Ten staff doctorates at Manawatū graduation

Source: Massey University


From top left: Stephanie Denne, Jeremy Hapeta, Katie Knapp, Naren Naren. From bottom left: Annette O’Sullivan, Paulé Ruwhiu, Kasuni Weeransinghe.

Ten staff were among the record 59 graduates to receive doctoral degrees at the three November graduation ceremonies in Palmerston North last Friday.

Stephanie Denne

Dr Denne, a lecturer in the School of Psychology, analysed accounts of violence at sites of domestic violence intervention, interrogating the ways men are ‘held to account’ for their violence within a Eurocentric and neoliberal knowledge economy. She found that targeted individualistic interventions reproduced fixed and inflexible identity categories of difference that were complicit with multiple and intersecting sociocultural conditions which enable violence against women and children.

Dr Stephanie Denne


Dr Denne says despite New Zealand’s history of progressive domestic violence legislation and policy,

the country’s increasingly institutionalised systems of response are struggling to reduce the alarmingly high rates of domestic violence in our communities. Therefore, how we currently understand and respond to domestic violence needs to change.

She advocates for a transformation in narratives of accountability, where the development of collaborative community partnerships can open reflexive spaces for ethical

Dr Jeremy Hapeta


Dr Jeremy Hapeta

Lecturer in Physical Education in the School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition, Dr Hapeta examined four inter-related case studies of how Māori culture was included within New Zealand rugby. His research utilised kaupapa Māori methodologies to scrutinise the past academic literature and marketing campaigns, present teams/programmes, and how these had impacted upon the wellbeing outcomes for those involved such as participants (players, coaches and administrators) and Māori.

The results from the cases studied concluded that respectful inclusion of Māori culture in rugby-related environments can provide spaces for enhanced wellbeing and encouraged a spirit of cultural inclusion. However, the research also suggested that when deciding whether to include elements of Māori culture into marketing or sport teams and programmes, the impact on Māori wellbeing should always be paramou


Dr Katie Knapp

Dr Knapp, a lecturer in the School of Psychology, explored the relationship between working memory capacity and task-switching to identify potential reasons for their lack of association. The results revealed that these tasks are related when more sensitive measures of task-switching are utilised.

These findings have important theoretical implications, suggesting that both tasks do measure attentional control. In addition, the findings highlight methodological challenges involved in using the task switching paradigm to index attentional control abilities.

Tasks used to measure working memory capacity and task switching are both thought to assess attentional control abilities. Given that they are purported to measure the same underlying cognitive construct, one would expect performance on these tasks to be related. However, preliminary research has failed to find such an association. These perplexing findings have important implications for theories of both task switching and working memory capacity, making it imperative to examine this relationship in more detail.

Dr Monica Koia

Research coordinator in the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori, Dr Koia examined the development and implementation of Māori cancer navigator’ roles, and the contribution these roles make to the patient/whānau cancer journey.

Using a kaupapa Māori methodology, the findings showed navigators are the only roles that provide continuous supportive care to patients/whanau throughout their entire cancer journey, ensuring they gain timely access to cancer care services.

Dr Koa argues that greater integration of Māori cancer navigators within cancer services will help address fragmentation in care and improve communication between health professionals themselves as well as with patients/whānau.

Dr Diane Muller

Dr Muller, a research Officer in the Sleep/Wake Research Centre, conducted a mixed methods study within the Moe Kura: Mother and Child, Sleep and Wellbeing in Aotearoa/New Zealand research programme.

She says ethnic and socioeconomic inequities exist in adult sleep in New Zealand, but little is known about the social patterning of children’s sleep.

Kaupapa Māori research principles, social determinants of health and socioecological theoretical lenses informed the study. Dr Muller investigated associations between ethnicity, socioeconomic position and sleep of 340 Māori and 570 non-Maori pre-schoolers using log-binomial regression models.

In addition, she interviewed 15 Māori and 16 non-Māori mothers from low and high socio-economic position and analysed data using thematic analysis.

Dr Muller’s findings revealed that ethnic and socio-economic inequities exist in pre-schoolers’ sleep health and social determinants of children’s sleep included institutional racism, material and financial resources, employment, housing, social support, early childhood education and health services. She says action is required to address the socio-political drivers of pre-schooler sleep inequities.

Dr Naren Naren


Dr Naren Naren

A research technician in the School of Natural and Computational Sciences, Dr Naren established the overall regulatory network for histidine utilisation in a plant growth-promoting bacterium Pseudomonas fluorescens. She articulated how carbon and nitrogen metabolisms are coordinated in the case of histidine utilisation to maximise bacterial fitness in nutrient-complex environments. Her research has integrated the current understanding of carbon regulation into the cellular nitrogen metabolism of bacteria.

