Queer in Education – “stop seeing straight and try to be inclusive”

Read time: 3 mins

Prof Dennis Francis and Prof zethu Matebeni 

Photo: Stellenbosch University

As part of its relentless efforts to promote an inclusive University community that embraces diversity, the SARChI Chair in Sexualities, Genders and Queer Studies led by Prof. zethu Matebeni together with the Faculty of Education under the guidance of their Dean,  Prof Vusumzi Mncube hosted a joint seminar and invited a leading scholar and activist, Prof. Dennis Francis from Stellenbosch University, as the guest speaker.

Prof. Francis whose talk was titled: Bodies, Affect and Schooling was an extract from their recently published book Queer Activism in South African Education: Disrupting Cis(hetero)normativity in Schools.  Queer Activism in South African Education offers vital and critical contribution to debates on gender, sexuality and schools in South Africa.

SARChI Chair, Prof. zethu Matebeni said the purpose of the seminar was to drive discussions around learning and unlearning, getting different perspectives and shifting mindset about the queer community and queer scholarship.

Prof Matebeni further added “We have been running several research projects on campus that seek to promote the inclusion, diversity and visibility of queer students on campus. The seminar forms part of those projects. The aim is to keep the awareness going, challenge ourselves and to get out of the comfort zone. As Prof Francis notes, we do not only need to see everything as straight, a view that has been normalised through  heteronormative curriculum, but we can aim to  be inclusive.’’

The projects at UFH include the Queer Ambassadors which hosted the university’s first-ever Pride March in 2021, The Afrika Reading Club (ARC), an interdisciplinary reading group and Words That Heal.

Speaking at the seminar, Dr. Bellita Banda who is a researcher at the SARChl Chair said: “This is the beginning of us interrupting homophobic abuse of the queer community. Today we learned, unlearned and relearned and I hope after this seminar, we will be the torch bearers in  embracing, accepting and encouraging each other to challenge exclusionary practices levelled against queer students.’’

Joining the seminar were final-year students namely: Asiphe Sotheni; Busisiwe Khatshaza; and Thuliswa Ncokazi, from the Faculty of Education who had just completed their teaching experience. The future Educators spoke about their lived experiences during the teaching practices and highlighted the challenges that queer learners in schools encounter in the classroom and in their communities. They also shared some ideas and strategies on how to bring positive change.

Prof. Francis read a few abstracts from their book and they gave an insightful presentation that looked at how learners belonging to the queer community are subject to abuse, discrimination, lack sense of belonging and how they live in fear.  Prof. Francis also highlighted how teachers that are meant to play the role of “in loco parentis” were in fact the perpetrators of promoting homophobic and transphobic behavior in teaching and learning spaces. The seminar thus invited participants, educators and the public at large to change their behavior and be able to see and challenge the dominant Cis(hetero)normativity within the education system and beyond.