Alarm over hate speech, dehumanising content being disguised as memes at Stellenbosch University
Cape Town - Anti-gender-based violence activists at Stellenbosch University (SU) have expressed alarm over “terrible acts” of hate speech and the spreading of vulgar, dehumanising content disguised as “memes” by students.
This after a student lifted the lid on a WhatsApp chat group allegedly involving second-year science students sharing memes in which jokes are made about child molestation, gender-based violence, racism, homophobia and sexism.
The Anti-GBV Movement of SU said students and the members of the chat group allegedly involved in this should be investigated and disciplined by the institution. They said the posts should be brought to the attention of the university’s Equality Unit and Central Disciplinary Committee.
“As the Anti-GBV Movement of SU, we strive for an inclusive, empowering, safe community and we strongly condemn all forms of hate speech and dehumanisation. If the matter is not dealt with accordingly, we will intervene and ensure accountability is reached,” the movement said.
One of the movement’s members, who spoke on condition her name was not published, said gender-based violence was prevalent at the campus and the memes were threatening to normalise all forms of violence.
“Violence cannot be interpreted in its simplest physical form firstly, the intersectionality of it must be seen, and secondly from the level of micro-aggressions to macro-aggressions. When looking at the memes that have been sent on the chat group, you see the molestation of children being shown as a laughable thing that tends to happen all the time and as a normalised culture,” she said.
She said having a chat group that supported any form of violence and racism further marginalised people and that the normalisation of micro-aggression made spaces extremely mentally unsafe.
She said the university was dragging its feet in resolving these issues.
“It is not an uncommon practice at Stellenbosch University for a chat group to be created and for it to share problematic content. It’s been a year since we handed over our memorandum for full investigation and for cultural changes to be put into policy, and we are still waiting. Until we see those results we are going to continue assuming that the university remains stagnant and incompetent in dealing with these issues,” she said.
SU’s senior director: student affairs, Choice Makhetha said the Equality Unit had been made aware of the matter but no formal complaint had as yet been lodged.
She said the unit was monitoring the situation and was in communication with the party who alerted it to the posts.
“It is with utter frustration that the university has learnt of these posts as there still seems to be pockets of students who are ignorant of the serious damage and hurt caused by these utterances,” she said.
“The university has made it very clear that all forms of discrimination and harassment are condemned in the strongest possible terms and that the institution remains committed to creating an environment free of discrimination and harassment.”
Makhetha said students’ actions were guided by the university’s Disciplinary Code for Students and the Policy for Unfair Discrimination and Harassment.
“Utmost care should be taken when posting or even sharing posts,” she said.
The university would act firmly and decisively against any person who was found guilty of any form of gender-based violence, sexual harassment or discrimination, she said.