Looking back on 20 years of AUT, we can be proud of being a university of ‘firsts’. We spoke to Rainbow Community Coordinator and Co-Chair of Out@AUT Jessie Lewthwaite about her role and why it matters, and look back at how we got our Rainbow Tick.
Jessie says the essence of her job is making sure Rainbow students at AUT are happy.
Her role is full-time Rainbow pastoral care for students across the Rainbow spectrum. Her office is next to the Rainbow Room, a safe space for the students, which is the first of its kind for New Zealand universities.
“We know that Rainbow is a high-risk area, and some of the students are already going through a lot of issues. So being able to have someone who is trained in the Rainbow area to be able to directly support them makes a difference for them.”
AUT was the first university in NZ to get a dedicated Rainbow support person, and the role came about after Rainbow students requested personalised, specialised support during their time at university.
The role was established by Audrey Hutcheson, Director, Student Health in their former student services role.
Joanna Scarborough, Group Director Student Services & Administration, said Audrey championed and delivered many of the shifts in how the University responds to Rainbow students.
“The development of the role was vitally important as many students at university desire to learn more about their identity and engage with others who are part of the community,” she said.
“During this time, differing levels of engagement can occur and the role seeks to provide advice, guidance and connection to both internal and external supports so students can thrive and achieve academic success. The role leads initiatives which enhance the University’s responses to pastoral care and physical environments supporting the goal to create great graduates.”
Since the establishment of the role, Joanna says there have been many positive outcomes. “We have seen improved engagement with our AUT Rainbow community, the development of gender-neutral bathrooms, transgender students supported with identity and name changes through formal academic processes, Rainbow cords for graduation and improved staff capability when supporting Rainbow students.”
Jessie says other universities are now following our lead and establishing similar roles, taking steps to value the diversity of their student body. “AUT is extremely Rainbow friendly and we definitely walk the talk,” she said.
Jessie says the highlight of the role, is her students. “The students make it all worth it. Being able to genuinely make an impact on their lives and improve them is fantastic.”
AUT first got the Rainbow tick in December 2014 – the first university to do so.
A team of enthusiastic staff from across the organisation – both the Rainbow community and allies - advocated for an application for Rainbow Tick status.
Staff were engaged in Rainbow Tick workshops, enabling open and honest conversations which explored any concerns or issues. This was the beginning of an ongoing development programme.
“Being awarded the Rainbow Tick sends a strong message that AUT welcomes and values the Rainbow community, particularly its staff and the diverse roles they fulfil in the University’s life,” said Manager: Business Intelligence Tim Davison, Co-Chair of Out@AUT at the time.
“From focus group feedback we know that the Rainbow Tick has also had a positive effect on students, with feedback being given by some staff that students had mentioned the Rainbow Tick as a reason for either making AUT their initial choice, or for staying on for postgraduate work,” Rainbow Tick said.