University officials encourage the student to make a formal complaint
The Wits psychology department says it is not aware of racism allegations being made against it.
Professor Sumaya Laher and Associate Professor Carol Long told Wits Vuvuzela that the department has an open-door policy that encourages any student or staff member that experiences such discrimination to make these claims heard.
The professors were responding to allegations made by a master’s student on Twitter that, “The racism at the Wits Psychology department is clear-cut when you get to post-grad. You’re lucky to leave bangakak’ sukeli (without them picking on you).”
Even though the student made these allegations in a widely accessible tweet, and her page has photographs where she is easily identifiable, she insisted that Wits Vuvuzela not use her real name.
In a statement she subsequently sent to the newspaper, she alleged that, “We have plenty lecturers in the master’s degree programme who have knowingly done or said racist things. Students being [grouped] according to race on the grounds that ‘certain groups work better together’.
“Lecturers who are cruel supervisors and make and endorse racist statements not only towards black students but non-black students. I’ve had friends not get their honour’s degrees due to unfair treatment compared to our white counterparts. Weird things happening like lecturers losing our exam scripts, or being denied a remark. I’m also a victim, but my case is far worse. Lol. It’s the worst department ever. What’s ironic is that it’s a psychology department but they don’t give a shit about the mental health of students,” the statement read.
Laher and Long refused to comment on these specific allegations, telling Wits Vuvuzela that they wanted to protect the student, that they believed the newspaper didn’t have the student’s permission to share the allegations with them.
They said the student has clear and communicated routes she can take if she has a grievance. This includes class reps, dean of students, and more formally, the police, if she doesn’t want to speak to the department’s staff. All this was addressed during postgraduate Orientation Week, and students were made aware of policies in this regard, they said.
The student, however, told Wits Vuvuzela that she had not reported this alleged racism to anyone, saying, “I just wanna get my degree and leave that place in peace.” She would not say what she hoped to achieve with the tweet.
A psychology honour’s student who also didn’t want to be identified, said that “as an individual of colour” she has not experienced the racism the master’s student referred to, nor has she witnessed such racism in the department.
“Regarding group work allocation, those in my experience have been done on a random selection basis. There was no relation between the group members and their race. It was all purely random,” she said.
Incoming Chair of the Transformation Office, Busisiwe Nkala-Dlamani said she has not been made aware of these claims. Whether the claims are true or false, the necessary steps should be followed, such as making formal complaints for disciplinary action to be taken.
“The issue of racism is a serious matter whereby appropriate action should be taken to protect both students and staff from unfair discrimination on campus.
“The university specifies in the policy document ‘Unfair racial and sexual discrimination’ that the management has a responsibility to take action when instances of discrimination are brought to their attention,” Nkala-Dlamini said.
The master’s student who tweeted the racism allegations would not respond to Wits Vuvuzela’s queries about her reaction in light of what the psychology department and the transformation office said.
FEATURED IMAGE: :file
The tweet alleging racism in the psychology department is widely accessible, even though the student who tweeted it says she wants to remain anonymous.
- Wits Vuvuzela, Racism allegations plague netball player selections, August 2019