As an amino acid, histidine is a good nutrient source for many bacteria. However, its use poses a significant challenge as it produces excess nitrogen over carbon. Carbon and nitrogen are two of the most important building blocks of all living organisms. It is crucial to coordinate cellular carbon and nitrogen metabolisms. Thus, the rate of histidine utilisation must be carefully regulated to maintain the cellular carbon/nitrogen balance.

Dr Annette O’Sullivan


Dr Annette O’Sullivan

Senior lecturer in the School of Design, Dr O’Sullivan selected historic sheep stations as sites for a material culture study of objects and their transformations over time. Through a framework of life stages of a designed object she constructed a colonial history of wool bale stencilling, a vernacular lettering history, histories of brand identity on New Zealand sheep stations, and a design history of visual identity derived from wool bale stencils, which have had a ubiquitous presence in New Zealand culture for more than 150 years.

They were the first export brands to represent the country, they became the visual identity in branding sheep stations and have been used in contemporary New Zealand design. Despite this, there has been little published on their history, use, meaning or significance in New Zealand culture.

The results confirmed the contribution of wool bale stencils as significant items of rural cultural heritage and preserves the memory of a disappearing history.

Dr Paulé Ruwhiu


Dr Paulé Ruwhiu

Dr Ruwhiu, a lecturer in the School of Social Work, explored the process of decolonisation and the experiences of the participants engaged in social work and social work education. It challenged three key areas of participation; education, practice and policy to ensure they were aligned and working in unison.

This study embraced a kaupapa Māori methodology and was a qualitative approach to three diverse groups in social work; Māori social work educators, Māori social workers and Māori social work students.

Decolonisation is a process that connects the past, present and future allowing the participant time to learn about their own historical truths in a facilitated and safe environment. Knowing who you are and where you come from is central to social work education.

Dr Kasuni Weeransinghe


Dr Kasuni Weeransinghe

An assistant lecturer in the School of Management, Dr Weerasinghe studied policy makers, planners, funders, implementers and clinicians across the New Zealand healthcare sector to understand their views on the use of big data and related technologies in health.

She found there was a shared understanding of the importance of data quality, the increasing challenges of privacy and security, and the importance of new types of data in measuring health outcomes. However, misalignment was observed in differing definitions of big data, as well as perceptions around data ownership, data sharing, use of patient-generated data and interoperability.

Dr Catherine Whitehouse

Dr Whitehouse, a professional clinician in the School of Psychology, investigated the relationship between emotional loneliness, social loneliness, social isolation, and cognition in adults 65 years and over. She found that emotional loneliness, but not social loneliness or social isolation, was associated with poorer cognition.

Older adults who were emotionally lonely but not socially isolated had poorer cognitive performance than those who were emotionally lonely and socially isolated.

Dr Whitehouse says the results highlight the need to assess older adults for loneliness and social isolation and the importance of close confidants for the older adult.

2019 Quote of the Year – vote now!

Source: Massey University


Four of this year’s finalists, clockwise from top left: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern; Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey; Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick; and All Black Jack Goodhue.


From heart-breaking responses to the Christchurch mosque shootings to the casual use of an internet meme in Parliament, 2019 has been a year of defining quotes produced by New Zealanders from politics, sport and criminal justice.

The 10 shortlisted finalists in Massey University’s annual Quote of the Year competition have been announced and the public now has one week to vote – please see the voting form below.

Massey University speech-writing specialist and competition organiser Dr Heather Kavan says many of this year’s shortlisted quotes were nominated multiple times.

“This year, the task of judging was relatively easy as several quotes were undeniably powerful and had been nominated by so many people that we knew they had public support,” she says.

“The main challenge was providing variety, as some people like deep and meaningful quotes while others like to scan the list for the one they find the funniest.”

Dr Kavan, one of three judges who selected the shortlist, says the the main theme in the nominations was the Christchurch terror attack, and three quotes were chosen for the final 10.

“Hello Brother”, the words uttered by shooting victim Haji-Daoud Nabi when he came face-to-face with the killer at the entrance of the Al Noor mosque, stood out for its emotional power, she says.

“The two men strike an extraordinary contrast – one vulnerable and kind-hearted, the other armed and about to commit crimes so brutal the Government Censor banned the footage. Mr Nabi welcomed the man, who replied with a volley of bullets. Many people commented on social media that they hope Mr Nabi’s words will be remembered.”

The other two quotes are “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken”, from Imam Gamal Fouda’s speech at the Hagley Park remembrance and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “They are us”. 

“The Prime Minister’s is the most well-known quote made in the aftermath of the attack,” Dr Kavan says. “As one of the nominators said, emotions were running high and she encapsulated what many people were feeling with three simple words. The quote became a rallying cry throughout New Zealand and reverberated throughout the world. Although some Muslims felt uncomfortable with the phrase as it seemed to deny their frequent experiences of racism, they acknowledged her good intentions.”

