On Tuesday (1 October 2019), the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, announced that an Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) gender grant had been awarded to three South African universities. The recipients are Stellenbosch University (SU) along with the universities of Johannesburg and the Western Cape.
Markle made the announcement at the University of Johannesburg, taking part in an ACU roundtable discussion on how to solve global challenges through inclusive higher education. The Duke and Duchess have been on a royal tour of Africa since 23 September.
SU received the ACU gender grant for its proposed Gender Detour project. The initiative aims to design a unique campus walkabout that would spark intentional conversations about the role of gender in campus culture, emotional and physical safety, health, social life, leadership, achievement and the future workplace.
According to Monica du Toit, ResEd group coordinator at SU's Centre for Student Communities, she was very surprised to learn about the award. “When I initially drafted the proposal to the ACU, I didn't really expect that we would receive the grant. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the news. This grant is a great incentive to help SU develop an interactive project that will enable students from different backgrounds to talk about their experiences." During the roundtable discussion, Du Toit not only received the opportunity to meet Markle, but also got to interact with some 20 fellow academics and students working to improve the inclusivity and quality of higher education.
The Duchess became patron of the ACU in January when she took over this role from Queen Elizabeth, who had held the position for 33 years. The ACU discussion in Johannesburg also afforded Markle the opportunity to learn more about the challenges faced by young women in pursuing higher education.
“I was pleased to see so many different women from various backgrounds speaking with Markle about the gender issues they and other women on the continent were facing. It was also very encouraging to observe how she interacted with the students and others present," said Du Toit.
SU's Gender Detour will require students to sign up as facilitators to accompany groups of four to six people – males, females as well as gender non-conforming identities – on a two-hour walk-and-talk experience. Special attention will be paid to making the route accessible for students and staff with disabilities or special needs.
Representatives from the student community have already been invited to a workshop that will set about designing the Gender Detour route, a discussion map or guide, and a feedback mechanism. Thanks to the ACU grant, the project will be further developed and officially launched in the months ahead.
For more information about the Gender Detour project, contact Monica du Toit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo supplied by Reuters via SABC News.