It was the first university in the country to employ a full-time rainbow support person, has a dedicated safe space – the Rainbow Room – on its City Campus, and a highly active rainbow student network, OUT@AUT.
But AUT’s support of Aotearoa’s LGBTQI+ community extends well beyond the boundaries of its three Auckland campuses. The University is a committed advocate of the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust, an organisation focused on fundraising and attracting sponsorship to help build strength through diversity within the rainbow community. Not only has AUT been a major sponsor of the Trust’s annual fundraiser ‘Rainbow Celebration GALA’, but it was the first-ever organisation (and currently the only university) to partner with the Trust to co-fund scholarships that provide dedicated support to LGBTQI+ students.
Ruhith Pathirana (he/him), one of the 2021 Rainbow Community Trust AUT Scholarship recipients, says receiving the $3000 scholarship has been “a surreal experience”.
“I’m in my first year of a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Fashion Design, which is a major requiring an extensive list of equipment and infinite metres of fabric with every assignment. This scholarship has allowed me to buy the equipment and materials I need without restricting my creativity or forcing me to worry about my livelihood,” says Ruhith.
But financial benefits are just the beginning.
“It has opened so many other doors and enabled me to meet some incredible people I would otherwise never have met. Surprisingly, even my mother has benefitted, as it has given her the chance to meet other parents who have had similar experiences.”
Established in 2015, the scholarship is funded 50/50 by AUT and the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust. Each year, two $3000 scholarships are offered to first-year AUT students who identify as LGBTQI+, are seen as good role models, and have excelled in effort and achievement in their secondary education. According to Trust Chair Gresham Bradley (he/him), Ruhith wholeheartedly embodies the vision behind the scholarships, and shows great promise as a future leader for the rainbow community.
“We are seeking students who demonstrate leadership qualities and who have shown their commitment to the rainbow community in their schools and communities, while also supporting others and achieving academic excellence. Ruhith is a stellar example of this,” says Gresham.
A former Mount Maunganui College student, Ruhith led the school’s GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), was a prefect, excelled academically and immersed himself in a wide range of school activities. Beyond the classroom he did volunteer work for the homeless and has received a string of regional and national fashion awards, including taking out the 2019 Gown of the Year award in the regional Pin’d Creative Showcase and placing second in the Senior Creative category of the 2019 national HETTANZ Fashion Awards.
AUT Rainbow Community Coordinator Jessie Lewthwaite (she/her) believes the scholarship, and the raft of other support offered to the University’s rainbow students, helps set AUT apart from other New Zealand tertiary institutions.
“We are leading New Zealand in providing dedicated support for rainbow students,” Jessie says.
“We champion success in minority communities that may not have the advantages of others, and by partnering with the Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust, we help lift up future rainbow community leaders and enable them to be successful, strong and proud of their identity without compromise.”
Ruhith couldn’t agree more.
“Being a rainbow student at AUT has been phenomenal. This is a place where I’m able to feel ‘normal’ without fear of discrimination. To me, this scholarship highlights AUT’s progressive way of thinking and its authentic support for the LGBT+ community.”
2020 Report to Donors
Available to read here.