A West Auckland-based men’s working group set up by two Bachelor of Social Practice students at Unitec is helping their fellow students talk not only about their studies, but also the rest of their lives.
The group, run by fourth year students Noa Pitovao (40) and Haydn Smith (37), has been meeting weekly for the past year. As they point out, Social Work and Community Development are fields that tend to be female-dominated, but there is a need and demand for more male social workers.
“I don’t even know my own father,” says Haydn. “There are a lot of kids out there who don’t have a male role model in their life, so getting more men into social work has to be a positive thing.”
Noa agrees. “We definitely need more men because there’s a lot of males out there that need that connection, but who might not be able to express things in front of women.”
This is why they set up the men’s working group. Initially, the goal was to create a space where male students could talk about, and get support for, their studies. However it soon evolved into a group where students from all years of the programme were free to talk about extra-curricular pressures; juggling study with family obligations, financial responsibilities, being a dad, sometimes being a solo parent, with or without custody of their children.
They are now reflecting on what they learned in the group, and the issues raised by it, as part of their “Negotiated Study“ coursework.
Men might not be used to talking about their lives, says Haydn. “We have this macho discourse in New Zealand, around beer, rugby, all that sort of stuff.” But giving male students a chance to talk with their male peers about what is impacting on their studies really does help.
“In the first month or so, people mainly talked about the assignments they were dealing with. We were pleasantly surprised at the way they started talking about their lives outside uni. I think that everyone who has come to the group regularly has grown a bit, just by being able to talk to other men, about what is going on for them. There’s nothing quite like one student supporting another.”
As Noa says, just knowing that you’re not alone can make a huge difference. “You might have an issue you’ve been carrying for a while, but by expressing those feelings with people who have similar experiences, you’re reassured to find out that you’re not the only one. We might be going through things at different times in different ways, but we’re all in the same boat.”
Haydn and Noa are both mature students who describe their pasts as varied and occasionally “colourful”.
Haydn worked for more than 20 years as a professional DJ, among other roles. He was initially attracted to the Bachelor of Social Practice because he wanted to help people with addictions.
Noa was a builder, but after he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, his GP told him to get a less physically demanding job. He’s also a father of five, with custody of three. He initially studied the Certificate of Community Skills at Unitec, which helped him build connections with other students, many of whom also went on to study the Bachelor of Social Practice with him. “That really helped. I’d isolated myself for many years, being a solo father, so it was good to build those bonds and connections with people in the course.”
Being a mature student isn’t always easy, but life experience has worked in their favour. “Coming in as an older person felt good, as I was mature enough to handle the content of the course, and the real-life situations you’re likely to be confronted with,” says Noa.
Both Noa and Haydn are already in demand, working parttime at the organisations where they completed their practicums, and have both been offered full time jobs there once they graduate.
Noa works as a Teacher Aid/Social Worker at Wesley Primary in Mt Roskill, and is now considering a teaching degree. “Studying Social Practice has opened up a range of avenues in this field.”
Haydn works part time at PARS (Prisoner’s Aid and Rehabilitation Society), often with ex-prisoners who have been deported from Australia without support. He also works at a Detox centre for people in early addiction recovery.
Both students are already making a difference in the lives of others, their fellow students and their wider communities. They’d recommend Unitec as a tertiary institute that welcomes mature students looking for a change of career.