Empathy, procedural fairness and confidentiality are at the core of Larona Matee's work at the Equality Unit of Stellenbosch University (SU). A qualified social worker, Matee is a case officer who deals with complaints of discrimination and harassment.
As we kicked off May commemorating Workers' Day, we dedicate this series of articles to our staff and their important contribution to the University. Read on to learn more about Larona's work.
What does your role at SU entail?
As a case officer, I deal with complaints from staff and students relating to unfair discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault. This includes providing advice on the formal or informal processes that are to be adhered to when a case has been reported to the Equality Unit. My role also involves reaching out to the alleged respondent and making them aware that the case has been reported, as well as of the processes to follow. My role is not to judge or make any recommendations, but to provide advice and support to both the complainant and the alleged respondent. As such, empathy, procedural fairness and confidentiality are the cornerstones of our work.
What does a typical day at work look like?
The Equality Unit recently launched an online reporting platform,* where students and staff are encouraged to report unfair discrimination and harassment incidents. My day starts with checking this reporting tool for any new cases. If cases have been reported, I would then follow the necessary processes to conduct the preliminary investigation and provide advice and support. This includes completing intake forms and submitting reports to the head of the Equality Unit and advisors.
Advisors consider all relevant information and recommend the appropriate course of action to the University. Recommendations and interventions could include mediation, activating a panel of inquiry, advising complainants to lodge a grievance in terms of the grievance procedure for staff, proceeding with a student disciplinary process, referral to Human Resources, or referral back to the appropriate line function for intervention and follow-up. Therefore, my role involves meeting, collaborating and maintaining good relations with other support services at the University, such as Human Resources, Student Discipline and others.
How did your education or past experience prepare you for this job?
I worked as a social worker at a public hospital for three years before joining SU, specifically at the outpatient ward, where we dealt with trauma patients. Working in such an unpredictable environment prepared me for my current job in crisis intervention.
What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU?
I enjoy involving students in critical engagements and hosting information sessions about the work of the Equality Unit. I also enjoy developing institutional training and interaction opportunities for students and staff in relation to various social justice topics like consent matters among students, conflict resolution and basic empathy and mediation.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that few people would expect?
I enjoy cooking.
* The Equality Unit urges students and staff who experience unfair discrimination, harassment or victimisation to speak out. Click here to read more about the online reporting and monitoring platform, and how to lodge a complaint.
Photographer: Stefan Els