Competition organiser Dr Heather Kavan.


The internet meme in Parliament

The quote that received the most nominations was Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick’s dismissal of 51-year-old National MP Todd Muller’s interruption during her climate change speech in Parliament. Mr Muller is in fact Generation X not from the Baby Boom generation.   

“This year’s wild card is ‘Okay, boomer’,” Dr Kavan says. “On the one hand, the quote could score well as it’s had great publicity, even meriting a spot in Time magazine, and Parliament’s automated caption of ‘Berma’ instead of ‘Boomer’ was funny. On the other hand, people tire quickly of internet memes and some of the comeback lines were wittier than the actual quote.”

She says she has personal favourites but is interested to see how the public votes. 

“Like many others, I’d like to see ‘Hello Brother’ remembered. I’m also drawn by Ian Smith’s excited cricket commentary about going for a super over, mainly because his exuberance is contagious. Another quote I especially like is, ‘You can’t consent to murder’. Although it’s a plain statement of law uttered without the slightest rhetorical flourish, it was moving and thought-provoking, especially for those of us who empathised with Grace Millane and her family.” 

Dr Kavan began the annual Quote of the Year competition nine years ago as a way of celebrating New Zealanders’ best one-liners.  

2019 Quote of the Year finalists – vote below!

  • “Hello Brother.” – Shooting victim Haji-Daoud Nabi’s last words to the gunman at the Al Noor mosque entrance.
  •  “We are broken hearted, but we are not broken.” – Imam Gamal Fouda of Al Noor mosque after the Christchurch terrorist attacks. 
  •  “They are us.” – Jacinda Ardern speaking about Muslim victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack, in the aftermath of the killings.
  •  “I think the doves are rising up.” – Actor Lucy Lawless on the School Fight for Climate.
  • “He’s about as welcome as diarrhoea in a wetsuit in that place.” – Greenpeace’s Russell Norman on pro-coal Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attending the forum on climate change at Tuvalu.
  •  “There is scientific evidence that shows it makes me faster. It was done at Harvard, I think.” – All Black Jack Goodhue on why he is keeping his mullet haircut. 
  • “We’re going to a super over! You are kidding me! You are kidding me!” – Ian Smith’s exuberant commentary at the Cricket World Cup final. 
  •  “Just imagine if Colonel Sanders gave up the first time he wanted funding for his recipe. We would not have had that succulent chicken.” – Destiny Church’s Hannah Tamaki when asked how her new political party would raise funds.
  •  “You can’t consent to murder.” – Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey summing up the Grace Millane murder case.
  •  “Okay, boomer.” – Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick dismissing 51-year-old National MP Todd Muller’s interruption during her climate change speech in Parliament. 

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The journey to level 10 without one, two and three

Source: Massey University

Dr Jeremy Hapeta graduated with his doctorate in November.


PhD graduate Dr Jeremy Hapeta, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Huia, says he became a “brain surgeon” straight out of school – in the offal room of a Levin abattoir.

After leaving Manawatū College with no qualifications, he spent two years working there, but dreamt of a university education. He says the role taught him transferable skills that helped to shape his future – early start times at 5am and a strong work ethic. He demonstrated resilience to persevere through two unsuccessful attempts to attend university before turning 20, and was eventually accepted as a “second-chance” learner into the Bachelor of Education programme. 

Today, Dr Hapeta is a physical education lecturer at Massey University’s School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition. Over six years, part-time, he has worked towards his PhD investigating the inclusion of Māori culture when developing rugby team culture. He also explored the impact of these inclusive (or exclusionary) practices on wellbeing for rugby players, coaches and administrators.

A former professional rugby player in New Zealand, Japan, France and Italy, he looks back at his time at secondary school and wishes he had applied the same grit and determination to his studies as he did crafting his sport skills. He hopes his “non-traditional” pathway to gaining his PhD can inspire others to achieve academic success if they put their minds to it.

“It is the end of a long journey; it is extremely satisfying for me, my wife, our two children and wider whānau,” he says.

Dr Hapeta with his whānau at graduation in Manawatū.

“I wish I had made the connection earlier that everything I was doing in sport, those skills and tools, could be applied to my school work. But getting my PhD demonstrates that just because I skipped a few steps in terms of gaining high school qualifications, it does not necessarily mean the doors are closed to higher education.

“I didn’t receive the equivalent of NCEA level one, two or three, but here I am with level 10.”

Māori tradition in sport development

Dr Hapeta’s interest in his PhD topic began when he noticed Māori culture being increasingly incorporated into the development of sport teams. He was interested in the impact this was having on wellbeing for the people involved, both Māori and non-Māori.

