Ties between Equippers church and International Hub prompt a call for transparency.
by Nic George (he/him)
chief news reporter
Multiple students are calling for more transparency in AUT club advertisements to clarify their religious affiliations.
Two students told Debate they were approached by members of Equippers Church at International Hub events and asked to join.
International Hub is aimed at creating a safe space for international students who may be separated from their homes and culture.
An active member of the club, whom Debate has agreed not to name, says Equippers persistently attempt to recruit new members from the club.
"Every event I have been to has ended with a pitch from someone at Equippers, telling us ‘This is a faith-based group' and making a pitch for us to join the church".
They also noted many occasions where they were personally approached by church members at International Hub events and encouraged to join the church.
Cameron Churchill, a third-year law student, raised his concerns with AUT and AUTSA, regarding the church's involvement in the group.
Churchill believes all clubs need to be transparent about what transpires at their events.
"There needs to be some constitutional requirement from AUTSA to make sure clubs are open and honest about what they are doing."
He spoke to Stuff about Equippers hiring out the university's main lecture hall every Sunday and was concerned about the ‘homophobic’ ideas the church promoted.
Madz Couth, clubs leader for AUTSA, says she also received reports from students saying they were uncomfortable.
"I've received interesting communication as well, regarding students feeling ambushed by the 'faith-based space'."
Couth confirmed Equippers has played a big role in the formation and development of the International Hub, as the club started as AUT Equippers.
She says as the club grew, more international students from different backgrounds began joining, so the religious influence became less prevalent.
"Over time, faith became a secondary part of it.”
"Not one single person on the exec team is part of the Equippers Church. Their pastoral care person is a member, but isn't pushing that branding."
However, the active International Hub member says that faith is still prevalent and Equippers members make up a “vast majority” of the club population. They have attended recent events where they were encouraged to join.
"Even over the last few months, I have gone to a bunch of [International] Hub events and every time I go someone will start asking me if I have accepted God, and when will I start coming to Equippers.
"It's frustrating because I’ve said no so many times and they still keep asking me."
They explain that they have many friends within the club, so they don't want to stop going, but the persistence of the Equippers members has diminished their enthusiasm for attending events.
Another international student, whom Debate agreed not to name, attended one event in 2020, but decided against returning for future events after they witnessed Equippers members making their pitch at the end of the event.
They recognise the importance of the International Hub as it provides a space for those feeling disconnected from their home and culture.
"As an international student, you need a sense of belonging, a sense of community."
However, they believe it is important to clarify which groups are involved with the club events, so students don't feel surprised when they are confronted with groups they are not interested in.
"If you are doing it as part of the International Hub and not mentioning the Equippers affiliation, that is something I would not be happy about."
Debate reached out to the International Hub and Equippers, but they declined to comment.