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'Make blacks feel at home'

By Bongekile Macupe Education Reporter | 2016-03-06 15:21:40.0

Former white universities have to work harder in changing their institutional culture so that black students do not feel alienated.

This was the view of Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela and University of the Witwatersrand Professor Adam Habib earlier this week.

They werespeaking at the fifth Research and Innovation Week, where Mabizela said institutional culture is determined by people who occupy the spaceand it was "critically important" that as more black students occupy the previously white institutions they feel like they belong.

"I can indicate some of the examples we have at Rhodes. That university was constructed for white, English-speaking South Africans, and it was modelled after the Oxfords and the Cambridges of this world.

"And you go into the dining halls and you will see how the whole space is configured, the high tables and knives and forks. Those are the things that need to be challenged as we bring more and more people from poor, rural backgrounds," said Mabizela.

According to Mabizela, black students feel a sense of alienation and ask themselves: "Why should I use a knife and fork? Why should I not use a spoon?"

"Those may seem insignificant but they are very important," he said.

Mabizela also said the institutions need to pay attention to the art that adorns public spaces and interrogate if students see themselves reflected in it.

"It's not something that can change easily, it is something that must be tackled because the critical thing is for every student, worker and academic to feel free to be [in that space]," he said.

Habib said, however, some institutions had made great strides but a lot still needs to be done. "The mere presence of black students does not change culture in itself. There has to be a question of power and how power is utilised to change choices. By the way, things have changed in some of the institutions.

"When I went to Wits in 1986 they had this peculiar thing of students meeting and they would have cheese and wine.

"It was a student meeting that had cheese and wine. I was absolutely puzzled," he said.

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