Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is tackled head-on by the University of Cape Townʼs (UCT) Inclusivity Policy for Sexual Orientation, which was ratified in December 2017.
The policy aims to create a campus environment for staff and students that is free from discrimination in all spheres, including teaching content and language, the university’s code of conduct, and culture.
The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4 of 2000, and the United Nations Yogyakarta Principles of 2006 are cited as foundational principles for the policy. According to the document, inclusivity of sexual orientation is a legal duty rather than a choice.
Dr Sianne Alves, director of the Office for Inclusivity and Change, said the university initiated the development of a policy regarding sexual orientation in 2014, and it was finally ratified at the end of last year.
“[It is] a much-needed policy that focuses on creating an inclusive environment for marginalised populations on campus; namely, our sexually diverse staff and students, and the aim of the policy is to provide a discrimination-free environment that is reflected in the way we teach, the way we communicate, [and] the way we engage with one another in creating an inclusive culture on campus for sexually diverse populations,” she said.
“The aim of the policy is to provide a discrimination-free environment that is reflected in the way we teach, the way we communicate, the way we engage with one another ...”
The policy document outlines six main areas for implementation of the inclusivity policy. The first of these is teaching practice, where academic staff and tutors are “strongly encouraged to review their language and lecture content” to ensure that it is non-discriminatory.
Recommendations are also provided, including that lecturers and tutors use generic language that does not reinforce heterosexism. Teaching content should also include literature that reflects sexual diversity, wherever possible.
“Bespoke workshops with staff will seek to incorporate a diverse array of queer inclusive literature into their framework of engagement and teaching,” the document adds.
Other areas where recommendations for inclusivity are made are communication and media, institutional culture, service provision, policy adherence, and the roles and responsibilities of various offices and groups at UCT.
“During the period of 2014 up until 2017, a number of people developed the policy with us, and that included the Trans Collective, Rainbow UCT, sexually diverse staff and students, and allies of the sexually diverse populations on campus,” said Alves.
“We broadened our consultation beyond the normal structures within the institution. We focused on student societies, religious societies [and] we posted it on the UCT web for months so that we could generate as much consultation and feedback on having the policy within our working environment. There was great support for it to exist.”
“We broadened our consultation beyond the normal structures within the institution ... There was great support for it to exist.”
Dr Memory Muturiki, director of the Student Wellness Service, stressed that issues around HIV, sexual orientation and gender-based violence are all inter-related.
“At the moment these are issues that students are actually talking about [but] a lot of students do not come forward on time and do not know with whom to speak.
“Sometimes there is stigma around certain issues and we wanted to highlight and raise awareness, particularly during this month, around gender-based violence and [inclusivity] so that people may start having dialogues around what is correct and how can you seek help and where you should go,” she said.
“And also that … Student Wellness and the Department of Student Affairs are here, and we are ready to support.”
Alves said any member of the university who experiences discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity can report incidents to the Office for Inclusivity and Change.
“I think it’s critically important to also reach out to your lay counselling staff, to staff services who provide mental health support. Students who are experiencing harassment should also seek out services through Student Wellness, because self-care is extremely important in those moments,” she said.
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