Anti-Discrimination Week: A message from UP’s Director of Transformation

Posted on October 08, 2020

Anti-Discrimination Week (30 September to 4 October) was commemorated to encourage students and staff at UP to stand up to discriminatory practices. The question that arises in this regard is: how far have we come in dealing with discrimination issues at the institution?

One of the priorities of the Transformation Unit at UP is to create a conducive, safe working and learning environment for students and staff at the University in this regard.

The University has always been committed to the elimination of discrimination and this is encapsulated in its Transformation Plan. UP has made great strides in instilling a culture of diversity and inclusion by incorporating all policies and procedures dealing with discriminatory practices into one all-inclusive policy.

The Anti-Discrimination Policy, which was implemented in September 2019, replaced the code of conduct on the handling of sexual harassment and the policy on the elimination of racism. It also incorporated other procedures that exist within the University, ones that deal with all kinds of discrimination, including the rights of people with disabilities and that of the LGBTQI+ community.

The policy focuses on prevention, awareness and training, disciplinary procedures and the support services offered to victims and perpetrators. Additionally, it empowers bystanders and whistle-blowers by allowing others to report cases on behalf of those who might not feel strong enough to detail instances of discrimination.

Since the launch of the Anti-Discrimination Policy in 2019, the Transformation Unit has managed the University’s awareness programmes around discrimination through the #SpeakOutUP campaign, as well as all reported cases. It also offers advice and preliminary counselling support to victims. Severe cases are referred to the Psychological Unit (for students) and the Employee Wellness Unit. Cases are thoroughly investigated with the support of the Security Investigations Unit. An assessment is made from the evidence gathered and the Transformation Unit then submits the recommended disciplinary processes to be followed to the relevant legal body (the Legal Unit for students and Employee Wellness Unit of Human Resources for employees) within the University for possible implementation.

Let’s talk about discrimination

In terms of our legislation, discrimination is described as treating people who are different to you in an unfair, biased or prejudicial way, especially on the grounds of race, gender, disability, sex and any other arbitrary grounds. In fact, it is illegal to treat an individual unfairly because they are different to you. Discrimination undermines an individual’s human dignity. It affects their rights and freedom to an extent that they are disadvantaged in participating freely.

In every organisation, there are basic rights that are expected to be in place. UP employees and students expect to be treated equally, fairly and be in a place where they feel welcome, respected and safe, especially when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusion. Equal treatment and participation are possible where equalisation of opportunities to participate is provided through measures that enhance accessibility and eliminate any form of discrimination. Both students and employees expect the University to create a conducive learning and working environment, free from any form of discrimination.

It is the Transformation Unit’s duty to ensure that everyone is aware of our Anti-Discrimination Policy and other policies that support it. Once people are capacitated in dealing with discrimination, we encourage them to become our change agents in their respective spaces.  Part of our plan is to create more platforms that will foster productive dialogues about discrimination, but also extend the discussions to include various issues on diversity and inclusion. We acknowledge that we cannot do this alone – issues of transformation are for all of us, and we therefore urge everyone to be involved.

Education and re-education on fighting discrimination is essential to develop and shape an institutional culture that respects human rights. The Transformation Unit’s anti-discrimination initiatives are aimed at changing individual attitudes and behaviours, and ultimately eliminate discrimination on UP’s campuses.

A constant review of our policies and procedures ensures that they are not creating to barriers within the University environment.

Lastly, and very importantly, establishing consistent processes for resolving discrimination issues quickly and fairly is crucial. The Transformation Office therefore ensures adherence by all stakeholders that deal with cases of discrimination.

We encourage all UP employees and students to familiarise themselves with the Anti-Discrimination Policy.

- Author Nontsikelelo Loteni, Director of Transformation at UP

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