His research led him to work with the Bay of Plenty Steamers, Taranaki Rugby’s Māori and Pasifika Rugby Academy (MPRA) and the New Zealand Māori U18s team, where he studied their approaches to cultural inclusion. The different ages and ethnicities of focus groups meant his research came from multiple perspectives.

He says, at times, he was surprised at the impact Māori traditions had for non-Māori players. For example, the Steamers undertook an exercise where the team had to research the various maunga within the Bay of Plenty region so they understood the geographic area they were representing.

“It quite literally grounded the players and gave them a sense of belonging. It was a really inclusive initiative that made people feel like they were a part of something much bigger.”

This process was not focused on performance-based outcomes, but the team’s leadership recognised the benefits of getting the off-the-field elements right.

“What stood out to me was their recognition of building solid foundations. They thought, ‘If we grow and nourish this side of the team and their connection to where they are playing, and allow it to flourish, some of the fruits this process will bear are strong outcomes.’ In one interview a coach even talked about being a better dad at home to his teenaged children”.

And their off-field pillars appear to have paid off on-field with this change in direction. The Bay of Plenty Steamers went from last placed in 2013 and 2014 to winning the Mitre 10 Championship in 2019 and gaining promotion to the Premiership for the 2020 season.

A traditional approach to research

Hapeta’s research utilised an approach known as pūrākau, or traditional narratives and storytelling, which acknowledges the past, present and future.

“In Te Ao Māori we walk ‘backwards’ into our future. We stare at our past, something that is known, as we walk towards the unknown future. This is what I would like to think my PhD contribution makes, it is about putting a pou or peg into the ground now so that we can progress and move forwards into a more culturally inclusive future. I hope the findings of my research might inform why and how Māori practices can be used to develop team culture.

He says working with the younger men who were part of the MPRA academy provided fascinating insights into their future aspirations, which were not centred around playing rugby professionally.

“What the academy was doing wasn’t about rugby, it was actually about life skills. Their second-chance learners weren’t treated like athletes, they were treated as people and rugby was the vehicle used to embed values into them like respect, forgiveness and work ethic. Many youth spoke of future aspirations like building their own home and furniture. One was returning to mainstream school so he could do his building apprenticeship, the majority of others exited into employment.”

Inspiring others to further their education 

Dr Hapeta hopes his story may inspire people of different ages and backgrounds and that his research will contribute to positive Māori stories.

“I’d like my research to reaffirm our cultural identity, increasing the mana of Māori and serve as a catalyst for other groups to recognise the value and potential that they could tap into.”

His advice for current students, or those considering studying but are hesitant to? Just do it.

“I hope in some small way I might provide an example that you don’t need to be a genius or rocket scientist to walk across the stage and get your degree, if I can do it, anyone can.

“And don’t be disheartened by setbacks. If I had listened to and accepted my first two rejection letters, I would not have applied a third time (lucky). It took me six years of part-time study to do this PhD. It was a struggle and didn’t come easily and that’s okay too.”

Ecentre to focus on students and staff

Source: Massey University


Ecentre board chairman and Massey University dean, enterprise Dr Gavin Clark 


Massey’s business incubator the ecentre is refocusing its activities to concentrate on supporting students and staff.

Ecentre board chairman and Massey University dean, enterprise Dr Gavin Clark says the Auckland-based ecentre will now lead entrepreneurial training and capability development across the University’s three campuses.

“The ecentre’s new mission puts it at the centre of the University’s ambitions for developing and growing student and staff enterprise,” Dr Clark says.

“We have made significant investments in our enterprise strategy this year, with new Student Enterprise Studios opening on all three campuses. The studios now provide a pan-campus network for the ecentre to engage larger numbers of students and faculty.”

“We are excited to inspire the entrepreneurial potential of students and staff from all disciplines. We have an important role to play in helping them to develop and validate their business ideas, including through to the establishment of start-up companies.”

The goal is to generate an “entrepreneurial insurgency” in the massey university student community that will feed into the resources and talents of the wider community and external enterprise ecosystem. 

The ecentre will be located in the university‘s on-campus student enterprise studios. 

Face time innovates online language learning

Source: Massey University


Professor Cynthia White with linguistics PhD students Dai Chujie and Huan Huang.


Learning another language can take years of commitment and effort amid our busy lives. A new online learning innovation pairing students face-to-face with native speakers is helping to speed up progress because it is tailored to the learner’s needs, lifestyle and level.

Linguistics expert and international authority on distance language learning, Professor Cynthia White, recently presented findings on the Synchronous Chinese Online Language Teaching (SCOLT) pilot project she is leading. The project is a partnership between Massey’s School of Humanities and the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU), and is part of a joint research centre in applied linguistics which launched two years ago. 

