Racism rows rile university students

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 10:08 28/10/2014
Ekant Veer
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TAKING A STAND: Canterbury University associate professor Ekant Veer.

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The University of Canterbury's student association is increasing its focus on diversity amid a series of racism rows on campus.

University of Canterbury Students' Association (UCSA) president Sarah Platt said a new diversity portfolio will be created for an association executive and a diversity sub-committee will be created, including representatives of different campus groups and communities.

Platt said the changes were considered in May, long before the University of Canterbury was caught in a row over allegations of racism on campus.

Earlier this month, University of Canterbury academic Ekant Veer returned his lecturer of the year award in a stand against what he called an "underbelly of hate" and racism on campus.

And last month, participants in the Engineering Society's (Ensoc) RoUndie 500 event were told to choose themes "the more inappropriate the better", leading to cars and costumes that poked fun at women, Islam, Malaysia Airlines and the Ebola crisis.

Platt said UCSA was taking diversity seriously.

''I think it is a bigger issue than just Ekant giving back his lecturer of the year award. This is about making sure our whole campus is a place where everyone feels safe and that they belong.'' she said.

''This is an issue that needs to be taken really seriously and that is what we are looking at doing.''

But Platt disagreed with Veer's belief that there was an ''underbelly of hate'' on campus.

''I don't think racism is specific to the University of Canterbury. I think there is racism everywhere. I don't think our university has an underbelly of hatred. I don't think that is true at all.''

Veer said he did not know the details of the association plans, but welcomed change.

''Whatever happens there needs to be a conscious and forthright effort to ensure all students feel free from bigotry directed towards them as a result of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion or culture.  For me, this means education but also active change in behaviour - simply holding workshops or cultural events won't be enough. These issues need to be part of the entire fabric of our society if we are to stamp it out - it might be idealistic, but I'm happy to aim high.''

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