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Studying at Otago University no Riot

February 25th, 2009 by Matt

From 2002-06 I had the pleasure of studying at Otago University. I also taught there in various roles as a researcher, tutor and fill-in lecturer for the Theology, Philosophy and Law schools. Otago was an intellectually rigorous and stimulating place; it’s reputation for being the one of the best Universities in New Zealand and the best in my own fields of Philosophy and Theology is well deserved.

One thing I discovered first hand, however, was the darker side of the student culture, particularly from undergraduates. At Otago my wife and I dared speak out against some of the actions and stances promoted by the Otago University Students Association (OUSA). The reprisal was merciless.

At the time Madeleine was battling obesity (a medical condition she has since overcome having lost around 55kg), the student newspaper, Critic (a subsidiary company of OUSA), found a link to her weight-loss support site that showed progress-pictures of her weight-loss (despite her name never featuring on it) and encouraged students to visit the site and laugh at her. They published pictures of fat women eating hamburgers on their website and said it was her and regularly permitted comments about her allegedly stuffing her face to be published.

Critic also published false comments about my wife flashing her “bush” in public. It also published discussions of what it would be like to have sex with someone as “hideous” as her. She was repeatedly referred to as “middle-aged” and a “mother” in a derogatory manner.

Then came the obsession with her breasts; someone in Critic claimed falsely that Madeleine had accused a Labour MP of fondling her breasts. I informed them this was false, offered to show them what Madeleine had actually said (they had originally reported it almost accurately) but it was to no avail. They continued to run with the breast story, making reference to it several more times throughout the year, culminating in nominating her breasts for an end of year award and published false claims that she deliberately thrust her breasts in front of people.

When Critic nominated Madeleine as the New Zealander of the Year they cited, as one of the reasons, her success at managing “to distance herself … and her young daughters from [Graham Capill’s] penis.”

When, as a student, I formally complained about all this to the University I was told it was not their jurisdiction as the student newspaper was not part of the University. Complaints to OUSA were dismissed on the grounds that this was just good humour; something I was apparently lacking. Of course it all ceased to be funny when later the same year an issue of Critic was banned by the chief censor for its infamous date-rape article, an article in which the author laughed at and mocked the rape of women who are overweight and Christian. I found the coincidence rather eerie.

Towards the end of my study the infamous riots broke out on Castle Street. Critic defended the students claiming it was the police getting out of hand. When the University suggested a code of conduct for students, OUSA threatened legal action if anyone was expelled under it.

I remember discussing the issue with a crowd of students that I regularly met with in the Union building. The response I got from one was telling, when it was suggested that maybe some of the ridiculous drunken antics shouldn’t be tolerated, there was a gasp followed by: “what’s the point of being a student then?” My response of “maybe to study and get a degree” seemed fairly novel to my interlocutor.

Living in this environment all the time perhaps dulled my perception. However, when I graduated PhD in 2006 the way many locals saw things became apparent. I had no immediate employment and so had taken a night-shift job stacking shelves at the local 24 hour supermarket. On my first night, I was ridiculed by drunken students in the wee hours of the morning. Some students approached me (a complete stranger) in the store and mocked me for being “so thick” that I had to work at the supermarket. I was informed that if I was smart as them then I could go to Uni and get a degree but I was obviously too stupid to do this. My supervisor informed me this sort of thing was common and he regularly issued trespass notices to students for this sort of behaviour. I later witnessed one student and his girl friend try and take a joy-ride with a forklift. Another of the staff was indecently propositioned. I only worked there for a few weeks before coming to Auckland yet the management told me that this sort of thing was common from students.

I recall a conversation I struck up once with a local. He told me how the streets around the University used to look when he was younger. He went on to tell me how gradually residents moved further away from the University due to the behaviour of their student neighbours and how now the area was a dump. He wasn’t wrong about the latter claim, the student quarter featured fifthly flats, beer bottles and pizza boxes and other rubbish littered all over the place. His story appeared to be one many locals could tell. During Orientation Week the town became full of smart-arsed, disrespectful jerks who had no respect for anyone.

Given all of the above, I was not at all surprised to see the news about Otago’s annual toga party getting out of control. I was even less surprised to hear the OUSA President on tonight’s TV3 news trying to convince the country that the problems were mostly caused, not by students, but by passers by throwing objects at students. Please spare me. One angry resident stated “Why should we tolerate this here? I don’t think there would be anywhere that this would be tolerated.” I often wondered this myself when I was studying there too. Let’s hope we don’t see more Otago University TV commercials telling us to “get over it.”

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20 responses so far ↓

  • Holy cow you guys have taken some flak.

  • There is something of “don’t confuse me with the facts” about this as well: had they been confronted with happy and well-looked-after children in well-run schools where achievement was good, even if the curricula were narrower than elsewhere, it would have detracted from their harping on the schools’ “connections” somewhat.