The concept is based on tutorials bringing together a trainee Chinese language teacher from BLCU and a Chinese language learner from Massey University in a series of one-to-one online language practice tutorials. Students and tutors reflect on the process after each of the tutorials. These reflections, as well as recordings of the sessions themselves, have become data for investigation in this under-researched area. 

The SCOLT method offers numerous advantages, says Professor White, who is also Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. It allows for personalised, recordable and flexible learning as sessions can be timed to suit the schedules of student and tutor. 

PhD student Huan Huang presenting her findings on the communication dynamics of one-to-one language tutoring.


Progress augmented by personalised approach

Other advantages of the one-on-one approach include increased confidence in language learners to speak and not be inhibited by others as they might in a classroom situation. They also receive targeted feedback to address specific areas they want to improve on, or are having difficulty with, and can replay recordings to review their progress, iron out mistakes and practice after the session. 

Professor White, who received Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Catalyst seeding funding to develop the project with BLCU, says students taking part in the trial particularly liked being able to speak with a native speaker of Chinese with the advantage being that; “the teacher can find the right level for the student.”

Another successful tool used in the trial was the use of photos to prompt natural conversation involving questions and the chance to learn new vocabulary. “It was clear from our focus groups that the photo prompt provides a lot of support for learning and leads to discussing other topics,” she says. The approach is both structured and natural, with the possibility of authentic conversation to flow as the rapport develops between tutor and learner. 

While there are many digital apps for language learning, the key issue is people’s willingness to learn and finding a way that suits their needs, says Professor White, who hopes the method will be adapted to other languages.

She was joined by doctoral students Dai Chujie and Huan Huang in a presentation to government and education sector professionals at the New Zealand China Friendship Society in Wellington last month. The students’ research is exploring aspects of the role of communication dynamics, such as verbal cues and responses, facial expressions and body language in online learning scenarios.

Professor Cynthia White with Ta’i Richard, from the Ministry of Pacific Peoples, at a fono (conference) in Auckland on language revitalisation.


Supporting languages of the Pacific

Professor White also recently presented at the the Lalanga Fou Languages and High Tech Fono in Auckland, hosted by the Ministry for Pacific Peoples. She spoke to Pacific communities and government representatives on her research into technology for language maintenance and revitalisation for indigenous languages.

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Spotlight on student research at sport conference

Source: Massey University


The conference explored the latest research across topics including high performance sport, medicine and rehabilitation.


Professor Narihiko of Kobe University in Japan was one of the keynote speakers.

How athletes can beat the heat in Tokyo to exploring the effects of a menstrual cycle phase on female rugby athletes’ physical performance and iron status, were among the research topics explored at the recent Sport and Exercise Science New Zealand Conference.

The annual conference was hosted at Massey University’s Manawatū campus and attended by more than 120 academics, researchers and students from around New Zealand and the world. They were also joined by trainers from the New Zealand Defence Force, Police and high-performance sports organisations.

Focusing on emerging research and showcasing the work and findings of students, topics included high performance sport, coaching, physiology, strength and conditioning, nutrition and metabolism and sports medicine and rehabilitation.

“It is so important to bring researchers and students together to share ideas, collaborate and inspire the sports scientists of the future,” says School of Sport, Exercise and Nutrition head of school Associate Professor Andy Foskett.

“We are proud to showcase our expertise, capabilities and capacity in sports exercise science through this conference and bring leading researchers from around the world to further attendees’ knowledge.”

Global perspectives

Chair of the Athletics Integrity Unit David Howman was the conference’s first keynote speaker.

Mr Howman, former director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, gave a global perspective of some of the major challenges threatening the integrity of sport, from doping to bribery and corruption, match fixing and more.

“These issues deplete the value of sport and we need to realise how these areas are being attacked internationally,” Mr Howman says.

“We have an opportunity as New Zealanders to lead in the area of sports integrity. We are known globally for our good reputation, for saying it how it is. We do not have an agenda and we as a country and people can play a leading role maintaining sport integrity, internationally.”

The following international keynote speakers were brought to the conference with support from conference sponsors.

  • David Howman CNZM chair of the Athletics Integrity Unit (IAAF)
  • Research Associate Professor Jason Lee Yong Loo Lin – School of Medicine, National University of Singapore
  • Professor Narihiko Kondo, Kobe University
  • Distinguished Professor Aaron Coutts, University of Technology Sydney
  • Dr Andy Cooke Bangor, University Wales

Thesis helps Army to improve the wellbeing of women officers

Source: Massey University


Former Army officer Dr Ellen Nelson.


When Dr Ellen Nelson left the New Zealand Army after a decade of service in 2013, she noticed she was not alone. Other women of similar rank and service time were leaving too. She thought it was an issue worth investigating.

Dr Nelson graduated with her doctorate from Massey University last week and, already, her findings are being discussed at a high level within the Army. After in-depth interviews with 20 ex-serving women officers who had left prior to 2019, her thesis concluded the organistion did not create good social wellbeing outcomes for those interviewed.

