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Master’s in Education graduate, Ms Phakamile Mazibuko.

‘Receiving this degree serves as a testimony that dreams do come true and hard work works! The dream may be delayed but when the time is right, it will happen. I am so grateful to God for answering my prayers,’ said UKZN graduate, Ms Phakamile Mazibuko who received her Master’s in Education.

‘I pursued my master’s degree because of my passion for research, particularly on gendered experiences of women in Higher Education spaces. My research study: Negotiating Gender Identities in Higher Education: Experiences of Female Residence Assistants at Selected Student Residences in Durban was in the context of gender-based violence (GBV) in Higher Education Institutions, particularly in student residences,’ she added.

Her study explored the lived experiences of female residence assistants (RAs) on negotiating gender identities at selected student residences in Durban.

Substantial research carried out in South African Higher Education Institutions suggest that student residences are spaces for gender and sexual violence for and by students. Arguably, a residential experience is a central part of a student’s identity, development, and negotiation, therefore, it is an important component of their overall educational and university experience.

‘I am hopeful that this study will greatly contribute to understanding the overarching experiences (personal and social context) that affect female RAs in Higher Education spaces, especially student residences,’ said Mazibuko.

The study found that female RAs experienced multiple oppressions in Durban student residences such as bullying and harassment as a result of their multiple intersecting identities. The study also found that despite the extreme challenges and pressures exerted on female RAs, they still demonstrated agency, commitment, and resilience towards negotiating for diversity, gender equality, and tolerance in student residences.

Mazibuko’s study has shown that Higher Education spaces, particularly student residences, remain hubs of gender inequality, hostility, and intolerance towards women and the queer community. She suggests that ‘there is an urgent need to study the lived experiences of residence assistants within the queer community as this will be helpful to enhance respect for diversity in Higher Education spaces.’

Mazibuko says the academic journey was not easy, especially with the challenges presented by COVID-19 which resulted in psychosocial challenges that impacted her studies. However, she is grateful to the support services provided by UKZN such as the online webinars and student support workshops which helped her cope and thrive in learning in the “new normal”.

She also thanked her family for their continuous love and support during her academic journey and her supervisor for his support and guidance.

Her advice to other students is: ‘Work hard, stay committed and consistent. This academic journey is a marathon, not a sprint, so it is important to stay committed and be consistent. Take breaks when necessary and occupy yourself with things that make you happy; the journey can get quite lonely, so you need to revive your spirit and energy continuously.’

Words: Lungile Ngubelanga

Photograph: Itumeleng Masa