A living journey towards understanding black women academics' perceptions of social transformation in South African higher education
Transformation of higher education, both internationally and within South African higher education (SAHE) is an on-going process. Higher education institutions (HEIs) always need to change the way in which they conduct their daily business, both academically and socially. Some of the issues that constantly warrant attention from these institutions are policy development, curriculum development, issues pertaining to community engagement and issues pertaining to creating a welcoming institutional climate for all constituencies. Within the South African context, as more and more diverse staff and students enter the SAHE system, the system needs to change to accommodate the new direction. This is especially the case within the historically white Afrikaans-medium institutions, which face a huge responsibility to change their academic and social landscape to accommodate the new education system. This study explored how black women academics (BWAs), as part of the masses entering the historically white Afrikaans-medium higher education institutions, perceived the on-going social transformation attempts within the institutions. Using the University of the Free State (UFS) as a case study, the focus was on how this particular constituency viewed social transformation from race and gender points of view. An action research (AR) approach was used, which engaged BWAs, together with a complementary group of white women academics (WWAs) in individual faceto- face interviews and focus group discussions. The main questions that formed the heart of the discussions were: · What is our concern regarding social transformation at the UFS? And · How can we improve our work environment? Findings from the study indicate that BWAs have a negative view of social transformation at the UFS. Issues that contributed to their negative perception included, inter alia, problems pertaining to the dual language policy, scarcity of capacity building initiatives, power dynamics and interpersonal problems, all of which seemed to hamper successful social transformation at the UFS. Interesting though was this group’s awareness that the responsibility to improve the UFS did not only lie with the university management but that, as part of the institution, they too were responsible to act as agents of change in creating a space where everybody could feel a sense of belonging.
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