Samoan gets PhD in sociology

A 34-year-old Samoan woman has graduated with a doctorate in sociology from the University of Auckland.

Dr. Moeata Keil-Moore, who is a former student of the Robert Louis Stevenson School, graduated last Wednesday with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Sociology.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, she said it took her three years and seven months to complete her doctorate studies.

“It feels good. I don’t feel used to the title but it feels good. It took me three years and seven months exactly,” she said. 

“I finished in March but because of the pandemic, the graduation didn’t go through in May and then it didn’t go through in October and so it finally went through on Wednesday last week.”

Dr. Keil-Moore’s mother is from Vaimea and her father is from Moamoa.

Recollecting the days when her family first moved to New Zealand, she admitted feeling inadequate sitting next to palagi students who had better English, advanced technology and bigger vocabularies.

But she really didn’t need what the other students had. And already armed with a strong foundation in education instilled by her Samoan parents as a young girl growing up in Samoa, Dr. Keil-Moore was destined to achieve.

“Education is instilled in us by our parents in Samoa, [they] are very very strong on education. It’s just pursuing those dreams and also that we’re not limited. When I came over from Samoa and when I came to New Zealand, I felt very inadequate,” she said.

“I felt I wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t know as many words as the palagis next to me. I didn’t have all of the equipment and technology. 

“I came feeling very inadequate but I guess through perseverance, working hard, we all can achieve big things. We are not limited by what we have and what we don’t have.”

Currently, she is a lecturer at the University of Auckland where she teaches two papers, which is an introductory to sociology and the history of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“I teach two papers. I teach a general paper on sort of an introduction to sociology. It introduces students who have never been to university before, it introduces them to sociology.

“And then the second paper I look at is looking in particular into the history of Aotearoa New Zealand and basically looking at what it means to basically be a New Zealander.”

As for the paper on New Zealand or Aotearoa history, Dr. Keil-Moore also focuses on the Pacific, Asians and the Maori.

“Even in that paper I examine Pacific, Asians, Maori. Pacific and Asians have been here almost as long as palagi people yet when we think about what a New Zealander is we typically imagine a palagi person even though Chinese have been here just as long, Pacific has been here just as long and for generations.”

How did she become a sociologist? She said she chose the field because it gives her an avenue to conduct research that benefits the community.

“What I really liked about Sociology is it enables me to examine the experiences of Pacific people and of Samoan people,” she added.

“It creates an avenue for me to do research that benefits our communities. Sociology falls straight in line with that.”

In her doctoral thesis, she looked at Pacific parents who are divorced and the New Zealand policies in place for those parents.

Dr. Keil-Moore discovered that Aotearoa’s policies are Eurocentric or based on white western families.

“It looks at Pacific parents who are divorced and are no longer together. It looks at how responsive New Zealand’s family policies are for those parents. The policies and a lot of research on separated parents are really Eurocentric,” she said.

“Which means that it’s really based on the norms and values white western families and a lot of the research is based on white western families. We don’t know anything about Pacific experiences of separation, when parents separate, who helps with caring for children?”

Samoan families, Dr. Keil-Moore explained, have a “very collective ideas of family.”

“We have very collective ideas of family whereas palagi ideas around family are very individualized,” she said.

“They look at just mother, father, and children whereas with our families, it’s mother, father, grandparents, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters. We have a much broader view of it.”

Dr. Keil-Moore is married with two children.

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