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May 27, 2019 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Law School Lacking when it Comes to Māori Students

Following our earlier article on Māori law students, Salient obtained more data on the number of Māori across different levels of study at the law school. This new data, alongside discussions with students and faculty, suggest more could be done to support Māori law students.


The new information from VUW outlines that 13% of all law students in 2018 were Māori, as were 14% of undergrad law students, 7% of honours law students, and 5% of postgrad law students in courses provided by the Faculty of Law. This does not include PhD candidates.


Importantly, the data indicates a low retention rate of Māori law students moving from first-to second-year Law.


From 2009 to 2017, retention was negative. This means that the overall proportion of Māori students in cohorts was dropping moving from first- to second-year.


From 2010 to 2014, and in 2016, not only was retention negative, but it was worse than each of the  previous years. Retention for the cohort moving into second-year in 2010 dropped 1.46 percentage points; in 2014 the equivalent drop was 3.02 percentage points.


Salient talked to academics in the faculty and Ngā Rangahautira (NR), the Māori Law Students Association, to discuss the issue of Māori experiences at the law school.


The Māori Admission Process

The Māori Admission Process (MAP) is a separate entry system for Māori law students going from 100 to 200 level. 10% of the total seats are reserved for Māori students who apply for entry via MAP.


However, VUW says that last year, MAP received fewer than 20 applicants. They told ^Salient that many “Māori students who gain entry into second-year do so via the standard process.”


Māmari Stephens, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, spoke to ^Salient on the issue. “Quite often what we see with MAP is that Māori students who aren’t confident in their Māori identity, might not choose to come through the process.”


Aphiphany Forward-Taua, Tumuaki Wahine of NR, suggested that it may also be due to the misconception of MAP; that the process is only for students who do not get good enough grades, or that students who identify with their Māoritanga are the only ones that can go through MAP. This is not the case.


Barriers for Māori students

Stephens gestured to Pipitea campus as an example—“Where is the Māori iconography?” she asked.  “This building is an icon of colonial power structures. We walk the corridors of power that Pākehā men, mainly, built.”


Aphiphany Forward-Taua echoed this: “Our land was stolen off of us, and it was done so using Pākeha law, yet there is no acknowledgement of these grievances in the Old Government Buildings … all of the hara still permeates.”


According to Aphiphany, she and many of the Māori students today are the “only people in their family, wider whānau, hapū, and iwi with the courage to come to VUW law school,” especially because “it is the very building that the Treaty of Waitangi sat under, being eaten by rats and ignored by colonial lawmakers”.


She says that at law school, “you are learning to be a lawyer, the way that all lawyers have been taught for the last 100 years,” explaining that anything outside of the mold does not make the cut.


“They’re regimenting us [in the syllabus], to make sure that when we come out, we are shaped like squares or triangles… I’m trying my hardest to remain a star.”


”But it’s so difficult,” Aphiphany admits.


Suggestions for Improvements, Ignoring Them

Learning more critically about the Treaty of Waitangi was a “life-changing moment” for Aphiphany, as she “finally understood where all of the transgressions in [her] life had stemmed from,” encouraging her to wholly engage with her Māoritanga.


“Te Āo Māori is truly beautiful,” she believes.


Rhianna Morar, VUWSA’s Welfare Vice President, explained that “law school is an institution based on western legal systems and concepts… the reference to tikanga Māori concepts and the Treaty of Waitangi are taught from a colonising narrative, unless Carwyn Jones or Māmari Stephens are your lecturers.”


“We all do give a damn, however giving a damn is not always enough,” Stephens says. “We need structural and content-based change.”


In September of 2017, 150 law students were part of a student submission to the Faculty, addressing the culture of the law school. Recommendations included offering a more balanced Māori perspective on issues brought up in the syllabus, the “urgent” health matters of the student body, and also targeted Pasifika interventions.


The faculty has not responded, despite their deadline being March 2019.


The Importance of Having More Māori Faculty


Indiana Shewen, a VUW law graduate speaking at graduation this month, says that the guidance from Dr Carwyn Jones (Faculty of Law, Crown–Iwi relations) “is the reason why [she is] graduating with [her] law degree,” admitting that she “almost didn’t make it through the first year of her degree.”


The type of attitude that Jones and Stephens carry throughout the Faculty is “essential” to the success of the Māori law students, Aphiphany states; without them “we are lost”.


Rhianna Morar also says she and many others “would not survive law school without the support of Ngā Rangahautira and Pasifika Law Students’ Society. As well as our Māori and Pasifika Engagement Advisors, Izzy Wilson and Purcell Sali.”


However, Stephens believes the students are the biggest reason for their own success.


“Māori students bring a different life experience, a different whakaaro, different ways of seeing the world… [It] can kind of shock [the Faculty] out of our complacency.”


Stephens said she truly appreciates and welcomes them with aroha and appreciation, and hopes that others can do the same, rather than just “paying lip service”.


“Thank God for NR”, the Importance of Ngā Rangahautira

Aphiphany is extremely thankful for the committed space where tauira Māori can share their whakaaro, Māori perspectives, and where they feel empowered to be Māori.


Aphiphany elaborated, “a lot of our Pākehā colleagues come from life experiences and whakaaro where when they succeed, they succeed for themselves.”


Yet for Māori students, “Our mana is having integrity, making courageous decisions to make positive change for our whānau, hapū, iwi—and most importantly, to acknowledge the plight of our tīpuna… When Māori succeed, it isn’t an independent win, but a win for all Māori.”


In previous years, Māori law students created a student-led tikanga seminar series, inviting external speakers to fill in the gaps that they weren’t getting through the law degree programme.


The “amazing wealth of kōrero and knowledge Māori students have is worth acknowledging and really appreciating,” Stephens said.


This year, Aphiphany aims to collaborate on a “notes and advice bank” initiative, where senior students compile notes from their former years, passing them down to 100-level tauira, in order to better support Māori students to “get them over the line”; increasing both the statistics and the success of Māori law students.


Māmari Stephens, being very aware of the lack of Māori content in the programme, has recently gained funding to create a Māori and Pasifika source book, an easily accessible compilation of cases, concepts, and stories.


The aim, Stephens mentions, is to push the boundaries of staff, enabling them to gain confidence teaching Māori content that they may not be experienced in teaching.


Salient wishes to extend this research to our Pasifika law students, and to Māori and Pasifika experiences in other faculties. If you have any personal experiences, please contact


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