Why I returned my 2014 Lecturer of the Year (College of Business and Law) award

Returning my Award

Returning my Award

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.

Much love

Ekant

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.

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95 thoughts on “Why I returned my 2014 Lecturer of the Year (College of Business and Law) award

  1. Well done, Ekant. Racism is a poison that obstructs and drains society of achieving our true potential. In NZ, racism is an ugly underbelly that is mostly hidden unless the racists are empowered by others of the same ilk: always cowards. I display the following in my classroom:
    “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
    My experience in NZ is that every racial group seems to have plenty of members that hate everybody from any other racial group. Pakeha, Russian, Maori, Chinese, Indians etc., etc. They all contain lots of haters. People living in rural areas are the most intolerant and xenophobic NZ’s; isolation can easily cause people to be narrow minded due to lack of societal contact with other races.
    However, I believe most people are very tolerant and need to stand up to the racists without question or hesitancy, anytime and anywhere! They will always cower and run for cover!

  2. Thank you, I’m involved in running a couple of clubs and at the ‘training day’ this was brought up not as issues of racism an sexism but as “Ensoc vs Femsoc” as though the response was the issue. I can see how this might cost you and am impressed that you’ve done it anyway, must be part of why you won.

  3. Kia kaha, for your courage to take your position I too am arriving at that place to take a stand because I enable if I don`t. Leading by example is powerful. Thankyou. Kia ora e te Rangatira.

  4. I think that this is a step too far – it is as simple as viewing a glass half full, or half empty. Rather than focus on the negative comments and actions of a few, why not focus on the positives out of race relations in New Zealand (and indeed UC) compared to 20 years ago – we have come along way, and notably we still have further steps towards complete parity ahead. The idea that you takes offence due to the undie 500 being supportive of racism is ridiculous. I am assuming you are referring to the Taliban and Malaysian Airlines themed vehicles as being racist – these two themes should not be seen as an attack on race, they are black humor relating to a tragic accident (albeit bad taste) and a horrendous terrorist organisation. This is no different to criticizing the Mongrel Mob and saying that any criticism is racist towards Maori.

    I strongly hope you take on my comments on board, as I do not believe that racism is as strong at UC as you are suggesting. The underlying point is that there will always be people that do and say awful things, I believe that there is barely any difference between criticism about ones race as there would be about ones personal appearance (at UC). I challenge you to ask Jeremy Finn (Law Professor – sorry Jeremy) how many fat comments he gets a year – I can guarantee that he will get far more comments than you do about your race. It is unfortunate, however there will always be people that say and do inappropriate and awful things – to label it as a racism problem would be short sighted – as you would be missing the bigger picture.

    I am actually incredible disappointed in you as a professor at UC, you have been given this opportunity to expand people minds and maintain the solid reputation of UC. By your actions I believe that you have done the opposite, you have narrowed peoples minds bringing into discussion racism of past generations and in-bedding them as if they exist today as they once did in the past. You have also brought UC into disrepute as many people in the public reading this article would now view UC as a racist environment full of bigots.

    • I feel like you don’t understand this message? How many people have dressed up in fat suits this year? Oh right, none. There will always be people who do and say awful things. That’s why you need to take a stand against it.

      • Well I am not sure how many have this year – however when I did the Undie 500 a few years ago – I distinctly remember quite a few – in fact I was friends with a group of girls that all purchased fat suits for their theme.

        I disagree again with the point he is making as he is targeting UC (and NZ as a greater group) as being a haven for racism and sexism which is just not true. Yes, there are acts of racism and sexism, however these are delivered by the few and strongly condemned by the majority, like the case in most sects across NZ.

        So again my point is exactly what is he making a stand for? Is it simply that he wishes that we were all nicer to one another – I do know a single person who would not agree, however I do not believe that this is the point he is making at all. He is instead almost making a taboo of any comment relating to race or sex above any other offence that can be caused and inferring that UC is riffled with this behavior – which is just not true.

