PhotoVoices expose the safe and unsafe areas around campus
Student safety and well-being on campus and beyond are major concerns at UWC. The exhibition currently showing in the library atrium shows how ten third-year students from the Department of Women & Gender Studies experience feeling safe and unsafe on campus. The exhibition was opened by Professor Tamara Shefer, Deputy Dean of Teaching and Learning at the Faculty of Arts on Monday, 17 November.
Every year third-year students conduct original research with the aim of contributing to knowledge. This year students employed a photovoice method of exploring the question of safety on campus. Each student was requested to take two photographs of spaces they’ve experienced as safe, and two photographs of spaces they’ve experienced as unsafe on campus. Each photograph was accompanied by a narrative identifying the place and explaining why it was experienced as safe or unsafe. The students then shared the pictures and narratives with each other and, through discussion, reflected on what the photographs and narratives revealed about how students experience this campus.
A few of the pictures and narratives were turned into the posters comprising the exhibition. Places such as the Barn, Unibell train station, the Financial Aid office and the main gate on Robert Sobukwe road were highlighted as some of the less safe areas on campus. Thozama Mabusela, one of the students who participated in the exercise, said that the group also found residential areas to be the most unsafe spaces on campus due to the amount of domestic violence experienced there – both amongst students and those involved in romantic relationships. Lecture rooms, the library and the Student Centre were generally considered to be three of the safer areas on campus.
The study also revealed that social and group identities shaped how students experienced safety on campus. Gender was an important factor with female students pointing more frequently to places such as the Barn as unsafe. Socio economic factors such as class also played a role in whether students felt safe on campus or not, with students who travelled via public transport reporting that they felt more unsafe than those who travelled by car. Other factors raised were age, with students suggesting that the presence of older people helped make spaces safer. Many students also drew attention to the ways in which they felt safer in spaces inhabited by people of the same race or ethnicity.
As Rudolf Roelfse, a third-year student observed, this was an important project because it provided valuable insights into the challenges students face from the perspective of students themselves: the project offered students a voice. It is hoped that the insights into student safety and well-being will be used to inform and improve campus safety policies and practices going forward. There is also a plan, lead by Dr Sisa Ngabaza, to disseminate this knowledge more widely by drawing students into writing for publication.