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Highlights and challenges
04 November 2022
Transformation, inclusivity and diversity are interconnected yet distinct concepts that can help with making sense of the nature of inequality within higher education and the effects of the solutions that are developed.
What do Transformation, Inclusivity and Diversity mean?
Transformation, inclusivity and diversity are key words to help us understand inequality and oppression within universities. These words also help us to imagine what a more fair, just and equal education environment would look like.
How has transformation, inclusivity and diversity intersected your experience of educational institutions in the past?
CHED (the Centre for Higher Education Development) reported that the Academic Development Programme (ADP), the Academic Staff and Professional Development Programme (ASDP), Careers Service unit (CS), Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CILT) and the Global Citizenship Programme (GC) all played an important role in furthering transformation in the department. This included supporting the UCT Cares initiative, including social justice content in a range of education interventions and connecting UCT to partners on the African continent and beyond.
In the Commerce faculty, the first postgraduate transformation grant was awarded. In addition, great progress has been made in terms of appointing Black academics in the faculty. Lastly, the Commerce Dean’s Advisory Committee (DAC) started a strategic planning process with transformation and inclusivity at its core.
The Department of Student Affairs (DSA) reported progress in achieving employment equity goals and targets and changing the names of residences (such as Smuts Hall) to undo UCT’s colonial heritage. The Student Wellness Service (SWS) put in place interventions which provided psychosocial support services (including access to social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists) to support student mental health and overall well-being.
The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) reported several highlights for 2021 including the appointment of a full-time transformation officer; a productive and supportive relationship between the deanery and the transformation committee, leading to meaningful actions; and a budget allocation of R60 000 to transformation. This budget was used to create videos in five official languages inviting responses to an FHS transformation survey. The faculty plans to focus on LGBTQI+ issues in 2022 and a gender diversity specialist is to be appointed to this role. Lastly, new transformation chairs were elected for the faculty during this period.
The Graduate School of Business (GSB) prioritised hosting employment equity, diversity and inclusion, and transformation workshops for the school. This included workshops focusing on understanding and accommodating disabilities such as autism. In addition to this, the Solution Space incubated 30 entrepreneurs with early-stage ventures from eight African countries.
The Human Resources (HR) department focused on providing support related to COVID-19 and work-life balance, including hosting mental health and wellness sessions. In addition, the management of HR worked with the HR TC to ensure the TC played a meaningful role in the department.
In 2021, the Humanities TC focused on developing a five-year plan and identified four strategic areas: Employment Equity, Student Engagement, Culture of Care (retention, collaboration and advancement), and the Humanities Forum (a platform for public discussions, dialogues and debates). The plan was designed to enhance collaboration with students (ie Humanities Student Council) and generate co-curated discursive platforms. The committee also liaised with UCT CARES to establish lines of communication about creating a culture of care in the faculty.
The International Academic Programmes Office (IAPO) focused on finalising its inclusivity plan in 2021. In addition, the TC chairs participated in IAPO management meetings for the first time. This allowed the TC to have a voice in relation to the governance of IAPO.
In the Law faculty, new members joined the TC, bringing in new energy and ideas. The TC also actively included student members in 2021. The faculty created an inclusivity drop box which encouraged both anonymous and non-anonymous feedback. The faculty also hosted a day-long in-person workshop on dealing with change and accepting responsibility for fostering inclusion.
The Libraries department identified a sense of belonging, and focused on staff health and well-being as priorities. This focus was premised on fostering care, kindness and compassion among staff members. The staff members of this department were particularly affected by grief (related to COVID-19) and trauma (relating to the Jagger Reading Room fire) and so counselling and psychosocial care interventions (relying on Independent Counselling and Advisory Services [ICAS]) were extremely useful and important.
