered wards and a strict separation of men and women within these centres. Furthermore, women and traditionally female-bodied patients often have lower capacity during periods of ill mental health and may not comprehend what they are consenting to (if they do in fact consent).

An Auckland University student I reached out to told me they were disgusted and ashamed to be affiliated with an institution that had acted so cruelly and without care toward one of its students.

“Auckland University is an organisation that rests on its laurels, they are aware that because they rank as one of New Zealand’s best, students will come to them regardless,” they said.

My Take

It defies comprehension that a university would require a mentally unwell student to "promptly inform the International Office of a change to the state of their mental health.” With an issue as deeply nuanced and broad as mental health, it’s unbelievable that such strict guidelines exist in the first place. Even more so when you add the context of sexual assault.

It is well understood that victims of sexual assault often suffer shame and denial, so far as to not report their experience to the authorities for a long time after the fact (if ever). Any institution that expects a student would take this opportunity to come to them, much less immediately come to them, to provide a mental health update, is fooling itself. Time and time again, Auckland Uni has shown itself to make the convenient choice in place of the right one. I sincerely hope they change.


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