Orientation Week preparations kick off as 500 senior students prepare to be the link connecting freshers to support services on campus.

First-Year Experience (FYE) mentors have received training in preparation for Orientation Week, scheduled for the first week of March.

The Development and Leadership Unit (DLU) conducts training for mentors so that they are a first point of contact for first-year students, giving them resources for social and intellectual support.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to create a sense of community among first-year students as we understand that the online learning experience can be impersonal,” Jane Nyalenda, DLU office coordinator, told Wits Vuvuzela.

A total of 500 student mentors joined an online video session facilitated by the Wits Gender Equity Office (GEO) to learn about supporting first-year students with gender-related issues on campus, including sexual harassment and gender-based violence (GBV).

The sessions were hosted on Ulwazi, the new Wits learning system where there will be an FYE tab available for all first-year students.

Support departments include the Counselling and Careers Development Unit (CCDU), the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Development (CLTD) or support offices such as the Disability Rights Unit and Transformation Office.

Trainees are annually sourced to become mentors through email recruiting by the DLU, which has a system for allocating a group of first-year students to mentors. For example, first years seeking help concerning career support are put in touch with the CCDU by their mentors, who are accountable to their FYE coordinators at the DLU. 

According to GEO senior social worker, Fiona Mahlori, the training curriculum focused on an outline of the GEO’s services and the procedures mentors should follow if a mentee experiences sexual harassment. This included contact numbers for incidents occurring after hours and access to post-exposure prophylaxis kits, which provide medication to be taken within 72 hours of possible exposure to HIV.

“We covered key policies and protocols that govern the work that we do, or issues related to GBV. On campus we highlighted briefly the processes that GEO focuses on, that a complainant will be able to choose or decide to take a certain process or ask GEO to assist with a process,” said Mahlori.

The GEO is planning to continue touching base with mentors throughout the year, to ensure that the training is being implemented effectively, in conjunction with information videos and banners to be shared on their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook profiles.

“There will be training, contact and conversation that will continue throughout the year… as their contact with first years is important,” said Thobile Ndimande, GEO intern.

Mahlori also said that highlighting tactics of technologically based harassment (cyber bullying) was also important because of the blended learning setting that the university has set up.

A 2020 mentor, Lebogang Mokou, told Wits Vuvuzela that her experience as an FYE mentor enabled her to assist first-year students including those from disadvantaged backgrounds with basic information technology skills.

“When it came to res mentoring (FYE sister-sister talks) I’d meet with my mentee at least just once a week for an hour. That’s basically how I worked out a plan to being consistent at this,” the BA honours graduand said. 

  • For any GBV-related assistance, the emergency crisis line is 0800 111 331 or info.geo@wits.ac.za

FEATURED PHOTO: First-Year Experience mentors during orientation week in February 2020. PHOTO: Provided.