“The Chief of Army asked if he could read my thesis,” she says. “I’ve had a personal message from him saying he really wants to do something about it, which is great.

“When I started my thesis it wasn’t really a personal issue, but I now really want to do something with this data and help the Army to make things better for women.”

Chief of Army Major General John Boswell says, “For some years we’ve been working to ensure the Army attracts more women and improves their experience. Our women must be able to be themselves and feel safe, included and respected.

“We are proud of Ellen and her academic achievements, and appreciative that we can use her research to feed into our next major wave of work to improve the environment for our women.”

Dr Nelson’s recommendations

Dr Nelson’s thesis made a range of short, medium and long-term recommendations. These included broader representation of women in recruiting materials, safer channels for making complaints, a review of the masculine leadership approaches taught, introduction of a camouflage uniform designed to fit female figures and better integration back to physical activities following maternity leave.

“The Army started as an organisation of just men. In my opinion, while accommodations have been made since women have been allowed to join, my research suggests there is some way to go before women are always valued and welcomed ,” she says.

“That doesn’t mean the women I interviewed were miserable all the time, both the women and I felt there were lots of great things about the Army. I really did love my time in the Army overall, and so did the other women.

“But, unfortunately, my research showed there were also a lot of challenges and negative experiences for the women interviewed in terms of not being valued, experiencing harassment and discrimination and not even having uniforms that fit properly.”

A thesis born from personal experience

Dr Nelson says while some things could be be easily improved, the main change needed to come in the area of culture. When she looks back at her own time as a serving officer, she can see her feminine leadership style was not always valued by some of her managers.

“One time I was told by my boss, ‘You need to be a bit more stern with your soldiers.’ When I asked, ‘What do you mean, Sir?’, the most tangible thing he could tell me was, ‘Maybe just don’t smile as much.’

“Now I can laugh and think that’s ridiculous but, when I was serving, I took that on board and felt bad about myself. I thought I had to tone myself down. I think the implication was a smiling, bubbly woman officer is potentially being inappropriate with her male soldiers.”

Dr Nelson feels positive about the Army using her research to help make improvements for women.

“I would really love it if interviews were done with female Army officers in five years’ time and the majority of the issues identified in my thesis just didn’t come up.”

Refugee to Kiwi – PhD explores life beyond the welcome

Source: Massey University

Dr Natalie Slade, who graduated with a PhD in Development Studies for her research on representations of refugees in the media

Heart-wrenching images of desperate refugees may evoke empathy and compassion in host nations where those displaced by war and disaster re-settle. But new research reveals how the “refugee” label can interfere with the wish for a new life.

Dr Natalie Slade, who graduated last week with a PhD in Development Studies, turned her photojournalism background into a lens for understanding the way refugees are represented in the media and in advocacy campaigns, and how this can affect a sense of identity and belonging for resettled refugees.

She says the typical media portrayal of refugees as victims who are impoverished, desperate and suffering is part of their story, and is what arouses concern, sympathy and a willingness to help on the part of nations that resettle refugees. 

But there is a paradox at play, because these kinds of images can create stereotypes about refugees while reinforcing a self-congratulatory altruism on the part of the host country. This can make it difficult for former refugees to carve out a new life and identity beyond the association with the traumatic circumstances that brought them here. 

“Although discourses of solidarity and welcome stem from humanitarian concern, they also risk encouraging a regime of compassion and charity that speaks more about ourselves and how we feel,” she says.

Former refugees she spoke to say stereotypes produced by advocacy based on being victims can be stigmatising. “People [in host nations] seem surprised to learn they [refugees] are educated, had a good job and could afford to live well.”

She says that people who flee war and terror may be vulnerable, but this doesn’t mean they have nothing, or came from nothing. “The normal image of a refugee is someone who is poor and destitute. Therefore, if refugees are pictured with a smart phone, and they dress nicely, then somehow people think they’re not ‘real’ refugees or don’t deserve to be a refugee.

Dr Slade, whose thesis is titled: (De)constructing ‘refugeeness’: Exploring mediated discourses of solidarity, welcome and refugee (self)representation in New Zealand, says that while advocacy campaigns rely on public support, they can also simplify who refugees are.

The refugee crisis in Europe in 2015, and the New Zealand response to it, was the catalyst for Dr Slade’s doctoral research.


When are you no longer a refugee?

When a refugee arrives in the resettlement programme in New Zealand they are technically and legally no longer a refugee, and become permanent residents.

Former refugees she spoke to saw themselves as being New Zealanders. Not all felt the refugee label was negative while others rejected it because they felt it diminished them as a person. “It’s not so much a problem in terms of how they saw themselves, but how they think the New Zealand public sees them. 

