“I Didn't Come to Play”: Pasifika Women in the Academy

“I Didn't Come to Play”: Pasifika Women in the Academy

Sereana Naepi (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3618-6.ch004


Pasifika women in the academy face many of the same challenges as other racialised women working in universities. At the intersection of race and gender, we experience the white and masculine imprints of higher education. These imprints lead to Pasifika women experiencing excess labour, infantilization, hyper-surveillance, stranger making, expectations of intelligibility, and desirable diversity. In spite of this daily onslaught Pasifika, women continue to work and engage in higher education and the question needs to be asked: Why? This chapter explores these experiences and more importantly the motivations of Pasifika women to continue to engage with higher education in spite of the systemic exclusion they face.
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Universities are places where Pasifika peoples have traditionally been excluded and are now underserved, but also places where Pasifika peoples wish to be included and successful within the system. Pasifika people want universities to be places “that embrace all learners, esteem all knowledges and serve all communities” (Naepi, 2019a, p.230). Unfortunately, for Pasifika women, universities in New Zealand have a long way to go in order to achieve this goal. The education systems in Aotearoa New Zealand have consistently and historically under-served Pasifika peoples and as such change is needed (Boon et al. 2017; Chu et al., 2013; Finau, 2008; Hunter et al. 2016; Kepa, 2011; Kidman & Chu, 2019; Leaupepe & Sauni, 2014; Mayeda et al., 2014; McDonald & Lipine, 2012; Naepi, 2019a; Porter-Samuels, 2013; Reynolds, 2016; Samu, 2006; Suaalii-Sauni, 2008; Teevale & Teu, 2018; Theodore et al. 2018). As someone who has experienced these spaces and places it became ever more urgent for me to talk to other Pasifika women about their experiences in universities. Initially the research presented in this chapter aimed to explore ways that Pasifika women engaged in change making at universities but it became clear during the process of the research that the Pasifika women wished to share why change was necessary.

This chapter presents Pasifika women’s experiences of higher education that were gathered using masi methodology, a Pacific research methodology which centres Pacific women’s voices in the research (Naepi, 2019b) and talanoa, a Pacific relational narrative enquiry research method developed from Pacific people’s oratory traditions. (Farrelly & Nabobo-Baba, 2014; Naepi, 2019c; Otunuku, 2011; Prescott, 2008; Stewart-Withers, Sewabu & Richardson, 2017; Suaalii-Sauni & Fulu-Aiolupotea, 2014; Vaioleti, 2006). Farrelly and Nabobo-Baba noted that within talanoa knowledge is “found at the nexus of shared knowledge-sensation-emotion” (2014, p. 328). Talanoa and masi methodology combined to enable powerful moments of relationship and understanding in the research process. It is emotional to speak of experiences of exclusion, the stories shared invoke shared sensations and, in that moment, new knowledge is created.

In total twenty-seven Pasifika women participated in the research and collectively represent 216 years of experience working in New Zealand universities. There were two phases to the research. The first was one on one talanoa and the second was community talanoa. This chapter will first outline some of the different ways in which women and racialized bodies experience universities before sharing the experiences of Pasifika women specifically. Then this chapter will explore why Pasifika women continue to engage in a system that actively works to exclude them. The talanoa are of strong Pasifika women who are making a difference in the institutions they work in. There is much to learn from their sharing about how racialized women not only experience but also respond to universities. It may be useful to engage in what Ahenakew (2016) termed sense-sensing instead of sense-making when reading and engaging with this chapter, after all it is through sense-sensing this knowledge was gained.

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