Honestly, not going to lie I didn’t put a hell of a lot of thought into it. No one else in my immediate family had gone to university before, but I always wanted to go. Not going wasn’t really an option for me. I love learning and in Dunedin I knew I would’ve drunk my life away as I was a sheep at 18. Also, Auckland and Wellington were just too far away. Growing up Dad was the only one who worked and there was six of us and so we weren’t in the financial position to do a lot. So, because of that, my family’s kind of state, and the nature of the relationship in my family where I am partly a person to lean on - now thinking about it Christchurch was just the best option.
Another thing that drew me here was the scholarships and monetary support and that was a really good selling point. I also heard Jarred Gilbert talk about the criminal justice degree, and it was the first time that I had heard someone spit the facts. It was the first time that I had heard someone talk to me about statistics that affect me. I was like ‘I love this! I don’t know why! I need to know more!’
I don’t know why, but it was almost like all the stars aligned and I was like, ‘Ok I am just going to go to Christchurch.’
When we asked how Tori became involved in UCSA (University of Canterbury Students Association) she replied,
That was a crazy one! Because that’s not why anyone comes to university. The biggest reward for being at university is the growth stage in life. It’s not just getting a degree. You make so many friends, learn how to handle yourself in situations, learn how to wash your clothes, make routines for yourself, go to the gym and so forth. It’s like a safe space to screw up life but try figure it out at the same time. Like that’s what I was coming here for.
I’d been Head Girl at Mountainview and Sam Bros (former UCSA President) was head boy when I was year 10. I had looked at him and thought I could do that. Seeing Sam not being afraid of doing that and how Sam was freely himself was cool. So, I ran for it (head girl). There was actually a group of girls, only two though, who tried to start a petition for me not to be Head Girl. However, that got stamped out really quickly. So, I ran and got it. I remember instead of making a long speech I made a video. I don’t really know what it was about in the end. I think it was me falling off skateboards and stuff and said the classic ‘I want to give back to school because it had given me so much.' But like, it genuinely had.
I was top scholar that year and that was when things in the wider world seemed really possible for me. Sam would also like once every two months be like ‘Hey man, thought about University? Would love for you to come to UC.’
So, I ended up making the shift up here.
Riley Bros (Sam’s Brother), was involved in Entré. That was when it was on its big rising with the $85k challenge. I was like, ‘woah that’s crazy - $85k challenge.’ I was like ‘oh yeah that would be cool. Ok I could go for something.’ I went for events assistant and I didn’t really know what I was signing up for. I had my interview. They were like, ‘Oh you were amazing. Your interview was great, but we think you’ve applied for the wrong position.’ So, they gave me HR Manager. I loved it because I was like ‘admin get stuff done’ and then I also had such a creative license to do other things. I loved doing the admin where we were interacting with major sponsors. At the end of the year, they opened positions again and I was like, ‘Ok, I’ll run for the COO role.’
Then there was the natural progress of the club scene back then. Not so much now. However, a few years ago UCSA would take presidents and vice presidents from the bigger clubs and that’s how it used to go. That’s also how it stays popular amongst students.
Sam Bros had originally asked someone else to run with him and I got asked by two other people. I had helped Sam and Riley with their first campaign the year before. I wrote them a song. I actually ended up saying no to the two other people. I was like this is amazing, but I felt like I had no input into their ideas for the campaign it and didn’t feel like it was right. Then the other person said no to Sam and yes to the other two. Sam then had this brainwave and was like, “This has actually happened for a reason Tori. We actually have to run together.” I was like, ‘I’m not sure.’ Particularly because of the fact that I had always looked up to Sam.
We then found Millie and at the end of 2018 were like SWEET.
So much happened in your first year being on the UCSA and also President in 2020,
Yeah, and none of us predicted that. But I look at who I was literally blessed with and what that meant for how we could do this, and I don’t think there are many other groups of people who could have made that whole situation better.
There were so many things that happened. Not only in Christchurch but also in the world, right? When we got into UCSA, I was like ok this is crazy, like literally crazy. I was genuinely not expecting it.
Basically, as soon as the mosque attacks happened. It was also then like ‘What have I signed myself up to?’
I remember Sam and I sat in the operations centre that weekend and planned the vigil. There were some amazingly special stories that were shared that I will never forget. I remember the President of Canterbury Global Society, he stood up in a club meeting and burst into tears saying, ‘This happens all the time to us. There’s this narrative of this is not us and we are them.
But like two weeks ago my brother got harassed walking down the street because he was black.’
He was like, ‘If we can do one thing as a group in this community that is the University of Canterbury, can we please not paint the narrative that we condemn everything that is going on when our actions don’t show that. Let's be better.’
It was like the most core shaking thing I have ever experienced, and I’ve experienced racism myself, but to watch someone on that level be angry to the point that in the middle of crises say ‘this is not ok’ was actually really special.
Then one of the Presidents of the gentlemen’s club at the time stood up and said, ‘I am a white male and I have no idea what my role is in this, but I am willing to stop. I am willing to take direction on how we help.’
It was a crazy moving time. We did a lot of crying. I experienced the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced over that time. We’d literally be with so many people who had directly been affected. I could never stop thinking, ‘we don’t deserve to be reading these letters or receiving them, but I also feel like I need these letters of kindness to keep going. It was really special.’
