We speak to Dr Priscilla Gutura (33), a senior Social Work lecturer who obtained her PhD at the age of 27, as part of this special edition of Tukkievaria to commemorate Youth Month.

Posted on June 19, 2020

Dr Priscilla Gutura (33), a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Criminology in UP’s Faculty of Humanities, is one of the first black females to hold a PhD in the field of social work in South Africa. She chats to Primarashni Gower about the rewards of being an educator and the power the country’s youth holds.

PG (Primarashni Gower): What has been your greatest achievement to date?

Being one of the first young black females at the University of Fort Hare to obtain a PhD. I did this in 2014 at the age of 27. I am among the first black females to hold a PhD in the field of social work in South Africa. Also, I received a Y-2 rating (a young researcher – within five years from PhD – who is recognised by the overriding majority of reviewers as having the potential to establish him/herself as a researcher of considerable international standing on the basis of the quality and impact of his/her recent research outputs) from the National Research Foundation this year.

PG: Other than lecturing, what else do you do at UP?

Apart from being a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Work and Criminology, I chair the Transformation Committee in the department, coordinate the social work tutor programme and serve on the faculty’s Research Ethics Committee.

PG: Why did you chose this career path?

Professor Pius Tanga – who was both my master’s and PhD supervisor, and who shaped my career – was one of the few black professors in Social Work academia. He served as a role model to me; but other than Prof Tanga, my role models have always included women in academia. When I was studying, there was an influx of female Social Work academics, but most did not have PhDs. A large majority of high-profile researchers were males and white females – I wanted to fill the gap.

Also, while I was studying towards my master’s, I was appointed as a tutor for undergraduates in the Department of Social Work and Social Development at the University of Fort Hare. I enjoyed assisting students and seeing them changing their lives for the better. Many young students, especially females, looked up to me. That confirmed my passion for teaching; ultimately, I pursued this career so that I could influence students, and inspire and motivate them to achieve their potential.

PG: How rewarding is your career?

Teaching is one of the most challenging careers one can pursue. As a lecturer, I have to challenge my students to excel and work with them to overcome obstacles, because in many cases, a student who is struggling simply needs the right approach to help them learn. Students respond to different teaching styles, which means I need to be creative.

I believe I can influence the lives of my students, and I find this to be rewarding and fulfilling. I get to work with diverse students who are eager to learn and share their ideas with me. I am glad to be part of the era of transformation in universities, where teaching has changed from what Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire called the “banking concept of education” to a more participatory approach, which allows for critical reflection. The active spaces I create in class and seeing my students engaging respectfully and intellectually without judgement based on race, class, status, culture or gender is fulfilling.

I also have the opportunity to uplift communities through research and participating in community development projects with my students.

PG: What advice do you have for young people on how they can help to build a stronger South Africa?

A stronger South Africa needs people who are active participants and unafraid of change. My advice to young people is to remember that you are at the centre of strength, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in. Stand up for what you believe in and always strive for excellence and integrity – you have the power to transform the nation into a better place. You have a positive influence on your peers, so let your voice be heard. Help people to help themselves so as to not rob them of their self-dignity. The vision of our country lies in your hands.

PG: Is there anything that you would like to say to older people about the way young people are treated, and how this could be changed for the better?

The way older people categorise and think about youth and our modern emphasis on age segregation has affected the development of our country. The vision of our country lies in the hands of our youth. They are filled with incredible ambition – it would be a great waste of human resources if these young people are not given an opportunity to exercise their skills because of their age.


- Author Primarashni Gower

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