Student accounts of space and safety at a South African university: implications for social identities and diversity
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Transformation efforts in South African higher education have been under increased scrutiny in recent years, especially following the last years of student activism and calls for decolonization of universities. This article presents data from a participatory photovoice study in which a group of students reflect on their experiences of feeling safe and unsafe at an urban-based historically disadvantaged university. Findings highlight the way in which historical inequalities on the basis of social identities of race, class, and gender, among others, continue to shape experiences, both materially and social-psychologically, in South African higher education. However, and of particular relevance in thinking about a socially just university, participants speak about the value of diversity in facilitating their sense of both material and subjective safety. Thus, a diverse classroom and one that acknowledges and recognizes students across diversities, is experienced as a space of comfort, belonging and safety. Drawing on feminist work on social justice, we argue the importance of lecturer sensitivity and reflexivity to their own practices, as well as the value of social justice pedagogies that not only focus on issues of diversity and equality but also destabilize dominant forms of didactic pedagogy, and engage students’ diverse experiences and perceptions.