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Grant Awarded For Student-Faculty Research in South Africa

In October 2015, students rallied outside government buildings across South Africa against proposed hikes in university fees. Earlier that year, using the social media hashtags #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall, students protested against the statue of industrialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town, which had become a symbol of that nation’s colonial past and racial oppression.

The student movements lead to shutdowns at several higher educational institutions and the eventual removal of the Rhodes statue. It also prompted St. Lawrence University junior Rutendo Chabikwa ’17, a Davis UWC Scholar from neighboring Zimbabwe, where university fees have also been on the rise, to ask why students there have been unable to mobilize.

She used the 2015 student movements to inform her winning proposal for the Center for International and Intercultural Studies (CIIS) Fellows Program, a travel grant that provides funding for faculty and students to pursue research outside the regular academic year and to share an experience of working together in a different cultural setting.

Rutendo will travel to South Africa with Madeleine Wong, associate professor and chair of the Department of Global Studies, to pursue their project, titled “#FeesMustFall: Engaging Youth Subjectivities and Social Movements in South Africa.” According to Rutendo, the research project will be a way for her to make sense of the hurdles that younger generations face in creating a space to better understand what the future of Africa may look like given the persistence of colonial legacies.

“This research project is socially and politically significant and meaningful to me in many ways,” said Rutendo, who was one of four students who attended the Clinton Global Initiative in March 2015. “Conducting this research in a place geographically close to home is for me a way of making sense of the hurdles that younger generations face in creating a space to identify themselves and how they navigate the challenges they encounter in pursuing their educational aspirations. Importantly, engaging with South African peers will inform my understanding of how Zimbabwean students can mobilize and start dialog to empower themselves to address similar challenges.”  

The CIIS award of $5,750 will pay for Rutendo's airfare to South Africa to join Wong as well as their lodging and research expenses for four weeks in Cape Town and Johannesburg, beginning in June.

“I am privileged to have this opportunity to conduct one-on-one, faculty-student research in collaboration with Rutendo in a different part of the African continent that enriches both our intellectual projects and our international and intercultural experiences,” Wong said. “This opportunity gives me the chance to work on an emerging research project analyzing how Ghanaian skilled migrants not only occupy professional occupations and leadership positions, but also navigate a xenophobic post-apartheid and postcolonial society in South Africa.”

The research will provide Rutendo with materials that she will be able to use for her Senior-Year Project next academic year. She also intends to present her analysis at the Festival of Scholarship in the Spring 2017 as well as at the Association of American Geographers, which will take place next April in Boston.

“I am a strong proponent of an immersive higher education experience for our students, particularly international and intercultural experiential learning and linking classroom knowledge with real world processes,” Wong said. “As such, active grounded research—through deeper engagement with the local contexts, and first-hand experience of the fundamentals of research—allows both students and faculty to pursue their interests and goals while building critical skills in research and mentorship.”