  • I have noticed two main types of student at Massey.

    The ones that are after a degree and have a life plan. These are mainly female.

    The type that gets out of bed at midday and stagers into uni at 1 to loudly discuss how hammered they got last night and how they’re hard done by because they got a D on something. These are mainly male.

    We are judged entiely by second group.

  • Boy, you guys attracted your fair amount of abuse from the charming Otago students, who are evidence of human de-evolution in progress.

    So rather than take, the abuse – why not dish it out in return?

    I would have gone on the offensive, launching into the most scurrilous attacks on my detractors, posters, emails etc. Stuff taking the official line, play their game and see how they like it.

    Let’s face it – you guys are far too nice, an easy target for mongerers.

    By the way, my own son is at Canterbury studying Engineering (at my expense) and he refuses to join the notorious ENSOC, preferring to concentrate on his study and his girlfriend.

    So Varsity life depends on the company and profile on chooses.

    Cheers.

    Paul.

    PS: O.K I admit, I did find the bit on Capill amusing.

  • …because that’s what they want, Canterbury Atheist. Matt and Madeline were able to demonstrate that they were above these deplorably low tactics. Jesus didn’t say “you’ll be hated for following me” for no reason. CA, you’ll be interested to know that myself and some friends have just started up a pro-life group on the campus where your son is studying. With 40 members now signed up, I’m looking forward to a year of action and education on the issue of abortion. Yeah, Ensoc looks like a waste of time – good on him!

    Thanks for this post Matt, most interesting.

  • The abuse we took at Otago got as nasty as it did because unlike most on the receiving end it did not have its desired effect; we would not shut-up.

    There was more than just what Matt outlines here; they made up all sorts of slanderous things and then tried to smear us with them which was fairly effective as when people read something in print, even when it is a student mag, if it is detailed and appears full of facts many believe it.

    We have just had our second pre-orientation event and I have now lost count of how many people, people chosen by the University to speak or offer tours at the pre-orientation events, advocated skipping clases, getting drunk (including where and how to get free beer on campus), Sherry was even given condoms in her enrolment pack. It really makes you wonder why the university then gets all outraged when students act up when they help send the message that Uni is about partying and socialising.

  • Family Planning set up a stall nearby our pro-life club stall, and were kindly giving out condoms in little brown bags, along with other tax-payer-funded resources on how we should all be having safe sex, etc. Oh, and then there was their brilliant idea of having a “how many condoms in the jar?” competition.

    Huh, I thought it was supposed to be “clubs days” – and the Govt. run Family Planning association sure as heck doesn’t seem to me to be a student’s club.

  • At least I didn’t see FPA on campus today however we were told today regarding the condom handout, “we are sorry if any of you find this offensive, it is not meant to be, it is just the university’s way of sending a strong message.”

  • What was your involvement on campus Madeline?

    Heck, I’m by no means opposed to people handing out free condoms on campus. I don’t find it offensive. But what I do find offensive is the underlying message saying “hey guys, it’s good to get out there and sleep with as many of these hot first-years as you can, so here, have some of these”. And to the girls “hey, here’s some free condoms – good to keep in your purse, because you never know when you might need them…”

    Hahah, the University is sending a strong message by endorsing the handing out of condoms are they…? that is simply hilarious.

    Good insights there by the way Murray, amusing and pretty true.

  • I am studying Law again this year at Auckland Uni but today I went with Sherry to her pre-orientation.

    Last week we had the Maori students pre-enrolment to attend as Sherry is part-Maori. She had never been on a Marae before and it was her first official uni event (and she is only 16) so she wanted company as she was a bit nervy.

    The thing that annoys me about the condoms in the enrolment packs is that you don’t have any choice whether you receive them, your fees are funding their distribution and it is offensive to those who choose not to treat sex like its just another orientation week activity. I also do not like the assumption that all students are engaging in risky sexual practices (you don’t need condoms if you are not); there is an implicit expectation in that which suggests all students, or at least enough to justify pushing these on everyone, are sexually promiscuous.

    For those students choosing to be celibate or remain virgins, which is a difficult choice to maintain at times, this adds to the pressure they are under and the message from society there is something wrong with them for making that choice.

    University is about pursuing an education in the topics of your own choice and seeking a qualificaiton in them. I would prefer it if they stuck to that and did not try to step into the realm of morality and personal choices about sexuality.

  • Yes, I agree. I don’t know what was in the enrollment packs – but this was just a Family Planning stall where they were handing out free condoms and other junk.

  • What a sad but very true post. I dont know how you guys put up with that rubbish!!!!

    My 4 years at Christchurch Uni only reinforce many of the sad stories that you you have shared. Sadly though the reality that behaviour is rife in NZ and sadly it doesn’t start in our universities it starts in our high schools and from our families.

