As some students gear up for the start of the academic year, others are facing the possibility of being academically or financially excluded – often for reasons beyond their control. Aaisha Dadi Patel spoke to FASIHA HASSAN, the Wits University SRC academic officer, about this process.
The role of the Students Representative Council (SRC) when it comes to exclusions is to advise and intercede on behalf of students who have become financially or academically excluded in the past academic year. It’s a difficult process in a number of ways, and for a number of reasons.
For many of the students, exclusion has become something they’ve had to deal with because of reasons that are out of their control. For example, how do you tell a student who was raped, and had to deal with interacting with their rapist on a regular basis, that you can’t promise her that she’ll be brought back after she became academically excluded due to failing her final exams because of the trauma she was dealing with in her life?
A lot of students will be excluded because of financial reasons. It’s so disheartening to see, for example, really bright students who get A averages face the risk of exclusion because they signed up for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which couldn’t hold its end of the bargain and has left students in a dilemma. Or students battling to pay their fees because they’re self-funded and haven’t managed to pay off their student loans yet.
A common misconception people have is that students will only get academically excluded when they’re lazy and, therefore, failed subjects or courses. This couldn’t be further from reality – most often, there’s a deeper, underlying emotional cause or source of turmoil.
I mentioned the rape victim; there are also students with family members battling diseases like HIV, and there are students who, at 19 years old, are heads of households. These are just a few examples of the kinds of challenges students face. Sometimes a student will fail a course by just a few percent, jeopardising a number of opportunities in the end.
And, while we will advise as best as we can, review department or faculty policies, and guide students in drafting their letters of appeal, at the end of the day it’s still a gamble and still a fight. All we can do sometimes is say a prayer for it to work out.
Helping students fight exclusion is an emotionally trying experience which without a doubt requires self-sacrifice, but at the same time, is so humbling. The stories that you hear of the challenges that students have to face make you so grateful for what you have.
– As told to Aaisha Dadi Patel.
– Featured image: Wits SRC members and other volunteers assisting students who have been threatened with exclusion. Fasiha Hassan is on the far left. By Senzekahle Mbokazi.