    • Why would you look to NZ 20 years ago Aaron? As a form of nostalgic longing – for what? ENSOC need to be held accountable for how they act. The government just gave the engineering department millions of dollars and yet the students that it teaches (and it is not all students) can’t even show common decency and empathy to other people, not least other people in their university. Is it, that they have become, and view themselves, as a privileged few? While the rest of the university struggles they have been given a major handout from the government and are told by the university than they are the most important discipline in the university. If this is the case, it seems to have created an “us” and “them” scenario, which in itself can only ever create discord. And what is the bigger picture here (an unfortunate metaphor after referring to another lecturer’s weight)? What do you mean by this? The bigger picture can only be the constantly recreated scenes of racism and sexism – what is bigger than this? And how can racism or for that matter sexism be a problem of the past when people experience it everyday? To suggest that ‘mocking’ an event such as the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that killed almost 300 people, similar to the Christchurch earthquake is black humour is itself offensive. If the ENSOC students decided (in “black humour” of course) to satirise the deaths of people from the CHCH earthquake, would you consider this inoffensive? How should, or would, the rest of Christchurch react? The behaviour of ENSOC is inexcusable, and to suggest that an academic who speaks out against it, is himself narrowing not only peoples minds but damaging the “solid reputation” of Canterbury University is itself missing the “bigger picture”. Well done Ekant for speaking out.

      • You misinterpreted the point of me raising 20 years- we have come along way in even a small space of 20 years in terms of racism and sexism, thus his points would have been very valid 20 years ago, however now they are not so relevant now – other than to damage UC’s reputation.

        You seem to go off on a tangent from the point I made that sexism and racism is not prevalent at UC – compared to any other real offence. A black humor themed vehicle regarding Malaysian airlines – is not racist – it maybe bad taste, however it is not delivered to be offensive to a race. At no point did I say that the theme may not have caused offence merely it was not racist.

        The bigger picture that I am referring to is that these people that would bully and say offence comments regarding race and sexism – would also make comments regarding other attributes such as weight, facial features, hair, fashion taste etc. I do not like the fact that Ekant singled out a racist comment he received and used it to demonstrate that UC has a racism problem – my point is that he is just not that special – I am sorry to tell him this but know one really cares if he is Indian!!! This idiot student would have been looking to cause offence and he took the lower hanging fruit of his race, I am sure if he had a big nose, or was over weight that would have also made the comments.

    • The fact that you felt the need to make this comment shows how much Ekant’s stand was needed. How long do people, not just minorities, have to wait before things are serious enough to take a stand? If this is just people with ‘bad taste’ and something to be ignored, what would you suggest is an act serious enough to cause an outrage? If there is no focus on those comments and actions of the ‘few’ there can be no hope of improving this community as a whole. You’re right New Zealand has come a long way in the last 20 years, why do you think that is? Because people ignored the seemingly ‘small’ acts of racism? In my opinion the equivalent of this act 20 years ago, is probably something like a Muslim, or a black man, or an independent woman getting physically and verbally abused. The reason that is not evident today is because people stopped standing for it. Black humour is making a few racist or sexist jokes when you are in the company of friends when everyone is aware that it is a joke. Being a large society in a university attaches you to a certain amount of responsibility. Like it or not, the society will always be in the public’s view, which means it is subject to criticism. This NEEDS to be taken into consideration when such acts are performed. You are right in saying there are always people who make inappropriate jokes and say inappropriate things, however when this is a collective group, with the university’s name affiliated with it, they can’t be so naive to think that it would be passed off as a joke. Picture yourself as someone who’s family is in the middle-east worrying day and night whether you are going to get to hear their voice the next day, and then finding out that your peers at university are making fun of the situation for a laugh. Tell me that you wouldn’t be offended or betrayed. This is a country that prides itself on having an accepting, diverse community yet this statement seems to be defied time and time again. Take it from someone who knows, moving to a different country to have a better life is hard enough without being made fun of. Add public humiliation of your culture along with that, how do you expect people to feel welcome after that? We are not just inhabitants of this country. This is our home too, yet a lot of us feel further away from home than ever before. You are worried about UC’s reputation? First be worried about how the students and staff INSIDE the university feel, before worrying about what it is perceived to be from the outside.

      • Hi Sree, I appreciate your comment above and admire you for making the steps to have a better life in NZ.

