AUTSA's new President
AUTSA’s new president, Sisifa Lui, practically falls through the door to my office in a flurry of Subway packaging and sweet apologies for not having bought myself and the designer anything to eat.
She’s beaming beyond belief, seemingly far too excited to be in our funny little shoebox space and without a skerrick of concern about being interviewed.
Within minutes she’s in full swing, talking gleefully about her “crazy” campaign for the AUTSA presidency last year, alongside her friend Mariner Fagaiava-Muller, who’s now the vice-president of the association. She exudes positivity, even though at times the campaign must have been tough, all with their posters being ripped up and NZ Herald articles accusing the pair of various ghastly and unwarranted things.
“A lot of the time we did feel anger in terms of the response we were getting,” she says about the articles.
The pair ended up releasing a statement in the midst of all of the negative attention. Sisifa says for herself and Mariner, that period for them was all about being “kind, open and honest” about who they were.
I suspect it’s this authenticity that’s got them to where they are now; being positioned as two of AUT’s most influential students. I quickly discover that Sisifa is a real open book as she darts around from one memory to the next, touching briefly, but thoughtfully, on her upbringing in Tonga and a grandmother with whom she shares the same name and who I can tell means a great deal to her.
“I need to live up to my namesake, not so much as to shadow her, but to sort of walk in her footsteps, but to walk with my own two feet,” she tells me.
It’s not the first time I’ve spoken with Sisifa, in fact I met her at a Student Representative Council (SRC) meeting last year, where a vacancy had arisen for the Pasifika Affairs Officer role. She spoke passionately at this meeting, I can’t remember what about, but I recall that people listened and took note. I noticed that she listened to people too.
I wonder out loud to her whether she thinks a lot about the weight of the students she’s carrying in this role. After all, this is a university with 29,000 odd students, and she’ll have a seat at the table on the AUT Council, which is AUT’s governing body.
“I do have governance experience,” she tells me, “but not to the full extent that I should have because I didn’t receive proper training [for the AUTSA Governance Board], so I was still going into it quite clueless…I was scared and intimidated.
“It was more so knowing that I had a really valuable and significant position that I wasn’t exactly maximizing.”
I think this answers my question and in hindsight I suspect she probably does think about all of this a great deal.
She speaks pretty well about her upcoming position on the AUT Council, telling me it’s “sort of like an action point” for her, making it sound casual but I can tell she gets what she is there to achieve. Soon, she plans to “go out to the students and grab from them a collation of what they want me to achieve for them.”
I tell her I imagine it must be a nightmare trying to gather so much feedback from students and then having to report back to AUT, but she says she quite likes “meeting people face to face, rather than hearing from ear to ear.”
I ask her about the pressing issues that AUT students are facing and she launches into a spiel about campus culture, telling me “...other universities have this college sorority culture, I sort of want that but with more of an AUT feel,” she says.
I’m not sure I’m sold on this, but then it’s early days for Sisifa and her team may surprise us all with a renewed and gleaming student culture on campus. She says that “AUT has its own unique culture.” I nod, but I’m secretly not sure if either of us can pinpoint exactly what that is.
I don’t think she loves me poking around asking questions about if the SRC will all get along this year, but I persist, nonetheless. She admits that she can’t predict whether it will be a harmonious year for the council but does smile relatively confidently and tells me that she’s “not expecting airy fairy bubbles and joy.”
She says though that she would certainly like harmony and that she wants everyone to be “on the same board” and that she’s looking into organising some team building for the council.
As we wrap up our conversation, I ask her what her message is for her students. Almost out of nowhere she blurts out “Have fun!”, followed by a panicked “Oh my gosh that sounds like such a lame thing to say.”
It’s not a totally irrelevant sentiment though and if I was an AUT student I certainly wouldn’t think it to be lame if the student president told me university was about having fun.