Higher education not grappling with endemic trauma - Crain Soudien

17 March 2014

South African higher education institutions are not acknowledging or dealing with the multiple levels of intergenerational trauma affecting students' experience, said deputy vice-chancellor Professor Crain Soudien.

Soudien was delivering the opening address at the two-day interdisciplinary colloquium 'Reconciliation, Intergenerational Trauma and Higher Education' in February, hosted by the university's HIV/AIDS Inclusivity and Change Unit (HAICU) and the Transformation Services Office (TSO).

Universities should create spaces for the acknowledgement and discussion of trauma, such as the intersection of post-apartheid intergenerational trauma and HIV stigma, and develop support services to equip graduates to address these issues and others like them, he added.

The colloquium tackled the theme from a number of angles, including history, law, politics, safety and violence, and saw several local and international speakers address participants. Discussants included Guy Lamb of UCT's Safety and Violence Initiative, TSO Director Glenda Wildschut, Tali Nates of the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre, and Professor of Political Science and the Samuel R 'Bud' Shorstein Professor of American Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Florida, Ken Wald.

Soudien has written extensively on education and transformation. Pertinent to this colloquium was his government-commissioned Soudien Report, which revealed that discrimination (especially racism and sexism) is still endemic in South African universities.

"But the conversation is very important now because it's a global issue, not just an issue for South Africans to resolve. In the English-speaking world, I can't think of one country that's free of intergenerational trauma."

The issues are intense, he said, but "evaded". Major trauma existed, unspoken at collective and individual levels, among black and white communities, old and young.

"My generation has failed to engage young people with the full complexity of what we're bequeathing them. Our old survival tricks don't work. Our fiction understands that; JM Coetzee's Disgrace understands that, Mark Behr's The Smell of Apples understands that.

"There's a particular responsibility among schools and universities to be talking into this complexity and we're not doing it. We inhabit old nostalgias, which are irrelevant.

"All our wonderful [university] courses are not dealing with this. Our society is not doing it; our psychologists are not doing it; our work on crime and poverty is not doing it.

"We need evidence-based analysis. The imagination of writers is far more engaged than our sociology.

"Consider the Reitz Four and the Waterkloof Four. Fingers are pointed at their parents. But it's not just their parents, it's all of us, and all of us have to take responsibility for those people."

Story by Helen Swingler.

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