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Ara tried to “divide and conquer” students who complained about safety, student claims


The New Zealand Broadcasting School is part of Ara Institute in Christchurch.

Joseph Johnson/Stuff/Stuff

The New Zealand Broadcasting School is part of Ara Institute in Christchurch.

Students at the New Zealand Broadcasting School are unhappy at how alleged assaults by a fellow student have been handled.

Stuff has spoken to students who signed a letter to Ara Institute of Canterbury, which runs the school. The letter alleges a male student “physically and verbally assaulted colleagues” and made “sexually and denigrating comments.”

The students have been told the accused student is being allowed to return to the programme after being absent.

“Are physical and verbal assaults, on students and staff, behaviour that meet the standard required of admission? And if so, does Ara also condone this behaviour?” the letter reads.

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Stuff understands the student has been charged and will reappear in the Christchurch District Court in June. He has name suppression.

Second year student Georgie Hanafin, one of those who signed the letter, said Ara staff then asked her to attend a meeting on her own. Hanafin and another student who was offered a one-on-one meeting both refused.

“We’re a class of students concerned for our wellbeing. If a student returns and the school isn’t prepared to listen to the students as a group, that’s concerning in itself.”

Broadcasting School student Georgie Hannafin.

CHRIS SKELTON/Stuff

Broadcasting School student Georgie Hannafin.

Hanafin said she was concerned the institute was attempting to “divide and conquer”, and that younger students attending meetings on their own might be intimidated into silence.

She said the New Zealand Broadcasting School and its staff had been supportive, but appeared unable to talk to students about the situation.

Ara’s executive director of its academic, innovation and research division, Glynnis Brook, denied staff at the school had been gagged, but said they had been “reminded” of privacy rules.

Brook said the institute now understood the students’ wish to be heard as a group and was “looking for an opportunity” to meet them.

She said Ara initially thought they would invite students individually, as some had “appeared quite distressed” by a meeting on Friday April 1, where they were told of the plan to reintegrate the student facing charges.

“We are really committed to hearing from them and we’re waiting for the right time.”

Hanafin told Stuff the April 1 meeting was called at short notice, and all students were required to attend whether they were on campus or not. At the meeting the students were given very little information and not offered a plan for their safety, she said.

“Ara waited until four weeks before this was going to happen to tell us, which did not give us any time to respond.”

Another student, who has had a diagnosis for trauma in the past, said she felt triggered by Friday’s meeting.

Students at the New Zealand Broadcasting School have written to the Ara Institute.

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF/Stuff

Students at the New Zealand Broadcasting School have written to the Ara Institute.

“They were basically saying he’s coming back, and you have to deal with it because everyone deserves a second chance. The tone they were taking was that if you don’t accept that, you’re a bad person.”

In response to questions from Stuff, Brook said there were privacy issues involved and that had made the meeting challenging.

“It’s a challenge when people want complete transparency. We want to understand why that meeting was received like that, [it] was not our intent. The challenge is that there’s a number of competing rights.”

Ara was formulating a health and safety plan for the students but wanted to wait for their input to implement it, Brooks said.

An external review of the culture at New Zealand Broadcasting School, prompted in part by concerns from students, was launched in September last year. Results of the review are expected within weeks.

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