It is with deep regret that this morning I returned my Lecturer of the Year award for the College of Business and Law 2014. Before I tell you why I gave back this honour I want to assure you that these are my words and my words alone. I am writing this in my capacity as an academic who has the responsibility to be the critic and conscience of society. Unfortunately, the society in question is also where I work.
Now, to my reasons for returning my award. The University of Canterbury is a wonderful organisation and I have enjoyed my time here more than any other appointment I have had. I am supported in my teaching and research as well as have great friends here. However, there is an underbelly of hate that raises its head from time to time. My earliest experience of this came in my first semester of teaching at UoC when I was reading the anonymous feedback from students. In the section where it asked “what should be changed to improve the course” one student wrote “his ethnicity”. I’ve been brown all my life, so I’m used to racism. Whether it’s the ignorant throwaway comment or the overtly aggressive act, I’ve seen it and experienced it and I know one day my daughters will see it and experience it. This is why I’m taking a stand. Because I don’t want my girls to live in a world where hate exists and I know I’ve done nothing to try and stop it.
A few weeks ago the Engineering Society held the RoUndie 500. Participants of the event were encouraged to decorate their cars and come in costumes and that the more inappropriate these were, the better. This led to a series of costumes that were undeniably racist and sexist.
My race is not inappropriate. The gender of my daughters is equally not inappropriate. But for people to jump on these old chestnuts in order to cause offence just continues to highlight this ugly underbelly. This is offensive and inappropriate.
The University of Canterbury, to its credit, has taken the complaints to heart and come up with some swift actions. I am told that the Uni’s representative on the day censored the most offensive content before participants left campus. I’m glad this was done. But it does not address the fact that the organisers purposefully wanted to cause offence and be inappropriate.
What was missing from the final report was any apology from the organisers or participants or promise to not behave in this manner again. I will not deny that I’ve offended people in the past. I am often told I’m am the least PC lecturer students have had; however, I do not purposefully go out to offend and hurt people. If I do, I sincerely apologise and I change my behaviour to ensure I do not hurt someone again.
I am not confident that the UCSA’s response will ensure that the behaviour is not repeated. As a result, I have no proof that the UCSA has taken the matter seriously. With no apology and no guarantee of ensuring similar behaviour does not occur again I believe that racist and sexist behaviour will continue. Indeed, this is not the first time that the ENSOC has acted in an overtly racist manner and despite the UCSA’s actions after that matter (the use of blackface to promote a cafe) nothing has changed. This does not make for a safe and inclusive workplace for me.
It is for these reasons I cannot be associated with the organisation that gave me the award. If the UCSA is unwilling to take a strong stance against racist and sexist behaviour by students then I cannot be seen to benefit from them. As such, I returned my award along with $50 to cover the cost of the prizes I received. If you need more money to cover the costs, please let me know and I’ll give you more. I don’t want you to be out of pocket for my decision.
Some will tell me to harden up and learn to take a joke. Nothing seems that funny when you’re the target of divisiveness and hatred. It’s like the bully telling the victim “we were just having a laugh! It was all fun!”
Some will say that I don’t understand satire (a common argument used against those offended by the group’s actions). Satire can offend, but that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to ridicule and critique – being inappropriate and offensive is not, in my mind, being satirical.
Some will say that because I didn’t see it, then it doesn’t affect me. I didn’t see Malaysian Airline’s disasters, but my heart still breaks for those involved – to see images of the victims mocked by ENSOC is, in my mind, bad taste. I don’t have to physically see something to be affected by it – it’s simple empathy and decency.
I will lose favour with many for my actions – I know that. I may even be damaging my career. I may never win another teaching award. All of this is worth it to take a stand. As I said at the start of this piece, I can’t look at my daughters knowing I stood by and did nothing.
I want to thank all the students that voted for me for this year’s award. I hope my actions are not taken as a disrespect to the generosity you have shown me. If you voted for me and feel let down or betrayed, please do get in touch and I’ll happily sit with you and explain my actions in person.
I want to assure people that I am not represented by any society on campus nor have I been contacted by any member of any society.