Meet Tamatha Paul, Victoria University's first wahine student president

For the first time in Victoria University's 122-year history, its student association will be led by a Māori female.

"It's an honour to be the first, but it's also a little bit sad that Victoria's been around since 1899 and we're only just now getting our first wahine Māori president," 2019 VUWSA president Tamatha Paul told The Hui.

"I think about all the very capable Māori women that I know that have come through this university, but I'm really happy - better like, now than never, I suppose."

Tamatha Paul, 21, from Tokoroa, is committed to tackling issues such as the university's sexual violence policies, rent rises for students and better access to mental health services for students. The former dux of Tokoroa High School sees her historic appointment an important one for Māori.

"There's so many ways that the educational structure disadvantages Māori, and there's so many people like myself that are willing to make it less so."

Tamatha is excited to lead a new executive team next year - one that better reflects its 22,000 student members.

"It's definitely the most diverse group of students that we've ever had - it's 70 percent people of colour, and I think that's a real strong point for us. I'm just buzzing with ideas how we can bring it all together, how we can all work together."

As well as being a role model for other rangatahi, helping the community in her hometown of Tokoroa is her main motivation for pursuing a tertiary education - and Tamatha is the first in her whanau to go to university.

"I always thought to myself, I'm the first - I need to do this strongly and I need to make my family proud," she says.

Tamatha Paul.
Tamatha Paul. Photo credit: The Hui

And it wouldn't have been possible were if not for a generous $30,000 scholarship.

Tamatha was introduced to MP for Rongotai Paul Eagle while she was campaigning for the presidency, and he says her energy and ideas are a breath of fresh air for the university.

"She will bring a completely different perspective, she will be magnetic and she will attract a new kind of student and probably open doors to people who thought that's sort of an institution," he said. "She will be able to now open those doors up and go 'welcome, haere mai'."

In December, Tamatha will graduate with a degree in political studies at Victoria University's Te Herenga Waka Marae, before taking up her role as president. It's the first step in what looks like promising future in politics.

"I'm not as embarrassed to say that I want to be a politician anymore because I think that I have the values that are missing and the humanity that's missing, the connection with the people that is missing, the empathy and compassion that is missing. I would love a career in politics actually."

The Hui