I AM writing with regard to the Wits Vuvuzela article entitled “No Pride at Wits.” Being a critical discourse analyst, I am concerned with the way in which the university student newspaper has reported on Wits Pride – or better failed to do so. To begin with, the first two sentences that open the article are based on factual errors:
1) “Empty lecture rooms.”
The two panel sessions had an attendance of 10-12 people each. Small numbers one might say. Not so much so if compared with the attendance to the lectures delivered by some distinguished scholars who have recently visited Wits University. The more crucial question is whether such small numbers are not so much the result of “lack of visible advertising around campus”, as Wits Vuvuzela journalists put it, but are the effect of homophobia on campus and the unwillingness/shame on the part of many students to publicly engage with sexuality issues.
2) With regard to “lack of visible advertising around campus”, it was difficult to avoid seeing all the posters that Wits Transformation Office hung on all possible notice boards on campus. But of course one’s sight is very selective. Hence the journalists’ failure to see these posters.
3) “No information tent.” There has been an information desk that has “moved” every day offering information about Pride and sexual health on different campuses.
I am also worried by the reference to queer individuals as “rainbow-wearing”. Whilst this could be read metaphorically, it could also be taken as an example of “othering”, a form of stereotyping that positions sexual minorities as necessarily visibly “different” from their majority counterpart. Finally, titling the article “No pride at Wits” subtly disguises the idea that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, intersex and asexual community does not care
Whilst I want to praise Wits Vuvuzela journalists for unveiling sexual harassment at Wits, I am less impressed by the way in which sexual minority issues have been reported on. Blaming the Transformation Office for poor marketing strategies is simply a lie that fails to recognise the success of this year’s Pride. In my view, this article is an example of superficial journalistic practice that is more keen to point fingers at culprits than to offer a balanced reading of social issues.
I am not saying that Wits Pride should not be criticised. I am saying that, if a critique is raised, it should be based on solid grounds as well as address the complexity of the issue of non-normative sexuality at Wits.
I hope that the university management will not be influenced by such reporting.
Wits Pride and the Safe Zone campaign should be given continued support, not least because we are still far from having a “safe campus” where every individual, irrespective of gender and sexuality, can walk without fear of being harassed.
Prof. Tommaso M. Milani
Associate Professor and Head of Department – Linguistics School of Literature, Language and Media
Wits Vuvuzela reponds:
Thank you for the kind words regarding our coverage of sexual harassment on campus.
Wits Vuvuzela reporters saw only about six people in the lecture rooms for Wits Pride events. But whether it was six or 12, you are correct in that the lecture halls were not “empty” as we described. Wits Vuvuzela apologises for the error.
While our reporters did see some of the flyers, we do not agree that – as an advertising campaign – they were very prominent. Our reporters who worked on this article also tried – and failed – to find the information tent. One of our team members, who was not working on the article, did happen to find the tent during the week but did not initially know it was connected to Wits Pride due to a lack of branding.