On June 24, Angie Enoka will become the first Samoan fa’afafine to graduate with a Doctor of Philosophy in Media Studies at Massey University.
Ms Enoka hopes that her academic success will encourage other fa’afafine to look at education as a career option and hopes more Pacific people take on postgraduate studies.
“When you grow up in the Islands, there’s such limited opportunity with lots of competition because it’s your only window to the world. When you’ve finally made it, it’s a never-ending world of learning and you feel that it’s never enough,” she says of her lengthy academic journey.
Ms Enoka, whose research focused on the portrayal of Pacific Island seasonal workers by the New Zealand media, will be among a few that will be ratified as a PhD ‘In Council’ at a meeting of the Massey University Council.
“I hope this achievement will encourage many Pacific people, both young and old, to take on further studies and to be part of the pool of Pasifika researchers in Aotearoa.”
Ms Enoka developed a love for communication at secondary school in Samoa. She followed her communication passion, which led her to a New Zealand government scholarship to study journalism at the then Auckland Institute of Technology (now AUT), and later gained a Bachelor of Applied Communication at the Manukau Institute of Technology, where she was among the first graduates for this degree in 2004.
She enrolled with Massey University as a part-time student in 2011, studying a postgraduate degree in Communication Management while working full time. Juggling studies with a full-time job was hard, but one area of respite for her was Massey’s writing retreats for Pacific students.
During her postgraduate degree, Ms Enoka was the recipient of Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing Merit Certificate for scholarly excellence, being one of the top students in most of her courses. She graduated with Distinction and fast-tracked her academic ambition by taking on a PhD, where she was the only Pacific PhD student on the Wellington campus for years.
During her research, Ms Enoka’s brother passed away at the age of 43. “I paused my research after that happened. It really hit home. He was my only brother but I learned from a friend to keep one foot forward and keep moving.”
Despite the setbacks, she’s proud to be graduating and says that she’s learned that anyone is capable of completing a PhD. “The key is, you really need to have the drive and commitment, a lot of passion for your topic of choice, make space to allow you to write freely without distractions and most importantly get really good grades in your degree.”
Being a proud fa’afafine is a motivator for her success. “I am a proud fa’afafine and have enormous pride in my Samoan identity. This is a significant milestone for me personally and for my family, for me to be able to reach the highest qualification at university. Hopefully, my story will change some of the mindset that fa’afafine are not just entertainers, fashion designers or comedians, as we can also be in the world of academia.”
Her research topic analysed New Zealand regional media coverage of Pacific workers in the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, while those workers were living in regional communities, looking at the first five years of the scheme from its inception in 2007.
“I was motivated by hearing first-hand stories from the workers about difficult conditions but noticed that the media circulating in their host communities did not consult with them, choosing to publish only stories from employers and government perspectives. My research explored the share of voice and themes in the community news to verify that the workers themselves were not part of the story unless there was ‘trouble’, in which case they were typically talked about, but almost never given a chance to respond.”
Samoan-born, Ms Enoka’s research makes important recommendations about media diversity and training, to ensure it can fulfil its watchdog function, particularly in regional communities, in addition to alerting the New Zealand public more broadly to patterns in the way the scheme has been reported to them, and to broader patterns of racialised discourse.
The topic was challenging, but she feels her research has important implications for the media profession encouraging them to think critically about the implications of their institutionalised practices, the extent to which they repeat government agency policies without scrutiny, and enabling them to better understand the portrayals of Paciﬁc people in media articles and to consider the implications of these representations for Paciﬁc communities and their sense of self and their place in New Zealand.
Ms Enoka is from the village of Togafu’afu’a on the island of Upolu in Samoa. Her father Tumaai Aloisio Enoka is from the village of Safotulafai, Savai’i and her mother, the late Rosa nee Fidow-Enoka is from the village of Safotu, Savai’i. She is the youngest of three children and the first in her family to graduate with a PhD.