An exploration of learners’ perceptions and attitudes to race with specific focus on the role of on-campus interactions and experiences in South Africa.
Tsikai, Takudzwa Thomas.
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The purpose of this study was to explore learners’ perceptions and attitudes to race with specific focus on the role of on-campus interactions and experiences in South Africa. A review of the literature highlights the ‘troubling nature’ of race in South Africa as suggested by Durrheim (2017). This is explored in relation to the wider South African context and then narrowed down to the higher learning system. This research is centred upon social constructionism which informed the utilisation of qualitative analysis as the most suitable research design. An exploration of the narratives of learners in higher education was engaged through semi-structured in-depth interviews that were conducted in August 2017. An equal representation of the four main racial groups in South Africa as reflected in South African Census Statistical Release (2011): Black, White, Indian and Coloured were interviewed. The learners’ hesitance towards open engagements on race was unearthed, despite a majority consensus on the significance of such discussions towards transformative efforts within an institution of higher learning that is regarded as a site of transformation in post-Apartheid South Africa. Such hesitance underscores Durrheim, Greener and Whitehead’s (2015) notion of ‘race trouble’ as the authors argue on how race continues to dictate over peoples’ actions, utterances and ways of living in South Africa despite the abolishment of apartheid legislature. The key influencers to the learners’ interactional patterns are examined in relation to their constructions of race, their experiences as students ascribed to their respective racial groupings and also as an overall understanding of the institutional racial climate. It was also established that desegregation does not guarantee a change in attitudinal change as understood by Meier and Hartell (2009). The learners reflected inclinations towards the maintenance of interactions within their specific racial groups, and displayed prejudicial predispositions towards the learners of other races, despite their efforts in trying not to overtly depict them. Various barriers to access in education were explored from a non-black perspective, where issues of perceived marginalisation and hostility were discussed in understanding the overall racial climate within the university setting.