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AUT needs to improve its approach to cultural competency training, says student association

by Nic George (he/him)

chief reporter


Inconsistencies with AUT's approach to cultural competency training for staff were discussed after a student spoke out at a Student Representative Council meeting on March 17th.


An international student shared her experience with lecturers at AUT mispronouncing her name, even after being corrected multiple times, as well as asking her to change her display name in online classes to convey the English spelling.


She said these comments were offensive as she views her name as a key part of her identity, and being asked to change it for someone else's benefit was demeaning.


Council members discussed the underlying causes that could lead to these situations and collectively agreed there should be an expansion of cultural competency training for AUT staff.


Tom Vasey, Student Advocacy Team Leader for AUTSA, spoke to Debate about how the university could improve on this front, calling for more consistency.


"If the training is to be given, then I would expect that it is given in a standardised format to anyone that might be expected to engage with a student."


AUT says they have multiple programs for staff that address inclusivity and cultural sensitivity.


“All staff new to teaching are required to participate in AUT Essentials run by AltLAB. This covers the fundamentals of teaching which includes respect for the learner and inclusivity


“The Ki Uta Ki Tai - Student Success Plan includes an element of cultural capability in its broadest sense and has a proposed first initiative of the development of a professional programme to support the enhancement of staff cultural capabilities.”


The university is also introducing a new project this year that should be implemented heading into next year.


“There is a project starting this year to develop principles of good teaching at AUT – inclusivity and respect are fundamental principles of teaching.”


Vasey emphasised that this does not appear to be a widespread issue for students when looking at the complaints records.


"Of the complaints we deal with in AUTSA Advocacy, I would chance that this is one of the less common complaints."


However, he highlights how impactful this experience can be for students.


"Where such cases do occur, I would say that the effect is substantial [...] It is reductive and leaves students feeling like less of a person."


Vasey also points out that these reports are not a "definitive measure" of the student experience as there could be a sense of hesitancy around raising these types of complaints.


He lists a variety of reasons students may hold back from lodging a complaint against staff.


"Fear of reprisal, worry that they’re just overreacting, the workload giving them other things to worry about more imminently, or even just the feeling that AUT staff may not change their behaviour."


Vasey also cites a lack of awareness of AUTSA's services as a potential reason for students not raising these concerns.


"One of the most common things that we hear is that students didn’t know about our service, and I’m eager to change that.


"I would encourage those students to drop in and have a chat with us, just to get a second opinion, and we can go over the ways forward that may be available to you.


"We can escalate complaints and engage in discussions on your behalf if you need us to, keeping you from any potential backlash and giving you the peace of mind to continue with your studies."


If you are a student who has experienced culturally insensitive comments from AUT staff or other students, please email advocacy@autsa.org.nz or scan the below QR code:





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