Social identity in adjusting to university life : experiences of economically disadvantaged students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Ncane, Thobile B.
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The number of students from disadvantaged communities within South African tertiary institutions continues to grow. There is a dynamic culture within these institutions to which students have to adjust. This culture is not only characterized by diversity in academic faculties but by diversity in socio-economic backgrounds, racial groups and modern social trends. The ability to adjust and be integrated academically and socially within the university and its diverse social culture is a unique experience to every student. The aim of this study was to explore the student’s experiences, their shifting social roles, the social pressures experienced at university and the impact of the university as a social setting on social identity. Guided by an interpretive paradigm, the study followed qualitative methods to collect and to analyse data. A total number of 19, South African undergraduate Zulu speaking students (10 Males and 9 Females) within the school of Applied Human Sciences were purposefully selected to participate in 3 focus group discussions. Using thematic analysis, the results were grouped under five themes. These include; orientation, culture shock, self- perceptions, labelling as a social barrier and finally, social support. The struggle to fit in due to social barriers such as language, social class, and economic status was perceived by the participants as one of the major challenges at university. Even if their university experiences were different, the participants’ social identities proved to be fluid and susceptible to change. Through their unique university experiences, participants learned to redefine their identities, social roles within and outside of university. Participants continuously and actively establish a sense of belonging on campus by creating a space on campus that caters for their social needs and process of adjustment. A positively perceived process of adjustment to campus social life appears to have positive impact on the quality of the participants’ overall experience at university and their sense of self.