Mr Bryan Bergsteedt has been elected as the chairperson of Stellenbosch University's Institutional Forum (IF) from 2021 to 2023.
Bergsteedt, who has an MSc Degree in Human Anatomy, is a lecturer in the Clinical Anatomy Division at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at Stellenbosch University (SU).
As one of SU's primary statutory bodies, the Institutional Forum (IF) has the responsibility to advise Council on transformation and policy matters that could have an impact on the strategic intent of the University.
"The Institutional Forum plays a vital role in ensuring that the voice of the broader SU sector is heard, especially from often-underrepresented constituencies, such as support and technical staff, students, and the Stellenbosch community," says Bergsteedt.
He stresses that, as the chairperson of this body, it is his duty to make sure that these voices are heard.
Bergsteedt describes the main function of the IF as advising Council on the following issues affecting the University:
- The implementation of the Higher Education Act and the national policy on higher education;
- Race and gender equity policies;
- Implementation of the Employment Equity plan;
- Transformation of all structures;
- The selection of candidates for senior management positions, including that of the rector's management team;
- Codes of conduct, mediation and dispute resolution procedures; and
- The fostering of an institutional culture, which promotes tolerance and respect for fundamental human rights, and creates an appropriate and world-class environment for teaching, learning, and research.
How he initially became involved with the IF
Bergsteedt has walked a long road with the IF, from the time he was a second-year student at SU, and started becoming involved with the broader student community.
"Shortly after that, I became the Faculty of Science's Natural Sciences Students Committee (NSC) Chairperson," he tells of those early days. "Because of this position, I was appointed to Stellenbosch University's Academic Affairs Council (AAC), where I was voted onto the executive committee. I was the AAC's member appointed to the Institutional Forum for the year of 2014."
Things were very different back then, as the committee's composition was very different to what it is now, and he found his role to be a challenging one. "It was difficult to get a copy of the agenda and the minutes in English, which sometimes made it difficult to follow proceedings, and to vote on policy and procedural matters."
After his student term, in his capacity as a full-time lecturer at the FMHS, he was determined to continue contributing to his alma mater's environment in various ways.
"Today, I am so proud of the path that has led me here, despite how difficult it has been at times. At the age of 27, I am both the youngest and the first Black person appointed as chairperson of this vital statutory body at the University," says Bergsteedt.
In addition to his academic position, he is also a visiting head in the Private Students Organisation's (PSO) office, a member of the Senate Research Ethics Committee, and he continues to engage and contribute within his faculty environment.
What Bergsteedt hopes to achieve in his new role
He mentions the effect of his background and his experiences as profound influences in his decision-making.
"I was a first-generation student in my family. My widowed mother struggled to finance her children's university education. I knew, however, that I belonged in this environment. I was also involved in the 2015 #FeesMustFall student movement, End Outsourcing, and gender-based violence campaigns, and these experiences have helped inform important institutional decisions that affect so many lives at SU."
He acknowledges the guidance and mentorship he received from Dr Celeste Nel, Director of the Centre for Admission and Residence Placement, and former IF chairperson. He also mentions the role played by several Black academics who continue to inspire him, and provide mentorship in an environment that has, at times, been so exclusionary.
"These are the lived experiences I carry with me, and that define who I am. I hope to draw from these during my term as chairperson of the IF, where I hope to create a statutory body that welcomes all voices, regardless of rank, and underpins transformation in all its forms when making vital decisions that will have a long-lasting impact on the many sectors at SU," says Bergsteedt.