Stellenbosch University
Welcome to Stellenbosch University
A day in the life: Dr Jill Ryan
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 05/05/2023

​​Since joining Stellenbosch University’s Equality Unit, Dr Jill Ryan has become an outspoken voice against gender-based violence. Ryan says she feels grateful to be able to make a difference. When she’s doing training or presenting a workshop, it’s the “lightbulb” moments, when someone in the audience “clicks” the message she wants to get across, that makes her work meaningful.​

As we kicked off May commemorating Workers' Day, we dedicate this series of articles to our staff and their important contribution to the University. In the interview below, Ryan tells us more about her work.

Explain your role at SU, please. ​

As the gender non-violence coordinator, my main function entails providing strategic institutional support for our response against gender-based violence (GBV). This means providing shared responsibility management, monitoring the institution's anti-GBV activities, initiatives and action plans linked to policy through our anti-GBV monitoring committee, as well as providing training and interventions on GBV awareness and creating strengthened partnerships/collaborations to respond to GBV at SU. 

What does a typical day at work look like? 

Every day brings something new. However, my week can include facilitating workshops, meetings, training, and presentations on various topics including GBV, unconscious bias, bystander interventions, etc., for both staff and student engagement. Furthermore, it can involve case advisement, participating in research and research initiatives linked to strengthened institutional response to GBV, participating in internal and external provincial and regional committees and forums on GBV, participating in and convening workgroups for  our Community of Practitioners Against GBV (which are staff and students from South African Universities providing intentional support, research, education, advocacy, solutions, and interventions, towards a determined approach in preventing and eradicating gender-based violence on university campuses across South Africa). In addition to this, I liaise and assist student leadership on ways to combat GBV and receive invitations to participate on various panel discussions at SU and via other related networks.

How did your education or past experiences prepare you for this role? 

I have a B Psych degree with my post-graduate studies (Master's and PhD) in Child and Family Studies, which I completed at the University of the Western Cape. The focus of my studies included family violence, with emphasis on intergenerational transmission of domestic violence and using intervention research for strategies that disrupt the cycle of violence and facilitate well-being. I have worked as a research assistant, clinical support facilitator, and lecturer, and currently supervise postgraduate students. My love and interest for intervention research were further fostered at my previous post as a senior scientist at Cochrane South Africa based at the South African Medical Research Council. These amazing opportunities showed me how vital it is not only to create evidence-informed interventions but have interventions and responses be contextually relevant, needs sensitive and place the utmost importance on stakeholder engagement and buy-in for transformative change. 

What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SU? 

Too many to mention but I'll try! The amazing people I work with but also those I get to engage with. It is the proverbial “lightbulb moment" when you do a workshop or training, and you see something click with the audience. It is the amazing conversations, at times real and raw, that we have with staff and students during our engagements, and it's beautiful to be part of these much-needed spaces. Gender-based violence and the reflection on violent conditions show us our woundedness and how our woundedness is layered, but also entangled in the systems we interact with; therefore, healing is a process, and our actions toward social justice must be meaningful and intentional. I feel grateful to be part of this.

Tell us something exciting or interesting about yourself that few people would expect.  

I love food! And not just eating it but knowing about it. Food is an extension of self, identity, culture and heritage but can also push you towards new ways of experiencing comfort (favourite dish even when far from home) and difference (through food, you can taste a country you've not yet visited). Whether it's a class on food fermentation, a barista lesson, sessions on local and international cuisines or anything which really encapsulates the versatility and diversity of food, I enjoy being part of that.