        Although I would like to make the following quick comments in response – nothing I have said would support the need for Ekant to make a stand – my comments were to bring into perspective Ekant’s view on the existence of sexism and racism in relation to other forms of offensive behavior.

        Again, as stated above my argument is not based on whether or not offence has been caused – it is based on the loosely applied term of racism and sexism as being a dominate theme at UC. I have clearly suggested that I doubt that it is any more prevalent than other avenues that could be used to cause offence – such as body shape, facial features, hair color and so on.

        You ask the question of what is an act serious enough to cause offence and thus outrage – well I am no expert – however surely there will be some form of middle ground between the Bill of Rights – Freedom of Speech and what constitutes offensive behavior under the Summary Offences Act.

        BORA – Freedom of Speech:
        “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form”.

        Summary Offences Act – Offensive Behavior:
        “In determining for the purposes of a prosecution under this section whether any words were indecent or obscene, the court shall have regard to all the circumstances pertaining at the material time, including whether the defendant had reasonable grounds for believing that the person to whom the words were addressed, or any person by whom they might be overheard, would not be offended.”

        I feel deeply sorry to hear that you have been a victim of racism – however I do not feel any further sorrow for the way that you have been treated than a girl with red hair and blotchy skin who has been bullied and traumatized because of her appearance.

      • Fiona – it is a pleasure to see you contributing in a positive manner, my comments were made in all sincerity as a point of discussion. I am personally a professional with a double degree, so your comment is ridiculous and shows your intellect!

    • Any form of racism is not acceptable. Yes I am certain that there is more of an understanding than compared to 20 years ago but this is not a high enough bar to set as a goal.

    • I understand what you are trying to say in terms of racism being in the same league as other negative stereotyping. However i disagree with the fact that it should affect the way racism should be treated. For now the majority of people seem to think that ENSOC’s act was just a joke, as it would have been, were they to have spray painted their hair red. But comparing people who wear fat suits and spray paint their hair red, with the likes of people taking the piss out of the Taliban, seems a little absurd to me. Do you think the reaction would have been different if the students were to have dressed up as the KKK, or Nazi sympathizers. I know that if that were to happen, the public outrage would have been on a whole other level. How is that not the same as making fun of the Taliban? Yes I agree with you that all forms of discrimination should be looked at and talked about. However ignoring one simply because other minor acts go on everyday is something i just don’t agree with. As for your comment about racism and sexism not being prevalent in UC, i can’t say i disagree with you, i have not been at the university long enough to know. Perhaps it is something that UCSA or even the executives at UC should look into. They may need to ask the staff and students what they think of not only this incident but discrimination as a whole.

      • Hi Sree – I agree with most of what you are saying – however I think the themes regarding Ensoc is a little bit of a grey area – as personally I do not see the themes as offensive – however determining what is offensive or not is such a subjective topic.

        The real question for Ensoc is whether they have gotten to a size and reputation that they can no longer participate in any events which could be viewed negatively upon the brand of Ensoc and or their sponsors? They maybe too big now and might have to just focus on the professional aspects of their society and have minimal social activities – I am not sure of the membership nowadays of Ensoc – however when I was a student a large portion of the members were not engineers rather students that wanted to be a member to partake in these types of social events like the Undie 500.

        If the answer to the above question is yes Ensoc is now too large to partake in these sorts of events, then I would a secondary society would likely be set up purely to host these types of social events.

        Regarding turning a blind eye to racism – I agree with you – I do not think that should happen at all. My point is that this stand made by Ekant incorrectly over represents sexism and racism at UC other offensive behavior.

        My stand in response to Ekant, is that I believe that we are at a good point in time with regards to discrimination of any form – the only way to further improve this is not to be negatively protesting about the few times that these events occur – rather we should be rejoicing at all the positive times of multiculturalism and gender equality.

    • Isn’t it amazing how easy it is to be tired of hearing from people who experience racism and to think they should be appreciative of the fact that it is ‘better now than it was once.’ I wonder how tired people who are part of those groups that are stereotyped and discriminated against get of waiting for racism, sexism and other forms of isms to be outmoded.