I look back on the time not grateful for the time, but grateful for the people I had around me to be able to triage so much change. It doesn’t look like much on the face of things, but we’ve had faith policies written and inter faith bases start to give these people the rights they’ve never had on campus before. Those are all things that exist in the background but are now part of the fabric of the University.
I remember the first 6 months after that, I was overly conscious of anyone who didn’t look like me because I had probably unconsciously contributed to so much of their uncomfort in their space and I consider myself a nice person.
It was crazy.
It was moving.
I am so grateful to have moved through things like that. Even like the law review saga. To watch people, grow and admit to making mistakes. I am like, actually those are the people I want to be around.
Then after that whole year, Sam goes, ‘You should run for president.'
In that moment one year on the UCSA was enough for me. I then went to Aspiring Leaders Forum and met so many cool people and I remember sitting in one of the talks and thinking, I actually have a responsibility to give. It’s more than whether I feel like this is something I should do or could get -It’s suddenly I have a responsibility knowing all the things I know and having felt and experienced all the things I have felt and experienced to make sure that this community is in good hands. I questioned ‘Am I the right person for this’ but I just had this realisation that I should run for it - that I had to run for it.
There were so many people I talked to who wanted to run and so many things I wanted to do, and you almost wanted to have people all on the same page. So many people I talked to weren’t sure also if they wanted to run. So, we ran together (Common Ground) and gave it a go. It was literally polarizing. Half of the engaged students with UCSA were like ‘No’ and half were like ‘Yes.’ I was like ok I don’t know how to control the narrative that has now become out of control.
The responsibility of all those people feeling at least satisfied with that election fell on me and I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’
Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t do it? I got onto the UCSA as president anyways and I felt like if we had just run in the top three it would have been a very uninteresting and unengaging election period that probably wouldn’t have resulted in anything. The polarization a good tool to seriously reflect on that.
I broke down in tear numerous times when people said mean things about us online. Navigating hate was... interesting. No one deserves to be treated like that. The other President Candidate running experiencing a lot of hate too actually and though about pulling out. I was like, ’You must.’ So, I went to his house and dropped some material off so He could make some signs as I didn’t want him to think that they have to do this half assed. It was a moving experience looking after competition like that. I wanted it to be fair. I wanted it to be an equitable election.
So that happened. Covid-19 happened and everything we wanted to do went out the window.
Tori laughs and follows with,
It was crazy.
I look back on it and I am like holy crap, particularly in 2020, I could not have done anything without Katie (Vice President) and Jack (Finance Officer). The way that things flowed smoothly – it was better than a well-oiled machine. We knew at what point it was too much for someone. We knew to allow time then to slow down and allow people to be like, “I have this issue”, and “this is super frustrating”. It was about knowing and respecting what each other was going through. I appreciate those two more than words could ever express. I have deep faith that in 10 years' time we will be doing something great together again. We’re so different in nature, so similar in values and it just works.
But when you add them all up and put them all on paper it's like woah. Mosque Attacks, police investigations, school’s climate strikes, Black Lives Matter movement, Covid-19, lockdown, online lectures... and so much more. There is so many times that I felt like giving up. I made a mental note to take a photo every time I’m crying so that I could normalize that fact that I have be sad to be happy and make progress.
There is so much stuff that looking back, I am now super confident about having real conversations, being very poised about things and understanding my mind may need to change about things and that is ok. I also learnt to understand it may never change if I didn’t put my thoughts out on the table to represent thousands of other students' voices.
Trying to bring in executive that already have heightened emotions and opinions around certain things was also crazy and I had to work on being patient and understanding the complexities around, how you form a consensus.
What is the biggest thing that you’ve learnt over the last few years?
I don’t really know how you say it properly but the biggest thing I’ve learnt is,
Not to mistake agreement for bringing productive. In the sense that simply compromising your value on something to get to an agreement on something isn’t how you move forward.
The change and the difference you can make in society sits in the disagreement and the difference. So, you actually have to experience those things to be in anyway progressive, inclusive or to be truly diverse. I mean that in the sense that it affected everything I did. For example, like knowing that the university disagrees with students on an issue, but we can be productive about that. How do we have those conversations and open our minds about changing these things but not just coming to a conclusion because a conclusion is seen to be the end thing that you should come to, taking the time to have the conversation fully to get the right outcome I think that’s how you actually embrace diversity as well.
Why stick around in Christchurch now that you’re finished with university?
I like this space. Because of where we are at in life there is so much space to grow here that it feels like the only place in Aotearoa New Zealand where you can actively undo things of the past to create a reflection of the good things and move forward to make changes. I think we’ve really read into the fact that we’ve had to restore an entire physical infrastructure and rebuild but that has also required us emotionally, mentally, and socially to unbuild things and rebuild them back up. That’s one of the best things about this place.
The second reason is the job that I am going into this year. Their exact mission around funding and for a lack of better words ‘commercialising cool ideas’ put simply is them making sure some good ideas get put out into the world. That’s a social mission that gives so much to somewhere like Christchurch but can also give so much to me.
My boyfriend is actually moving away from Christchurch, but, ‘I am not done here.’
I just feel so deep in my heart that I am in a relationship with Christchurch. That how great is it that we as young people get to be one of the biggest parts of this city and that there are so many people wanting to support us in that. I am just not ready to let that go. I am going to squeeze every inch of what that gives to me out of Christchurch knowing that I CAN give something back to Christchurch in return.