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For A Successful 2017 Academic Year, Academic Institutions Must Love Us

Black students know their own financial struggles and can tell when a system is deliberately stopping them from success.

06/02/2017 04:59 SAST | Updated 06/02/2017 09:58 SAST
Jaco Marais/ Foto24/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
University of Cape Town students march during the #FeesMustFall protest on October 03, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa

The month of January saw many universities take in new students, "freshers" as they are called. All of these students came from a system that was somehow more nurturing than the one they have entered. Academia is a dog-eat-dog world. It is cut-throat in more ways than one, many people have a lot hanging on this opportunity of study and even as they enter the tertiary sector, they probably have things like black tax, hanging over their heads. But all in all, academia is a system that was never made with black people in mind. It's still deeply entrenched in western standards, so when the black youth took to the streets to voice out their frustrations about university fees, the academic institutions dumped us.

Changing narratives

There is a narrative doing the rounds that fallists are ignorant, that they don't want to get an education and that they enjoy the thrill of protesting and being disruptive. This is utter nonsense. There is nothing enjoyable about teargas, flying rubber bullets and fear. There's nothing enjoyable about having to fight a system that won't budge. No one has ever fought an oppressive system with a smile on their face and the fallists are no different.

You forget that these people (a huge majority of which are black) are protesting for higher education – a worthy cause, right? Wrong. These protests seemed unworthy because as soon as black people turn their backs on western ideologies or principles, they're doing so because "they're not smart, they're animals and they're uneducated".

Even historically, when the youth protested against being taught in Afrikaans they were associated with barbarism. It was absolutely absurd to the government that anyone could ever want to disrupt such a superior system, despite the fact that the protesters felt oppressed, felt dehumanised and felt that they had to stand up for what they believe was right for them. We can definitely relate this to the Fees Must Fall movement and how the students must have felt. Students know their struggles at home, financial and otherwise, they know when a system is deliberately stopping them from succeeding, so they stood up for what they believed was right for them.

During the protests, it felt like the universities had turned their backs against the students. Students were no longer students, they became imminent threats that had to be 'taken care of'. That's academia for you. To be an academic is to stand by and watch as the systems of the institution harm you and others. To be an academic is to not make a noise, to be discrete, sweep things under the rug and pretend that everything's okay, especially when it's not.

Black people love order and maintenance as much as the next person but when there is a fire, it is in our DNA to scream "FIRE!", we're not gonna lie on the ground and roll over, we're getting out and we won't do it quietly. It doesn't make us less human, it doesn't make us uneducated, it makes us magic... and human.

There is a necessity to constantly bring up our credentials and receipts so that doors may open for us. Despite our different backgrounds, our intersectionality, the different languages we speak, to these academic institutions, if one is not worthy then surely all of us aren't.

When students felt financially oppressed, they spoke up until the message was received. With the protests having died down, this means that students, fallists and everyone else have to return to their books with a a lot of academic anxiety and uncertainty. We are trying to reintegrate ourselves within the system, with the hopes that what was broken has been fixed and that all that remains broken will be fixed.

We constantly need to reassure the powers that be that we are worthy, we have accolades, we have great black academics. This almost passive aggressive behaviour between black people and institutions of higher learning is caused by the fact that this system was not made with us in mind. So there is a need to constantly bring up our credentials and receipts so that doors may open for us all. There is a necessity to constantly bring up our credentials and receipts so that doors may open for us. Despite our different backgrounds, our intersectionality, the different languages we speak, to these academic institutions if one is not worthy then surely all of us aren't either.

I think that for a successful academic year, academic institutions need to do better, they need to support us, it should not distance itself from students when we speak up. We need to be able to protest for our rights without worrying about getting expelled or jailed. The academics in tertiary institutions must love us unconditionally – especially when we are fighting for the institutions they love.