In the Properties and Services Department (P&S), creating a sense of belonging was key, and this was achieved through increased and transparent communication from the departmental leadership. In addition, the use of comedy and performance during monthly staff meetings, and events marking Heritage Day, helped to build camaraderie and connections through laughter. As many staff members continued to work remotely during 2021, short videos were created to introduce new staff members to the team. Properties&S also formed part of the Future Sustainability Project, which had an institutional reach and impact. This unique project bridged divides between students, professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff and academic staff, which ensured that valuable research was generated that could enable change within UCT.
In the Research Office (RO), the TC created four working groups to address issues identified in the UCT Staff Inclusivity Survey. The working groups initiated several actions to create a more inclusive and diverse RO, including workshops on TDI and a survey on preferred language usage.
In the Science faculty, a faculty-wide Dean’s Dialogue on “Building Inclusivity in the Faculty of Science” was hosted. This event brought together staff and students to have an open and collective conversation on inclusion in the faculty. Lastly, the Science faculty course “Towards a Decolonised Science in South Africa” was finalised and many faculty members participated in the “Decentering Whiteness” reference group that forms part of UCT’s greater anti-racism strategy.
The year 2021 was a particularly difficult one. The Table Mountain fire, continuing protest actions, and loadshedding during remote work and learning all created a difficult environment for TDI work to continue. In addition, COVID-19 continued to create a pressured environment which impeded work-life balance, created time pressure and competing work demands, and led to staff and students feeling burnt out.
In this context, affective responses included fatigue, apathy, limited buy-in for transformation, and lack of interest and meaningful engagement on transformation.
Some entities argued that the COVID-19 pandemic crowded out time and space typically spent on TDI work. The fact that students and staff members were dispersed, as well as online meeting fatigue, made online TDI work unattractive.
Other entities highlighted that racism at UCT was dire. These entities argued that there are no mechanisms for meaningful recourse, as those who report racism only get an apology rather than accountability, restitution or restoration.
There were some specific challenges transformation committees wanted to note:
There is considerable unevenness across faculties and within faculties in terms of who engages on TDI initiatives and the quality of these actions and engagements.
Only a small number of TCs have a budget for TDI programming. Without a budget, the actions conducted by TCs continue to be small and with limited reach.
There are insufficient points of connection between TCs and the entities they represent, and between the TC and the management of the entity. This leads TC work to be isolated and not representative of broader faculty/departmental challenges.
For some, there is no credit, value or incentive associated with participating in TDI work. In some cases, TDI work may be seen as taboo and TDI agents as “troublemakers”. This creates a culture where TDI work, issues and analysis are not appreciated or seen as useful.
Lastly, some staff members and students struggle to see themselves represented in structures and cultures of the university, as the dominant structures and cultures replicate and centre dominant western and colonial physical environments, epistemologies and knowledge bases.
In addition to the above themes, the following first-person accounts were shared by TDI agents:
“The issues relate to staff not being listened to and being targeted and isolated when they raise problems. This lack of empathy has caused distrust and unhappiness among the staff and is related to big delays in addressing simple problems. Staff feel unvalued.”
“It proved difficult, however, to get colleagues to actually commit to our face-to-face workshop. I suspect that colleagues are actually afraid of awkward situations or an unsafe space where they might be victimised. There are also unaddressed historic grievances related to the protest years and past faculty leadership.”
“At the end of the day ... UCT leadership does what it wants, regardless of whether it is ethical or just or fair.”
“Transformation remains a distant dream at UCT. Many changes are surface level, but deep transformation has not been realised. We use beautiful buzzwords and policies, but they are not effective.”
“Bullying of staff by leadership in departments/faculties is still a serious problem.”
“It is still a long way [to transformation], it looks greener from the outside. Get inside the institution, you will see flames.”
On one hand, the above statements and the summary of the challenges put forward by TDI agents highlight the dire and anxiety-inducing context at UCT in relation to TDI. On the other hand, it’s clear from the reports received that actions to build a transformed, critically diverse and inclusive university are ongoing. In a way, transformation work emerged during this period as a metamorphosis between the fear and the flame, and the dream of a different kind of university environment and structure.