    One thing I could help but think as I read the post was how outraged the country would be if this same attitude, behaviour and culture came from some different race within New Zealand- Maori, Pi or Asian for example. From my experience most of this type of behaviour comes from ‘white middle class young people’ and for some reason it is deemed okay by the masses and media. SAD

  • It is true that families need to do more but then that raises the issue of the state’s erosion of the familiy’s ability to do more. I cannot object under the law to my 16 year old being handed a condom. I cannot tell her she has to live at home; if she doesn’t like the family rules she can leave and go live with whoever she wants. I cannot make her continue her studies if she does not want to. Thankfully we are managing on those fronts but no thanks to the state backing us up and I know plenty of other families who are struggling.

    I still think though that the Universities need to look at themselves – especially the sorts of things endorsed and promoted through the Orientation weeks; Otago even had one TV commercial where they showed students hiding stolen traffic cones in their flats, the message being all about the fun student life their students had.

    As for the attitude issue – the standards do not apply to Christians. It is ok to ridicule, denigrate and marginalise Christians in our society. Our former PM said so. TV programs constantly do it all sanctioned by state broadcasting. Sadly, it is not surprising to see the same thing on our campuses.

  • Andy mate, being nice didn’t help M & M, who clearly faced a deplorable level of abuse and provocation. Tuning the other cheek, did not help their cause. Sometimes one needs to fight fire with fire and I think it’s high time some of these louts got some of their own treatment.

    When you were observing the rival Family Planning stand on Campus you didn’t spot a sandy-haired teen grabbing handfuls of condoms, did ya? About 5ft 10” and with a green German football top?

    Saves me paying for them, since I’m paying for everything else in his life!

    Since you are a local expert in this field, I was wondering if 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage – by your estimation how many babies does God terminate each day?

    See ya.

    Paul.

  • Matt and I firmly argue our case and stridently defend our positions and did so at Otago. There are not many people we clash with who would describe such exchanges with us as “nice”.

    While it is true that we don’t intentionally abuse, threaten or slander people or go out of our way to upset or hurt anyone, we definately are not in the habit of sitting there like sweet, smiling doormats. Some would even go so far as to call us aggressive when we defend our case.

    The Bible does not teach us to turn the other cheek in every circumstance. When it says to turn the other cheek, the context refers to situations were people are being petty. In situations where people are acting beyond petty, where their attack is more serious, the Bible tells us it is perfectly ok to defend ourselves. The only reqirement is to make sure we do so lawfully, honestly and with integrity which I think is a smart tactic whether you are a Christian or not as anyone watching can then clearly see who is in the wrong and who is not.

  • I doubt Andy would have any more idea of the number of spontaneous abortions that occur each day than you or I would.

    What does it have to do with the price of fish anyway?

    Are you trying to say that God is a hypocrite for opposing abortion when he engages in it? Or do you mean that if God does it then it is ok for humans to do it?

    If you follow the logic through then what you are implying is that any cause of death God uses is ok for humans to use. Sure you want to go there?

  • G’day CA. Hah, there’s so many people wearing green German football tops these days, I wouldn’t know… 😉
    More seriously though, in response to your question about God “doing” terminations, if you wish to discuss the Christian God, you need to do so from an informed position. The Bible teaches that it was at the Fall of man that sin entered the World – sin is man’s fault, man’s responsibility. All death and suffering is the result of the fall, and cannot be blamed on God. Therefore, if we’re talking about the ratio of miscarriages in New Zealand, we recognise that while God is sovereign over everything, He does allow evil to occur.

    Good point there Madeline 😀

  • Excuse me whilst a turn-off all powers of lateral thinking.

    “Ahh that’s better” (begins speaking like a partly decommissioned Hal off 2001 A Space Odyssey) .

    So your crusade again abortion is ideologically driven, not based on the moral high-ground you love to lord over evil secular types (hey that’s me man!)

    You are happy to turn a blind-eye to X terminating pregnancies, but not Y.

    Me I see both X and Y as inexcusable (except in cases of rape, deformities) so I guess, when it comes to abortion, my own morals are above those that are taught in The Bible.

    There’s one for ya!

    My son also said there were so promo stands from all sorts of weird and wonderfuls at Orientation Day most of them neo-leftist radicals like ‘Free Palestine’ etc and apparently you couldn’t move at Canty Uni for theists touting their God, to naive first years. The shit-stirring prick got me a brochure for The Bahai Faith Group, so I guess they’ll let anyone start a group on Campus.

    Even ACT!

    God forbid!

    See ya.

    Paul.

  • When you turn off your brain I can see why your reasoning takes you there.

  • Seriously, I thought this crap died out here ten years ago.