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Prof. Melissa Steyn – Director Wits Centre for Diversity Studies & DST-NRF National Research Chair in Critical Diversity Studies

This week on Womanity-Women in Unity, Dr. Amaleya Goneos-Malka talks to Prof. Melissa Steyn , who holds the Department of Science and Technology National Research Foundation (DST-NRF) National Research Chair in Critical Diversity Studies and is the Founding Director of the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies.

Prof. Steyn describes critical diversity studies and her motivations for specialising in this field. Part of this stemmed from growing up in Apartheid era South Africa, where difference was turned into a mechanism for oppression and subordination. She wanted to be part of a movement to construct a society that in many ways was the “other” to old Apartheid society, where a new society would be built on different assumptions around difference, where people are respected, feel safe, are included and valued. She notes some of the challenges in shifting mindsets and power dynamics between the oppressed and oppressor, whether this deals with perspectives of race, gender, white supremacy, patriarchy or any other social relationships.

Critical diversity studies inform policy and enlightens society about alternative views, however, in practice legislation cannot change attitudes. The combination of policy and people’s willingness to change behaviour lead to changes that contest challenges in unfair societies.

Prof. Steyn shares her journey into critical studies, which were driven by a need to address unfair societies. In the course of her studies, she questioned the roots of her own identity and whiteness, which caused her to rethink and reconstruct her identity. Prof. Steyn reminds people not to accept the narratives of your socialisation at face value, question them and step beyond them.

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