A Tribute to Emelda Petersen (23 May 1962 – 1 May 2022)

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Emelda Petersen (1962-2022)

The Last of the Professional Housemothers!

What a sad thing it is that you passed on just 22 days before you reached the golden age of sixty years of age, with an option to retire from Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) after 25 years (1997 – 2022) of selfless service to the campus community and Student Housing fraternity at CPUT.

Your tenure at CPUT started in 1997 at the tender age of 37, after you exchanged your teaching career to become an educator-in-residences for many young black students who chose Peninsula Technikon as their study destination.

Many of these students who thrived under your tutelage are today, fully-fledged professionals in public service and in the corporate sector – and are grateful for the impact you have made through touching their lives. Through your sense of compassion, you guided and molded their character to become the competent graduates that they are today, in service of South Africa, the African continent, and globally.

Until the middle of the 20th century, college and university “dormitories” were administered by “housemothers,” often under the supervision of the Dean of Students. You, together with your colleagues (including Zukiswa Nyalasa, Funeka Plaatjies, Wilma Adams and others) assumed parental responsibility (in loco parentis) for the students housed in the residences.

Emelda Petersen (1962-2022)

At the time of your entry at Pentech (as it was fondly known), South Africa was just at the dawn of democracy, with transformational laws in the higher education sector that gave increased access to many students from previously disenfranchised black communities. These dramatic changes of the late 1990s produced changes in the delivery of post-secondary education and the operation of residences. It was during these times, that the house parents’ system was replaced by full-time staff like you with professional training in education, counseling, and administration.

Under the leadership of the former rector Franklin Sonn who went on to become the first USA Ambassador under the Mandela Administration and Prof. Brian Figaji as well as Student Affairs senior management Prof. Brian O`Connell and Mr Toby Titus, Pentech was a different institution from what it has become today. The campus environment was clean and green, with the campus community – both staff and students – taking pride in its unique architectural design and neatness. Student Life and Sports were thriving, and students were engaged with activities that were purposefully educational.

Student Affairs, SRC, and the entire student leadership enforced a rule of law to create a safe and secure learning environment to protect students from crime, violence, and harm. The role of Campus Protection Services was respected under the leadership of the now-retired Mr. Edgar Henneberry and his erstwhile Deputy, the late Mr James F Kennedy. http://www.student-times.co.za/2018/04/22/murder-and-rape-the-ultimate-campus-crimes/

If you could have died during their era, your name could have been indicted in the Dome of Remembrance – a sacred heritage space at the heart of the campus to preserve the memory of those who died during their service or studies at Peninsula Technikon. Sadly, today the Dome of Remembrance has been desecrated into a place of littered condoms and filth, with plaques of students like Brenda Shenxane faded or removed in an act of sacrilege.

The Dome of Remembrance and the memorial services that gave its meaning have lost their practice and significance at the new Cape Peninsula University of Technology and are replaced by a new culture of lawlessness and rampant campus crimes including arson, and public drinking, assaults, rape, and murder.

The reality is that many staff and students do not feel safe on campus – where there is no effective access control, exposing the community to all sorts of criminal risks. In this environment of lawlessness and no rule of law, it is the women students who are most vulnerable and at high risk of being violated.

For those who experience rape, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking, the effects can be debilitating and damaging. Any form of gender-based violence has an adverse effect of disrupting the education and social lives of the victims. These experiences often result in lower grades, dropping classes, or withdrawing from the institution. Rampant campus crimes disrupt the educational aspirations of many students.

When you started working for Pentech in 1997, you were one of the emerging, young Student Affairs professionals who focused on using the residence hall environment as a tool to complement formal classroom education. As a trained educator with a Master of Arts/Education degree from the New York University (NYU), you fully understood the importance of the Outside the Classroom Curriculum (OCC) to guide residence life programming toward the total development of students.

Sadly, your passing comes at a time when CPUT is in desperate need of your scarce professional competencies, to guide a new generation of ama-2000 students. Ama-2000 is a new crop of young students born at the turn of the twenty-first century. A new generation of students who live in times of rampant and unrestrained social media influx. Young students who come from disintegrated single-parent families with absent fathers.

They are black students who come from many black villages from Nqamakwe to Cofimvaba and townships from Khayelitsha to Umlazi across South Africa, who desperately need a sense of structure in their lives, and a value-driven lifestyle. These ama-2000 are students who needed your professional intervention most, guided by your deep knowledge of the Student Development Theory – that body of scholarship that seeks to understand and explain the developmental processes of how students learn, grow, and develop in post-secondary education.

Since the 1990s, Student Housing has become increasingly more specialized and complex. The influence of the residential experience on the lives of students has been widely researched over the years. Group living influences maturation by exposing students to a variety of experiences and community-building activities. What distinguishes group living in campus residence from most other forms of housing is the involvement of both professional and para-professional staff members in providing intentional, as opposed to random, educational experiences for students.

Students living in residences ought to participate in more extracurricular, social, and cultural events; are more likely to graduate; and exhibit greater positive gains in psychosocial development, intellectual orientation, and self-concept than students living at home or commuting. In addition, they ought to demonstrate significantly greater increases in aesthetic, cultural, and intellectual values; social and political liberalism; and secularism.

In 1996 we recruited, appointed, and trained senior students with excellent academic performance as Residence Student Assistants (RSA) to assist Residence Managers with residence life education programming and discipline-specific mentorship program to improve the retention, throughput, and success with a special focus on first-year students.

If it still exists in its original form and purpose, the RSA Program needs to be enhanced towards the improvement of the quality of residence life experience for the students living on campus and private student accommodation. The RSA Program needs to be complemented by an equally competent House Committee system.

Resident Student Assistants (RSA) and House Committees play an important role in the creation of an engaged and involved Living and Learning Communities (LLC) towards the improvement of their retention and throughput rates, as well as the total development and successful completion of their studies.

One of the most impactful concepts in higher education today is that of learning communities; many universities have developed living and learning communities within residential communities to be more intentional about student learning.

The LLCs provide valuable opportunities to integrate the more formal academic and residence life experience, provide increased interaction between resident students and faculty, and provide critical avenues to enhance campus community building activities and traditions.

Living and learning communities can be developed around themes, majors, or concepts. In addition to providing a seamless learning experience and increased student engagement, LLCs are seen as critical to increasing retention, especially from the first to the second year.

More recently, the quality of residences has been acknowledged as not only essential to the quality of campus life but as an increasingly important factor in attracting students to a given institution. There has been a renaissance in college and university student housing with many campuses significantly renovating residences and constructing new facilities including world-class dining facilities to respond to today’s students and to better meet expectations.

It is a sad reality today, to see the collapse of the dining halls mostly at our historically disadvantaged colleges and universities. And yet, the historically white universities have continued to provide a nutritionally balanced, dining experience for their student communities.

You have lived your life to the full and in selfless service to those who looked up to you for hope and inspiration. You have fought for your life gallantly with unremitting courage and resilience, throughout the unbearable pain to your physical being. Throughout your battle with cancer, you have remained a loyal and wonderful mother to your beautiful children, who will continue to cherish your motherhood on a day that the world pauses to celebrate the courage and love of mothers like you – on Mother`s Day. Be assured that you will forever live in our hearts and memory, eternally.

Let It Be and May Your Beautiful and Gentle Soul Rest In Eternal Peace Moms Emelda Petersen (23 May 1962 – 1 May 2022)