A yearning to tackle the big questions in life is the main reason Kayla Polamalu wanted to go to university.
“My parents fostered a real passion for justice and strong sense of compassion in me,” says Kayla. “After a family trip to Wellington I could see that the University's Law School could provide me with the education I needed to support those strengths and help me answer those big questions.”
Kayla arrived at university with that clear goal, but hadn’t given much thought to what else she might study alongside her Law degree.
“I went to the Māori Students’ Orientation in my first week where I heard more about some of the Māori papers on offer, and decided that I wanted to pursue them too,” she says. “So I’m now doing a Bachelor of Arts in Māori Resource Management along with my Law degree—and they complement each other well.”
She says the calibre of teaching at Victoria University of Wellington’s Law School and Te Kawa a Māui (the School of Māori Studies) is exceptionally high. “All of my lecturers are top in their fields and are passionate about their research and they bring that passion to class. It’s amazing to be constantly surrounded by people who are encouraging and inspiring you to think deeply and outside of yourself. I now understand that university is all about learning for life.”
Kayla, who grew up in Auckland, found the transition from school to university life a challenging one. “University requires a whole lot more self-motivation and self-discipline. No one is going to coddle you and do everything for you,” she says. “At school you’re taught facts—at university you are encouraged to think more critically about those facts, to place them in context. It also makes you analyse yourself and what you’re doing—that cemented the fact that Law and Māori Resource Management were definitely the right choices for me.”
Studying Law has been a way for Kayla to channel her strong sense of justice.
“I think everybody has an inherent dignity or worth, but sometimes that’s not afforded to people. I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with the Community Law Centre and the Community Justice Project, which are organisations that connect people in the community with access to justice that they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to have,” she says. “I think equal access to justice is a really important function of law, and one of the things that keeps me motivated at Law School is the opportunities I’ve been given to connect with people and help in that way.”
Kayla says the University has allowed her to embrace her taha Māori (Māori heritage). “Since studying at the University I’ve been challenged to think about who I am, and I’ve been able to connect more deeply with my Māori identity,” she says. “I saw Māori celebrated in academia, and for the first time I had the opportunity to study my culture in a way I didn’t previously think was possible. It’s a real privilege that some other indigenous cultures simply don’t have.”
Kayla says Victoria University of Wellington provides “amazing” support for Māori students.
“I really like that the University has dedicated spaces for Māori students. I think it’s important that Māori are able to claim a place in the tertiary education sector and be able to foster our own kind of community within the university.”
She believes her university experience has made her a better person.
“Coming to the University has allowed me to connect with a diverse range of people and ideas, and it’s allowed me to see the world more holistically and where I fit into it. My world has opened up.”
“My hope is that I will be able to one day go back to my iwi (Ngāti Whakaue, Te Arawa) with the skills I’ve learned at university, or use my knowledge to help other indigenous communities around the world.”