    • I don’t view UC as a racist environment but it clearly has bigots attending and working there. Nga mihi ki a koe e Ekant. Ka mau te wehi!

  5. Congratulations, I admire your integrity and as a New Zealand Pakeha find myself ashamed of the double talking gobbledygook that defends racist and sexist behaviour and keeps us stuck in those attitudes. I am sorry that you have felt forced to take such drastic action. Kia kaha.

  6. Pingback: A round up of RoUndie 500 comments UC ENSOC 2014 | str17

  7. EKant, I support your decision.

    After reading all the comments here, I still feel that we in NZ only talk about racism that is visible. We never talk about the subtle, often unconscious and involuntary, polite discrimination that happens on a daily basis. I lived in NZ for 12 years, met some amazing people and NZ gave me everything, but I could not understand this polite and subtle discrimination which I could never point out or blame someone for. I felt it was the worst kind of discrimination than the visible ones which I could fight against. I felt defenceless against this unique type of discrimination. When I spoke to people about it, I was made aware that I have been given this great opportunity to be in a developed country and I should be happy about it and stop complaining, which was another way of telling me that I was an outsider, someone different. But I have always considered myself a Kiwi, just like everyone else. Only difference was my skin colour and my English accent.

    • I agree with you. We in NZ pride ourselves on being very ‘polite’ and thus do not get challenged on our prejudices, instead we just isolate people. I remember once, being in a pub with a friend from England who was black and a pakeha man trying to pick me up. After we got rid of the interloper my friend said this often happened to him in New Zealand, as if he was invisible, or shouldn’t be dating a white woman, that it didn’t happen in England where peole might call him names but overtly so that they could be challenged.

    • He’s proberbly a White man who has never been subjected to racism before. 😜 Possibly single, as I couldn’t imagine any sane woman or man who could bare to stand a conversation with him.

      • I shouldn’t probably respond to you both, however I would just like to point out the double standard that you are both implying. You have both made an assumption that I am not foreign, and there for the fact that I am not foreign means I could never understand what racism is nor discuss it in relation to other forms of offensive actions. This point is ridiculous as it implies that only those within the group that has been victimized is in a position to comment – I can say that I have never been nor will have down-syndrome, however I hardly believe that this would exclude me from commenting on the discrimination that people in their group could experience.

        Yes I am actually foreign, I immigrated to NZ when I was 12. Furthermore – I received an immense amount of bully, for my first year in NZ at 3rd form as I was in boarding school and was teased and physically abused regularly by my peers, purely due to me being foreign and an easy target. As an outsider going into a new environment, you have to either break or adapt. Rather then submitting that I was an outsider and was always was going to be one – I joined in most of the sporting teams of my school and immersed myself in NZ culture – I even joined the Kapa Haka group. By fifth form, I believe that I was just one of the boys at school, but I still held on to my past values.

        To often people immigrate to NZ expecting all the positives that NZ has to offer, however are unwilling assimilate to NZ culture in any part. By this act they are isolating themselves and making them vulnerable to racist attacks, as they will be purely viewed as an outsider (I am not supportive of this reality but it is the case). Personally, I believe that mature people (over 20) that have experienced racism in NZ – it is because of two reasons – 1) they are associating with the wrong people that are intellectual morons, 2) They have a bland personality and can not relate in any form to their peers, for inclusion in any group there has to be some common ground to start with, if you do not learn to speak the language and fail to join groups outside your own ethnicity, you will fill Isolated and a victim of racism.

        Miss – you are a terrible person, I am actually married and have a very successful and strong wife. I wish you luck in finding happiness as I know people that have closed and over-dominate mindsets like you never really find happiness!

      • You say you’re foreign, Aaron, but the question was, what colour is your skin? Because if you are white, that is likely why you feel there is not much racism here – you won’t have experienced it. The fact is, Ekant has noticed this to the point where he is making a stand. That is laudable. It’s interesting to see you attempt to tell him why he is wrong, simply because you experience UC differently. Are you an engineering student or ex-student? Perhaps you’re more eager to defend your department than you realise.

