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Source: Massey University

Arizona Haddon, highly commended at the Global Undergraduate Awards for her essay entitled ‘Millennials’ perceptions of gentrification in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’.

A research essay exploring the impact of Aotearoa’s unsustainable house prices on Millennials, and cultural pressures around home ownership, has won sociology student Arizona Haddon a Highly Commended at the prestigious Global Undergraduate Awards.

Of Māori and Samoan heritage, Arizona won the Dublin-based international award this month for her 4000-word essay entitled, Millennials’ perceptions of gentrification in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Her work was the top entry globally in the Social Sciences: Sociology and Social Policy category and was among 2489 submissions from 292 institutions across 45 countries in 25 award categories. She wrote the essay for the 300-level Research Design and Practice course in Sociology paper.

Arizona, whose family on her father’s side hails from the villages of Lu’ua and Musumusu in Samoa, and with whakapapa to Waikato Tainui on her mother’s side, is in her third year studying a Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in sociology at the Auckland campus.

She also recently received a College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Outstanding Achiever Award – one of 60 undergraduate students in the college to achieve a 8.0 grade point average.

Due to lockdown, Arizona’s been unable to celebrate in person with friends and whānau, but has enjoyed loads of online congratulations. “The outpouring of support from my peers, staff and family has been incredible. That’s meant a lot to me.”

Gentrification locking younger generations out of housing market

Concern for the increasingly unrealistic goal of private homeownership for her generation, along with the stigma of renting beyond early adulthood, fuelled her passion for researching the issue.

Her essay is framed around the concept of ‘gentrification’ – understood as “the process of changing the character of a neighbourhood through the influx of more affluent residents and businesses” – in the Auckland suburb of Onehunga.

“Ever since I was introduced to the concept [of gentrification] it stood out to me as – wow!  There’s this whole thing going on and not that many people know about it,” she says.

Born and bred in Tamaki Makaurau, Arizona grew up in Sunnynook on Auckland’s North Shore and is currently living in Albany with her grandparents. Onehunga caught her attention because of extended family who have lived there as well as her awareness of similarly rapid changes in other Auckland suburbs in a short time frame, including Mt Eden, where she spent a lot of her childhood at her grandparent’s house.

She has been preoccupied by the idea of how homeownership is pervasive yet in reality remains unattainable – and unquestioned – in New Zealand. “We really need to explore this further – is homeownership the only way forward?”

Arizona suggests we need more investment in secure social housing, rental caps and long-term rental contracts that are common in most other countries. And through her international research, she’s realised many people in other countries rent their whole lives without stigma.

“The idea here [in New Zealand] is that private homeownership is the only goal and otherwise you are nobody.”

Pasifika advocate

Always goal-focused, Arizona was determined to be a prefect at Long Bay College and to gain a scholarship to university – she achieved both.

Her work ethic and being the first in her family to attend university is part of her inheritance. “It’s common knowledge in our family that Nana and Pa came over here on a boat and they did it so we could have better lives.”

In her studies, she says her superpower is consistency. Making daily lists and ticking off items – even small, basic tasks – helps her stay on track. She has studied history, geography, Māori studies and a social work elective for her BA and is completing a summer scholarship research project on Kāinga Ora housing, which she hopes to publish.

Amid all of this, Arizona’s also immersed herself in student and campus life as treasurer for the Massey Albany Pasifika Students’ Association (MAPSA). She’s thrilled to have successfully applied for funding from the Albany Students’ Association (ASA) to hold kava ceremonies at the campus fale, which opened in July. When it’s possible to host one, it will be the first time a kava ceremony has been held on the Auckland campus.

Kava ceremonies are designed to foster talanoa (discussion) between staff and students as well as a feature of formal occasions and welcoming people onto the campus.

“For many Pacific Island peoples, it’s a traditional ceremony and it has a lot of prestige attached to it,” she says.

She’s enjoyed advocating for Pasifika students and cultures, and “shedding a light on these practices and things we do as Pasifika people that should be celebrated at the university.”

Guided by the classics

A stint studying architecture at UNITEC before enrolling at Massey was her pathway to majoring in sociology, a subject she values “because it has allowed me to look at the social and cultural issues involved with housing.

“Having the language to talk about how these things affect people – that’s massive in itself, being able to describe to people why these things happen,” she adds.

In her spare time, she loves walking “anywhere with a good view” as well as dabbling in arts and crafts such as lino printing and painting. An avid reader, she has “a thing” about reading the classics – most recently 20th century American novels, J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

“All the ones that people rave about, just to see if I have an opinion on them! It’s cool as a sociology student to figure out what was going on at that time, what influenced the characters’ decisions. I’ve learnt so much from reading novels.”

Arizona says the support at Massey has been fantastic. “People believe in you – and they support you with all these opportunities.”

Her next step is to undertake a Master of Urban Planning at University of Auckland, with the ultimate aim of working in the area of housing policy.

Global Undergraduate Awards history

It’s not the first time a Massey student has excelled at the Undergraduate Awards. Massey students were recognised for the high quality of their final year undergraduate work in the 2017 awards, with three Bachelor of Arts students and one Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts student being awarded Highly Commended.

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