Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town | Student Support Networks
Scalabrini Centre of Cape TownAuthor: Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town
In 2020, the UpLearn programme, more than ever before, had to depend on the strength of its student support networks. Thanks to incredible leadership from a handful of student volunteers in the programme, online spaces were created and revitalised from within the student community to support academic success as well as emotional wellbeing.
In early 2020 we put out a call for student leaders to come forward and establish an entirely student-run support network. Two student leaders were identified to head this initiative based on their intimate knowledge of the diverse needs of our student body. These leaders created a WhatsApp group of volunteers that form a support committee that provides care for students going through particularly challenging life circumstances. The group fundraises amongst the student body and organizes visits, care packages, and events to show solidarity amongst students and staff in moments of crisis.
As a result of the pandemic, many of our students faced extreme challenges, which took a toll on their emotional wellbeing. The student support group was incredibly responsive and became fundamental to maintaining UpLearn’s sense of community despite the fact that for many months we were unable to meet in person.
Parallel to this initiative, student leaders also formed degree-specific WhatsApp groups during the extended lockdown which began in March and is still in effect in South Africa. These replaced the exchanges that would normally occur in our lab. These spaces are used to discuss particular academic difficulties, ask and answer questions, form teams for group work, and generally offer encouragement. Both spaces developed organically alongside and complementary to the more formal elements of the programme that were also taken online. Watching these spaces develop through strong student leadership has offered our team incredibly valuable insights into the dynamic ways in which UpLearn can and should create space for students’ contributions to overcoming barriers to academic success.