Wits LGBTQ+ students have proposed accommodations exclusively catering to them, to foster inclusion and safety for the queer community
The Wits University management, consisting of the dean of students, the director of campus housing, and the Board of Residence (BOR) is weighing the feasibility of a queer only residence. This was done following a ‘queer-safe house proposal’ by two transgender students.
The students, Samora Mbambi and Jordan Lee Green, first approached Tish White, programme coordinator at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Advocacy Projects after encountering difficulties at their respective accommodations.
Mbambi, a transgender woman, came to Wits in her first year in 2020, having already fully transitioned, she was assigned to a men’s only residence, to share a room with two male students.
“Not only did it make me uncomfortable, but it also equally made them uncomfortable, because they would always mabe phuma [when they would leave the room] to go to the kitchen, other boys would laugh at them” explained Mbambi.
Mbambi and Green were initially told by management that a queer safe house would exclude students based on their sexual orientation.
However, White escalated the matter to the dean of student affairs, Jerome September, who took it up to the director of Campus Housing and Residence Life (CHRL) Basil Mugwena. Last month, the pair, together with the students and the BOR met to deliberate on the viability of the proposal.
As part of their proposal, the students conducted a survey through Activate – a queer student society at Wits – asking their peers if they would apply to live in a queer only residence. The survey received a resounding response, with 95.8% of the people surveyed answering yes to the question.
Anele Zulu* said that the bi-gendered system that Wits uses to assign students to residences should be revisited. “It has been triggering me with dysphoria, as I am forced to share a room and unit with men while I’m a woman and in my transitioning phase.”
In August 2018, the institution removed gender prefixes from communication to students to promote inclusion of transgender students. In the statement Wits said, “the University recognizes that it is invalidating and distressing for a person who, for an example, was assigned female at birth but identifies as male to be constantly addressed by a non-affirming title in University correspondence and systems.” However, based on these students’ concerns, more can be done.
Green emphasized: “we know that they strive for inclusion and equality. We would simply like to push this a little further”.
The queer-safe house team told Wits Vuvuzela that the mixed residence option is “integrated on paper”, but because of people’s attitudes and biases, there is still a long way to go to ensure that some queer students in res feel safe.
The name with * was changed to protect the student’s identity.
FEATURED IMAGE: Samora Mbambi, one part of the queer safe house proposal team. Photo by Morongoa Masebe.
Affected students in a meeting with acting Dean of Students Lamese Abrahams discussing amongst other things, the plan to accommodate students preparing for exams. Photo: Michelle Gumede
by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede
HUNDREDS of Wits students will be temporarily accommodated for free after being left homeless on campus over the festive season, squatting in libraries and computer labs to prepare for their supplementary and deferred examinations.
This comes after the entire end-of-year examination timetable was reshuffled due to the #FeesMustFall protests that rocked the country late last year. Supplementary and deferred exam dates were pushed back to early January and many students stayed on campus to prepare. But many were left without accommodation as residences closed on December 1.
In protest against their lack of accommodation, many of the affected students with the Wits Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Wits Fees Must Fall (FMF) staged a sit-in at the Senate House concourse, also known as Solomon House.
On Monday January 4, several Student Representative Council (SRC) members met with representatives from the All Res Council, the university administration and Wits EFF to agree that students writing deferred and supplementary exams would be accommodated on campus.
SRC projects, media and campaigns officer Mzwanele Ntshwanti said the SRC left for holidays on December 23. When the SRC arrived on campus in early January, they received and processed a list of the homeless compiled by a few students who had been staying in the library, concourse and computer labs. Ntshwanti said the SRC were already prepared that there might be a situation where a bulk of students would come from all over the country to write their exams. However, he said preparations stalled over how much it would cost the university.
“Conversations were started, they were just never concluded because the university was like ‘It’s gonna be costly and they were not willing to take the cost’,” Ntshwanti said.
This week’s agreement allows for 500 students, 300 male and 200 female, to be accommodated at Men’s Res and Jubilee respectively. Ntshwanti estimates the accommodation will cost the SRC R181 per night per student.
University officials could not be reached for comment by Wits Vuvuzela as of the time of posting this article.
Vuyani Pambo of Wits EFF said his organisation spent their holidays staging a sit in at Mens res, studying and consulting with students on possible solutions regarding the academic year ahead. Pambo says during their interaction with students it became more apparent that many students were on campus studying and doing vacation work to save up for their fees while being without accommodation.
On December 28, the Wits EFF staged a “let in” at Mens Res, where they opened up the residence for all homeless student which lead to conflict with campus control.
Pambo said they occupied Men’s Res only after attempting, unsuccessfully, to negotiate for accommodation for the homeless students with the university.
Although campus control was called to the Men’s Res, the students were never removed from the res and students are now coming in to sign up for accommodation since the agreement was publicised on social media by both the SRC and Wits EFF.
The procedure is that students have to go to cluster head Doreen Musemwa at Jubilee residence the day before their allocated exam date where their status for a deferred or supplementary exam is verified. Students must then go to the SRC offices to fill out forms and then they can then move into res. Students can stay at res until the day after their exam and will receive breakfast daily at the main dining hall for the duration of their stay.
Third-year mining student, Albert Sefadi* said that learning about the agreement on Facebook, he drove to Johannesburg from Mahikeng to sign up for the accommodation before his exam date. However, he says when he got to Jubilee on Tuesday he found that Musemwa was not around and he had to sleep in his car.
Sefadi was later assisted by the SRC on Wednesday and had completed all his paperwork, ready to move into his room by 10am.
There are some students who are distrustful of the arrangement. Rendani Dumah* a final-year education student and Wits FMF member decided to not take the offered accommodation.
“I don’t want to have the SRC telling people that they did stuff for me when they didn’t do anything,” said Dumah.
As of Friday, the occupation of Senate House has continued despite the dean of students sent the FMF group a letter demanding they leave the concourse.
*Affected students requested that Wits Vuvuzela change their names.
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