Dr Slade’s interest in the topic was sparked by a particular photo viewed globally in 2015 – that of drowned toddler Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey after the boat he and his family were in capsized trying to reach Europe. “Although thousands of refugees had already lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean in search of safety, Alan’s photo evoked feelings of outrage and sadness, becoming the defining image of the so-called European refugee crisis,” she writes in her thesis. “Unlike other photos of the crisis, Alan’s photo created a groundswell of public support around the world for those seeking refuge.”

She was interested in the impact of this photo, from the citizens across Europe who mobilised into action under the banner of ‘Refugees Welcome’, to New Zealand where the 2015 refugee crisis sparked a media/public campaign urging the National government to raise the quota and welcome more refugees into New Zealand. Over 1000 refugees come to New Zealand annually through the United Nations Refugee Agency resettlement programme. In the past five years most have come from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Burma/Myanmar, Colombia, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Dr Slade suggests advocacy and humanitarian organisations work with refugees and former refugees to include diverse voices and experiences in campaigns and promotional material. And media can play a role by telling more diverse resettlement stories – not just the exceptional, high-achieving cases, she says. 

“We need to move beyond the benevolence of opening up our country and how good we are, towards this being about human rights and justice. We’re a relatively wealthy country and we have a part to play. We have responsibilities under international laws, we’ve signed up to treaties. We actually have a certain moral obligation to resettle some people where we can. It’s not about making us look good or feel good. It’s about justice.” 

Development studies detour

Dr Slade first enrolled in undergraduate papers in development studies by distance while she was working as a news photographer at the Dominion Post in Wellington. She became interested in social justice issues after a trip to Cambodia to photograph the work of a New Zealand-based education project, the Cambodia Charitable Trust, founded by Massey development studies graduate Denise Arnold. 

She loved the papers and went on to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Development Studies, then into her doctoral research. She now works as a research analyst for the Ministry of Social Development on poverty and inequality issues, evaluating support services for people in vulnerable and marginalised communities.

She says that while development studies tends to focus on overseas issues, Treasury’s introduction of the Living Standards Framework shows that “development happens in New Zealand as well”. 

Pioneering ex-mayor awarded honorary doctorate

Source: Massey University


Former Palmerston North mayor Jill White was awarded a Doctor of Literature for her advocacy on environmental, social and local history issues.


Former Palmerston North mayor and Manawatū MP Jill White has been awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of her advocacy for environmental issues and local heritage, and making a difference through local body politics.

Dr White, who has Bachelor of Arts (honours) and Master of Arts degrees from Massey, was awarded a Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences ceremony on Friday.

Massey historian Dr Geoff Watson says it is “highly appropriate that in 2019, which marks 100 years since women were granted the right to stand for Parliament, that Jill White be awarded an honorary doctorate in recognition of her pioneering political achievements and her advocacy on environmental, social and heritage issues.” 

Dr White made history as the first woman elected as MP for Manawatū, representing the Manawatū electorate between 1993 and 1996 and serving as a list MP between 1996 and 1998. In 1998, she successfully stood for Mayor of Palmerston North, becoming the city’s first female mayor and serving between 1998 and 2001. She also served as a city councillor for Palmerston North between 1983 and 1992; the Manawatū-Wanganui Regional Council between 1989 and 1994 and Horizons Regional Council between 2007 and 2013. 

Dr White’s deep interest in the environment was informed in part by her studies at Massey, where her master’s thesis focused on the relationship between Palmerston North and the Manawatū River. 

She has worked with many social organisations, including the Palmerston North Methodist Social Services, Age Concern and the Multi Ethnic Council. She has also made a significant contribution to local history and heritage – she is a longstanding member of the Palmerston North Heritage Trust, and has made a significant contribution to local history as a regular contributor to the Manawatū Journal of History and the preserving records and artefacts of St Paul’s Church on Broadway. 

“Jill’s career epitomises Massey University’s philosophy of lifelong learning and her contribution as a political pioneer for women and her extensive community service make her an eminently worthy candidate for an honorary doctorate,” Dr Watson says in his nomination.

Historian, Associate Professor Margaret Tennant, says in her supporting testimony that; “Jill has a more extensive experience of politics in its various forms, electoral and associational, than any other Manawatū woman I am aware of, and she remains a source of sound advice and a model of ethical behaviour to others with similar aspirations.

“During her term as Mayor, Jill placed considerable emphasis on strengthening the relationship between Massey University and the city. She also initiated a modernising of Palmerston North’s image and the redevelopment of the Square in its present form.”

Her background in science and interest in the environment came to the fore in her parliamentary career, in which she was Labour Spokesperson for Research Science and Technology; Environment and Biosecurity and Crown Institutes. Her expertise in this field was further recognised in 2000 she was appointed Chair of the Environmental Management Risk Authority 

Building on her background as a public health nurse and teacher, she has served on a wide range of community organisations including the Palmerston North Community Services Council; the District Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and National Council of Women. 

