Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh has been infusing her department with a more ‘whanau’ atmosphere for Pasifika and Māori students for nearly a decade now. However, like many Pasifika staff she faces limits on how much she can create that open, accessible atmosphere, because her energy is taken up by so many other demands.
Marsh is poet and teacher of New Zealand and Pacific Literature at the University of Auckland. She is Samoan and Tuvaluan, and the only person of Pacific descent in her department.
Marsh went to TEU’s national Talanoa for Pasifika members last week.
“Being here has made me realise that there is a wider community out there – the union – with access to knowledge and it can put a structure around what I am going through and provide practical advice.”
Marsh has belonged to TEU since she started her job as lecturer, but the Talanoa was her first time at a TEU meeting.
“I believed in the idea of the union but had just been completely overwhelmed… and had been struggling alone.”
Marsh has been supporting Māori and Pacific PhD students throughout her career but she says this is happening in a context where there are more and more demands on academics, but finite resources.
“My fear is that the only moveable category is our relationship with our students, is our teaching. Students are paying more and more, and getting less and less.”
Like many other academics Marsh loves her job and the students she teaches but also faces challenges – particularly providing pastoral care and support to students for whom university study is a new and alien cultural environment. It is not obvious to students or staff where the targeted equity funding for Pacific students at universities goes.
“I went from being takeaway worker, to a babysitter, to MacDonald’s, to a lecturer at university; and I teach what I love. So I do have an immense sense of being grateful for where I am, and I am aware of the comparatively elite form of employment I enjoy compared to my family. So I’m thankful. I’m still trying to figure out how to negotiate that and demand what is fully, rightfully owing.”
Like other Pacific Islands staff members, Marsh says the pressure to be the Pacific representative can be time-consuming:
“You get a million things coming through the email, and it’s hard to distinguish between the ones that are really important for you as a Pasifika person and the ones that are just a general old demand for your presence as a Pasifika representative. What I personally need is more support as opposed to more invitations and requests.”