        The 500 was pathetic, quite frankly. If we have to resort to racial stereotype to be funny, we must have pretty terrible senses of humour. Satire is supposed to poke fun at those with power, not those without. You’re defending them – you should ask yourself why. Why are you devaluing Ekant’s experiences by comparing them to your own? Why do you think mocking an airline disaster is high wit? Why is mockery of those of other races acceptable to you?

        For someone who rates his own education highly, you should perhaps rethink some of the lessons you’ve been taught, because you really aren’t coming across as an educated thinker.

  8. Pingback: Would I ever take my award back? | VeerOffTrack

  9. Pingback: Why I returned my 2014 Lecturer of the Year (College of Business and Law) award « The Turning Spiral

  10. I am not a student at UC, but have many friends who are/have been.. And I can tell you just from seeing the content on facebook from groups like ensoc that there is most definitely a culture of misogyny there that seems to be encouraged. I have had friends who have come out of their time at UC with a unhealthy casual disrespect to women that they did not have beforehand. This supposed “lad culture” I find offensive, but what is worse is that no one seems to be speaking out against it. Thank you for taking the time to write this. It’s not a good look for the university, and I find it troubling what attitudes are being instilled in these young people who then go on to proliferate it into wider society.

  11. We cannot pose any judgement to this man because the topic of racism is a grey scale in my opinion. No disrespect to those who oppose his decision and no disrespect to him. He was voted as lecturer of the year for a reason, and for him to believe to act upon this honour to get people to recognise the significance of this topic may be the only way to turn people’s heads. How do I know? In the last 5 years or so, NZ has become more accepting of other races in general as I born and bred in racist bullying. These days, it is hard to say who is wrong and who is right especially so many here may think they have the right to judge him but they don’t. Those who attended the roundie 500 thinks it is a bit of fun, will think he is causing a scene, those who have been bullied would understand why to him it is pride to be able to make a stand against those who hurt others for a bit of fun, maybe not intended to harm but did so nevertheless. Why doesn’t everyone just support him that he made a rational, peaceful stand in his own way instead of arguing the validity of his reasons? In all fairness how many times do you see a white person bullied for being white? ask yourself or a friend. I have had kids from high school yell at me from cars ” f**king asian, go back to your f**king country”, even when I was in primary school kids threw my lunch in the bins, and laughed at me for eating sushi, , this only appears normal now because thankfully times have changed. Obviously before there is the whole asian invasion thing of course which I actually totally agree on but that’s another story. My point is, he did his best to make his family proud. To me it makes him even more worthy of the award, because he is able to withstand criticism and still be able to face all people with the same manner and respect regardless of their opinion. If you were a victim or target of racism, what would you do? accept it is just life and let your family believe it is ok, take the award and say nothing? or if you are one silently laughing at his insolence, thinking he is a stuck-up no good professor, have you even been racially bullied or were you always on the other side of the bullying? I am not on any side nor want anyone to side with me or what I say, I just encourage people to think about it under a different skin and pair of eyes.

  12. Ekant – you are truly amazing.

    I am an alumna of UC and, while I had an amazing time there and met many wonderful people, I can say the University did have pervasive culture of racism, misogyny and homophobia. This was especially exemplified at my Hall of Residence, where especially sexist and homophobic humour was present every day. My Hall also exemplified that “laddish” culture – beer, rugby, stubbies and meaningless sex, and anyone who didn’t fit within the mould was “gay” – which was always used as a synonym for bad. Even for me, a staunchly pro-gay feminist from a young age, that culture became normal and commonplace – and it disgusts me how I shrugged it off and laughed along. That was over a decade ago, and it looks like things really have not changed.

    All I can say is a massive well done for standing against the status quo in this way. Things may be “better” than they were 20 years ago, but not enough people are speaking out against the more insidious acts of racism and sexism. We don’t like it when, say, a disabled Maori woman is refused a job, but “black humour” which makes fun of disenfranchised people occurs, we still laugh it off, call it a joke and say people should harden up. And, by not speaking up, we allow it to continue.

    As Robert F Kennedy said – “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one
    essential, vital, quality for those who seek to change a world which yields
    most painfully to change.” You, sir, have that moral courage. Keep fighting the good fight.

  13. Pingback: Simple people can make simple gestures that have massive effects | VeerOffTrack

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