‘It has always been my goal to achieve this because of my positive school experiences. I still can’t believe it. It’s magical,’ said Singh.
Her research, supervised by Professor Deevia Bhana, examined how students at UKZN give meaning to race, class, gender and sexuality. The study is set in the context of the 2008 Soudien Report, which for the first time provided a descriptive account of the social problems in South African higher education institutions.
‘I chose this topic because I am passionate about understanding the issues of transformation and how students are central to this agenda in higher education, particularly within UKZN which is the most transformed institution in the country,’ said Singh.
While access to higher education in post-apartheid South Africa has increased dramatically for students of all races, asymmetrical relations of power continue to play out on campuses.
Students entering the higher education system are inadvertently products of their social, historical, cultural and material upbringing, says Singh. She argues that students shape meanings of race, class, gender and sexuality and these have effects for understanding transformation and social cohesion in this particular university setting.
Findings from her research highlight the extreme complexity, multi-dimensionality and fluidity of student realities which have been shaped by their own specific contexts, in terms of the socio-cultural and material realities they draw upon to give meaning to their subjectivities.
Singh’s study illuminates how race, class, gender and sexuality coalesce and are constructed within matrices of power that have been made or unmade within specific discourses and context. ‘Race, class, gender and sexuality, as elucidated by the participants in my study, are not ahistorical or apolitical, but are rather engendered within a cultural and historical capsule. It is within this context-specific body of knowledge where students’ understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality contribute to understanding transformation and social cohesion at UKZN,’ she said.
One of Singh’s greatest challenges was balancing a full time job with her studies – a stituation which required discipline, focus and good time management. ‘As a PhD student, time is everything you need but never have enough of.’
She thanked her family, friends and supervisor for being her support system. ‘Words will never be able to express the immense love and gratitude I feel right now. My family’s support is ultimately what got me through and because of them, I AM.’
Her advice to other students? ‘Hard work, determination and the will to succeed will get you through this journey. Always remain focused on your goal and let nothing move you. Be strong and forge ahead no matter how challenging things become at times. Ultimately, you will emerge stronger and better.’
Singh plans to contribute towards research that advances transformation within UKZN and within the country.