The UFS is in the heart of central South Africa. It is situated in a largely rural province where poverty, illiteracy and disease hamper the tremendous potential of the land and its citizens. Like all South African universities, the UFS faces challenges of racism, prejudice and exclusion.
In February 2008, the Reitz residence on campus reached international attention after a video of a mock initiation of five black staff members emerged. The video outraged black and most white South Africans and sent shockwaves throughout the world. It resulted in student protests and pressured the government and universities to respond to overt and covert racism in universities.
The UFS chose to respond to racism by developing new strategies for integration. Great success has been achieved with residences now largely integrated on a 50/50 basis for the first time since the early 1990s. However, making the sharing of accommodation spaces compulsory is not enough to address the root causes of racism, which is caused by a lack of exposure to and understanding of different cultures and backgrounds.
As a result, the Study Abroad Leaders for Change initiative was started during 2010. The impact of this initial phase of the programme on human transformation is clearly evident. Exposing students to positive models of racial integration will go a long way towards changing and enriching the minds of young leaders, who have committed to building a truly non-racial community during and beyond their university years.
Started in September 2010, the first 71 UFS students were sent abroad for two weeks and given intense exposure to the academic, social, cultural and residential lives of students in the United States of America.
The benefits of exposure to cross-cultural and cross-border experiences have been confirmed by the first group of Leaders for Change upon their return.
What did the 2010 students bring back with them?
- The group has served as the peer mentoring crew of the Gateway First-Year Welcoming and Orientation Programme 2011.
- Smaller groups of students serve as mentors in well-being and academic peer-advising programmes and play leading roles in campus-community service programmes,
- Smaller groups and individual participants have initiated dialoguing and leadership development programmes on campus, in residences and in student life generally.
- A large number of the students were elected as members of executive committees of student associations and student management committees in residence, and will be running for student-governance structures in 2011/2012.