Narrative Negotiation and Navigation at a University Campus

By: Emma Groenewald   A le Roux  

Since South Africa`s transition to democracy in 1994, numerous policies were put in place to address social inequalities caused by apartheid. In order to meet the vision of a transformed higher education, access to higher institutions was increased. The demand for access to higher education precipitated the establishment of two new universities. This paper seeks to understand how students position themselves in a newly established diverse university context. To adjust to the new context, students have to constantly navigate and negotiate while their identities are being re-evaluated and reconstructed. While students bring their own unique stories to the higher education context, the interconnection between race, language, and gender creates opportunities to reconfigure their identities. This study was underpinned by an interpretative approach and a social constructivist paradigm. Four students from different linguistic, racial, and ethnic backgrounds were chosen as participants. Data was generated through reflective exercises and semi-structured interviews. A narrative methodology was used which involved listening and analysing the participants’ narratives. Informed by Somer`s (1994) narrative theory and Tajfel and Turner`s social identity theory (1979), the cultural and historical embeddedness of each participant was taken into account. While some students experienced a sense of belonging on campus, others felt marginalised. The students’ experiences of exclusion indicate that the transformation vision for higher education has not yet been realised. The narratives highlighted issues of multilingualism, the management of diversity, and the negotiation of a university culture, which in turn, provided suggestions of how higher education institutions can become more equitable.

Identity and Belonging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Emma Groenewald

Lecturer, Education, Sol Plaatje University, South Africa
South Africa

A le Roux