Coping with violence: institutional and student responses at the University of the Western Cape
Sass, Bridgett Virginia
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This thesis is based on research conducted at the University of the Western Cape, a previously ‘coloured’ university with its beginnings rooted in the political tensions in South Africa. The university is geographically disadvantaged since it is situated on the Cape Flats, which is viewed as a potentially violent area with high crime rates. The study focuses on students who stay in in- and off-campus residences since they are exposed to potential violence when they move inside as well as outside the campus and residence vicinity. In addition to semi-structured interviews conducted with students from the university, I draw on my own experiences as a student having lived in on- and off-campus residences at the university. In this thesis I investigate the tactics students use to stay safe in the face of potential violence in student residences and also in the vicinity of the university. I refer to violence in the same way as Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2004) do - as falling on a continuum along with other forms of violence which include structural violence, torture, genocide, political violence, state violence, symbolic violence, sexual violence and colonial violence. When students move outside of campus and residences they fear being robbed, murdered or sexually violated. Students also felt that if this should happen to them, others present will not step in to help them. The tactics students use to stay safe outside and on campus include moving in numbers, staying away from deserted or specific places at certain times, walking fast with a serious facial expression, and greeting oncomers. In residences women particularly feared going to ablution areas at certain times of the day because of stories they heard about sexual violence taking place in showers. The tactics they used to stay safe from that involved taking showers during ‘peak’ hours. However, a lack of trust which students have in residential administrators impedes the safety students experience in residences. I questioned how students can feel safe outside residences when residential organisation leaves their safety precarious. Overall I found that awareness of potentially dangerous spaces, through stories, the news media or witness, informed students’ tactics of safety. Furthermore, this thesis explores the relevance of formal campus services in response to violence in the everyday lives of students who live in in- and off-campus residences. I discuss the changes that have taken place in terms of campus security, and how the meanings of safety, play an important role in the ways the university as an institution responds to violence. The meanings of safety and security also translate into specific safety interventions, which I found to focus more on perpetrators of violence from ‘outside’, that on perpetrators of violence on the ‘inside’. In the institution’s dealings with sexual violence I also explore how perceptions of sexual violence and relationship dynamics influence the infection of HIV/AIDS, and the university’s approach to dealing with this threat to students’ safety.