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FMHS USHERS IN NEW ERA WITH FACULTY CHARTER

Florence de Vries

Pledge expresses a genuine commitment to a welcoming institutional culture

Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) unveiled its Faculty Charter on 9 October 2019 – a first for a faculty in this institution.

As a pledge by all FMHS staff and students, the Charter, which was officially unveiled in the Education Building, marked the start of a new era. Said Prof Jimmy Volmink, Dean of the FMHS: “Through this Charter we acknowledge where we have come from, but more critically, we commit to ongoing transformation guided by the values of our Faculty and our institution and those enshrined in the South African Constitution.”

In 2019, the world protested against a number of crises, notably gender-based violence and the climate crisis. Future healthcare professionals studying at the FMHS also made their voices heard by joining protest movements and addressing University and Faculty leadership in this respect.

The FMHS Charter, which took more than 18 months to finalise, is a pledge by its staff and students to create inclusive, fair and friendly environments in every aspect of daily interactions. It serves as a guide for behaviour and an instrument to assist in holding everyone accountable for their actions.

“Through this Charter, we are expressing our genuine commitment to change. We want to build an institutional culture that welcomes, celebrates and supports the development of a diverse body of students and staff. I have no doubt that the facilitation of our onward journey towards personal and institutional transformation will continue to produce benefits for everyone involved,” said Volmink.

The Charter was developed under the auspices of the FMHS Dean’s Advisory Committee on Transformation (DACT), established in 2016.

A Faculty Charter Task Team under the leadership of FMHS Student Affairs manager Ms Khairoonisa Foflonker was entrusted with the development of a Charter for the Faculty. Members of this task team comprised a diverse group of undergraduate and postgradaute students, as well as academic and support staff.

A draft was completed in August 2018, which was followed by a series of engagements with staff and students who were asked to provide their feedback. A final version, incorporating this feedback was tabled for sign-off by the DACT in August 2019.

The Charter addresses six specific impact areas or groups, all of which has an impact on the living, studying and working conditions at Tygerberg Campus. Stakeholder groups include students, communities, colleagues, research, patients and the environment.

The Charter is a commitment to celebrating all forms of diversity and inclusion on Tygerberg Campus and the cultivation of empowering environments in both the academic and clinical settings. It recognises the importance of all its stakeholders and pledges, among other things, to promote mutual respect, advance human dignity, acknowledge the lived experiences of the communities it serves, engage in ethically sound research and protect the environment.

SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim de Villiers welcomed the launch of the FMHS Charter: “It strengthens our aspiration of being a transformed and integrated academic community that celebrates critical thinking, promotes debate and is committed to democracy, human rights and social justice.”

The FMHS Charter artwork, which depicts the ‘many hands within a hand’ symbol all over the Tygerberg Campus, was completed with the assistance of SU’s institutional visual redress task team and specifically Prof Elmarie Constandius of the SU’s Department of Visual Arts department, who also serves on SU’s visual redress task team.

“The overarching message behind the many hands within a hand symbol is that of connectivity and collaboration and I think it bodes well for the future of this institution,” said Constandius.


DEVELOPING THE FACULTY CHARTER

Khairoonisa Foflonker, Student Affairs Manager at the FMHS

Developing the Faculty Charter has been a long process of discussions, debates and deliberations involving a diverse pool of staff and students, spanning almost two years. The Charter launch is a culmination of the Faculty Charter Task Team and Dean’s Management Team’s vision for an inclusive and transformative Faculty for all who live, learn, and labour here.

Transformation is a call to our common humanity, not simply a process of demographic changes. Engaging with this Charter has been a humbling and transformative experience for me. As the Chair of the Faculty Charter Task Team I have been privileged to facilitate the lived experiences and contributions of our students and staff. The majority of our members were womxn, which is no surprise given the demographic composition of the Faculty. Members engaged in robust and respectful debates in a manner that reflected the Faculty values of inclusivity, integrity and compassion.

A few highlights for me included the fact that despite healthy and respectful disagreements, we left every task team meeting having reached consensus. These discussions ranged from decolonising the curriculum and spaces on campus, and what that means to us as individuals, was incredibly eye-opening; as some members began to understand processes of decolonisation and transformation in a new and different light. We also began to appreciate the individual struggles of members, as it varied in their lived experience.

For me the process reached full circle at the Dean’s lunch in July 2019. That afternoon, I sat at a table with colleagues, also members of the Task Team, and we realized that the most incredible thing happened as a by-product of participating in this Task Team: colleagues and students from divisions and programmes who normally would not have met, had an opportunity to collaborate on a project that bonded us together. The group of us experienced this as a serendipitous moment. We celebrated not only the development of the Charter, but also the space that the Task Team created to get to know each other, and also to engage in discussions that offered and respected a multitude of viewpoints.

I hope that the development of the Faculty Charter will galvanise other Faculties to follow suit. But more importantly, will be the catalyst for numerous future engagements concerned with transformation and decolonisation within the Faculty.


TOWARDS CREATING A  WELCOMING INSTITUTION

Ascentia Seboko, PhD Candidate, FMHS

In the year 2016 I was elected chairperson of the inaugural Tygerberg Postgraduate Student Council. I got an invite from the Dean to join the Dean’s Advisory Committee on Transformation. Talks of the Faculty Transformation Charter were initiated in this committee and I volunteered to join the Transformation Charter Task Team. 

The idea of a transformation charter greatly resonated with me for the same reasons I became a student leader, which was to cultivate a welcoming environment and a sense of community. As a student in this Faculty I too saw the need for a commitment by Faculty to abhor all forms of discrimination that still affect so many individuals. 

The Charter Task Team was mostly comprised of support and academic staff members, as well as mostly postgraduate students.

During our discussions it became clear that discrimination comes in multiples forms and (to my astonishment) it was not only happening between students or between staff and students, but even between staff. There was evidence of an atmosphere that is more tolerant than welcoming. That is why it was so important to develop this Charter, which speaks to the kind of institution in which everyone can feel a sense of belonging.

Once the initial draft was complete, we held multiple dissemination events to create spaces for staff and students to freely engage with the Charter and give feedback on what it meant to them. Some of the issues that were consistently raised was the unfair treatment of students during clinical rotations. Language is still a huge barrier for some students, who felt excluded because they could not understand the language being spoken by some of the consultants during rotations.

What was very interesting to observe during these discussions was the unconsciousness among students and staff of the prejudice and discrimination that still exists on this campus. And there was always the question:

“Do we really need a transformation charter?” And the answer is: For right now… yes.

This Faculty has certainly taken great strides in fostering transformation, but there is still work to be done. Because transformation is not a once-off event. It was, however, somewhat gratifying to see how the talk of this Charter and the dissemination events inspired topics which would not normally be a part of conversations between staff and students. There was great diversity in the task team, although it was evident that there were more females members than males.

It has truly been an honour being part of this team of extraordinary individuals who took time out of their busy schedules to sit in conversations and brainstorm what would now be known as the Faculty Charter. It provides only one of the ways in which this Faculty is seeking to provide an environment that is welcoming and conducive to all who study and work in it. It is still up to us as individuals to live up to this Charter and make it the living document that it was envisioned to be.

 

‘It strengthens our aspiration of being a transformed and integrated academic community that celebrates critical thinking, promotes debate and is committed to democracy, human rights and social justice.’ – Prof Wim de Villiers

 

Photo credit: Wilma Stassen