Gay men’s health and discrimination researcher awarded

Source: Massey University

Professor Michael Ross was awarded a Doctor of Science in recognition of his international career researching issues relating to gay men’s health and wellbeing.

Massey University alumnus and health psychologist Professor Michael Ross has been awarded a Doctor of Science for his lifetime of research into sexual risk behaviour and mental health in gay and bisexual men across cultures and continents.

Professor Ross, who is currently based in the Human Sexuality, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health programme at the University of Minnesota, enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in psychology at Massey nearly 50 years ago. He gained his BA (Hons) in 1974, dedicating his academic career from then to understanding the links between internalised homophobia, stigma, mental health and sexual risk-taking in sexual minorities – from the Americas to Africa, as well as Europe and Australia.

He’s published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and 12 books, with his initial work focused on stigma and adjustment in gay men, and subsequently on sexual risk behaviors for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 

Professor Ross, back in New Zealand to receive his degree based on a theses of recently published works, says his choice to work in this area early on was “certainly risky in terms of a future career.”

“I saw it as not a mental issue, but one of human rights and science previously based on poor research with only hospital samples. If we were describing heterosexuals based only on samples from mental hospitals, we’d get a pretty inaccurate idea of them too.”

As an undergraduate, he says there was “already a recognition that the earlier data were deeply flawed – 1973 marked the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of disorders.” 

“I knew at that point that I wanted to go on into academia – and psychology excited me. There were few areas where one could break new ground, and be part of a new direction in the study of human sexuality and human rights.

He graduated from Massey 12 years before the Homosexual Law Reform Bill was passed here in 1986 to decriminalize homosexuality. In 1973, he and two other men became the first to speak openly in the news media. They were interviewed for Radio New Zealand by host Lindsay Perigo. “We talked about being gay, about the issues of having to be hidden and stigma, and about law reform. It led to the slightly later 1973 Listener article, another first.”

Social stigma and mental health link in gay men

Professor Ross completed his PhD at University of Melbourne in 1979, and during the HIV epidemic of the 1980s, he explored the epidemiology of HIV and STIs in Australia, Sweden and Finland and the relationship of social stigma to mental health in gay men. 

His work included the development of methods for Internet studies of sexual minority populations, culminating in his work on internalized homophobia in a study of 180,000 gay and bisexual men in 35 countries and in 25 languages in Europe. This was extended to the epidemiology of HIV-related risk in injecting drug users in Australia, which paved the way into understanding the delivery of health services in prisons in the United States, and how the measurement of the prison social climate could predict health-related behaviors in inmates, staff health and safety in correctional environments. 

Over the past two decades, he published some of the first papers on gay and bisexual men and HIV and sexually-transmitted infections in East Africa, and the impact of stigma on health care and risk behavior in networks of gay and bisexual men. He is currently studying and evaluating the teaching of sexual history-taking and counseling in student nurses and midwives in Tanzania.

“Until the last decade, it was not recognized that there are significant gay and bisexual populations in large African cities, and that HIV risk in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the second wave of the epidemic, closely involves some key populations,” he says.

Light years and dark ages

Professor Ross, who has worked in medical schools or public health schools in universities since 1978, says that over the 50 years since he began his studies, attitudes towards homosexuality are “light years ahead in terms of social acceptance and knowledge, in most Western countries including New Zealand. But there are major parts of the world which are still in the dark ages in their conceptualization of, and discrimination against, sexual diversity.”

Despite being told by a senior psychologist back in 1974 that homosexuality was “not an appropriate topic”, for his psychology honours thesis, he says staff at Massey “strongly supported me and I did the thesis – which I believe was the first in New Zealand on the subject, and was published. I owe Massey for that support and academic freedom, which launched my career.”

He credits his New Zealand education as standing him in good stead for later scholarly success. “When I was at Cambridge University in the UK [where he earned a masters in Criminology and a Diploma in Applied Criminology in the early 2000s], I got to my first class and thought OMG, I am in here with the brightest people in the world! How am I going to make it? I later realised that I had the advantage of a superb education in New Zealand, from primary school to university, all in Palmerston North – Terrace End Primary, Ross Intermediate, Freyberg, then Massey. I was top or top-equal in my course at Cambridge. What better place [than Massey] to mark the “bookends” on my career of 50 years and nearly 600 publications?”

Professor Ross will be joined at graduation by friends and family including his cousin, Dr Kirsty Ross, a Senior Lecturer in psychology at the Manawatū campus. The degree of Doctor of Science is awarded for original contribution(s) of special excellence to knowledge in science. His thesis is titled: Health and Health Promotion and Applied Health Psychology in Stigmatized Sexual Minority Populations.