Pacific Academics - We Need More ASAP
by Lefaoali’i Dr Dion Enari
As I got promoted from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer last week, it made me not only celebrate, but stop, reflect, and think. Although I was happy for my own individual success, it made me look at the history of our people within academia, and why I’m here.
Historically, not too long ago, palagi researcher Margret Mead hit international fame from hijacking and raping the narratives of my homeland, Samoa. Her exploitation ran rampant, from speaking in media and conferences about Samoan people, without Samoan people present, to writing about us, as if she was some authority figure whose book would validate our existence to the rest of the world.
Worse yet, the mainstream education system would force us to see her as an expert and iconic genius on Samoan culture, even though it is only our people who have ancestral, blood and spiritual ties to the islands. Being a proud Samoan, who knows my genealogical links through to Tagaloa, you can see how this started to annoy me.
Growing up as a kid in the 90’s, I always wanted to do well in academia, to try and fight these colonial wrongs. Luckily for my generation and I, we had Samoans Maualaivao Emeritus Professor Albert Wendt and Misatauveve Associate Professor Melanie Anae who held academic positions.
For me, their existence in these spaces was not just a ‘nice to have’, but rather a strong political stance to the University, and our people, that we belong here. It showed me that we will no longer be research subjects, but the authors of our own narratives. What I loved most about them, and others like them was how unapologetically Samoan/Pacific they were.
You see, anyone could tell me I can be whatever I want to be. But it is not until you see one of your own hold these positions, that this message becomes more real.
Reflecting on where Pacific academia is today, I can’t help but be proud of how far we have come and acknowledge how far we have left to go. We have much to celebrate, from Toeolesulusulu Vice Chancellor Professor Damon Salesa steering the va’a at AUT (Auckland University of Technology) to Distinguished Professor Steven Ratuva at Canterbury. Seeing more Pacific academics being hired and
promoted to Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and full Professor has been a joy to witness.
However, make no mistake, we are still grossly underrepresented. Pacific still only make 1.7 percent of New Zealand’s academic workforce. This is why we need more of our people in these spaces ASAP. Another Pacific academic entering the system and climbing it, is another victory for our people. Remember, this is a numbers game, the more of our voices at the table, means a stronger Pacific presence throughout the academy. We all now have the power to shape academia and research, to do it our way which serves our people.
To my Pacific Aunties, Uncles, brothers, and sisters considering doing a PhD, please do it. We need you here, fighting this fight with us now, and for future generations to come.
Lefaoali’i Dr Dion Enari is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Sport and Recreation, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences at Auckland University of Technology. He holds a PhD in Samoan culture from Bond University, Gold Coast with a Master of International Relations from Griffith University. His Lefaoali’i (high talking Chief) title is from Lepa, Samoa. His research interests include Sport Management, Sport Leadership, Mental Health, Pacific language, Indigenous Studies, and Trans-nationalism.
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