Psychosocial experiences related to student community engagement: A multilevel analysis

Fluks, Lorenza Logan (2017-03)

Thesis (D.Phil)--Stellenbosch University, 2017.

Thesis

ENGLISH SUMMARY: Against the background of a growing emphasis on community engagement (CE) globally and in South Africa (SA), this study foregrounds the psychosocial aspects that inform the CE experiences of university students. In SA, CE is mandated as an integrated core function of higher education institutions towards societal transformation and it involves activities that universities undertake in collaboration with external organizations and communities. In SA’s diverse society with its apartheid history and pervasive socio-economic inequalities in particular, engaging with people from diverse backgrounds poses various challenges for students involved in CE. This study, based at Stellenbosch University (SU), follows a qualitative approach and applied strategies used in grounded theory. Focus groups were conducted with 35 purposefully selected student volunteer project leaders and students in service-learning programmes. Additionally, semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with eight university staff members involved in CE in various roles. Furthermore, seven community project representatives of schools and community-based organizations were interviewed. ATLAS.ti (version 7) qualitative data analysis software was used. Various coding strategies were applied to develop themes that are grounded in the data. Drawing on transformative learning theories and approached from a community psychological perspective, the experiences of students involved in CE are discussed in relation to the individual and interpersonal levels and in the university, community and societal contexts. Findings on the individual level comprise cognitive, emotional and behavioural dimensions. Themes discussed on the individual level include: enhanced self-awareness; the notion of personal engagement; experiencing internal conflict; personal growth and a strong focus on psychological preparedness. Positive emotional aspects included a sense of enjoyment; feeling appreciated, satisfied, purposeful and a sense of achievement. Negative emotional aspects included feeling anxious; a sense of failure; stress and emotional exhaustion. Students also reflected on managing sadness due to exposure to secondary trauma. On the interpersonal level, students navigate multiple differences concerning language, culture, age and socio-economic backgrounds as they learn and develop different skills in the context of relationships. Various themes are discussed on the university, community, and societal levels. These themes describe a nuanced background within which CE takes place. This study contributes to the conceptualization, implementation and management of CE as it provides a rich description from multiple perspectives. The research found that CE exposure evokes broad ranging and extreme emotions in students, from depression to elation. There was clear evidence that more attention should be devoted to improving students’ preparation and psychological support before and throughout the CE process. This is particularly important in light of the psychological storm presented in this study, which refers to a set of contextual elements that, if lacking, may leave students feeling vulnerable and exposed to deal with the complexities on their own. The findings indicate that in order to achieve the greater good, as a core outcome of CE, it is imperative to practise awareness of contextual influences on the engagement experience and to foreground student well-being as they stand in this critical position between the university and its engagement with external organizations and communities.

AFRIKAANS OPSOMMING: Teen die agtergrond van die groeiende klem op gemeenskapsbetrokkenheid (GB) wêreldwyd en in Suid-Afrika (SA), stel hierdie studie die psigososiale aspekte wat deel vorm van universiteitstudente se ervaring met GB in die voorgrond. In SA is GB gemandateer as ’n geïntegreerde kernfunksie van hoëronderwysinstellings met die oog op samelewingstransformasie. Dit behels aktiwiteite wat universiteite onderneem in samewerking met eksterne organisasies en gemeenskappe. In SA se diverse gemeenskap met sy apartheidsgeskiedenis en diepgaande sosio ekonomiese ongelykhede veral, is daar verskeie struikelblokke wat inspeel wanneer mense van verskillende agtergronde by GB betrek word. Hierdie studie by Stellenbosch Universiteit volg ’n kwalitatiewe benadering en behels die toepassing van strategieë wat gebruik word in gegronde teorie (grounded theory). Fokusgroepe is gehou met 35 doelmatig geselekteerde vrywillige projekleiers en studente in diensleerprogramme. Daarmee saam is semigestruktureerde in-diepte onderhoude gevoer met agt universiteitspersoneel wat betrokke is by GB in verskillende rolle. Onderhoude is ook gehou met sewe gemeenskapsprojek- verteenwoordigers van skole en gemeenskapsgebaseerde organisasies. ATLAS.ti (weergawe 7) kwalitatiewe data-analise sagteware is in hierdie studie gebruik. Verskeie kodifiseringstrategieë is toegepas en die temas is ontwikkel gebaseer op die data. Met die gebruik van transformatiewe leerteorieë en benader vanuit ’n gemeenskapsielkunde perspektief, word die ervaringe van studente wat betrokke is in GB bespreek met betrekking tot die individuele en interpersoonlike vlakke, en die universiteits-, gemeenskaps- en sosiale kontekste. Bevindinge op die individuele vlak het kognitiewe, emosionele en gedragsdimensies ingesluit. Die temas wat op hierdie vlak na vore gekom het, was versterkte self bewustheid; die idee van persoonlike betrokkenheid; die ervaring van interne konflik; persoonlike groei en ʼn sterk fokus op psigologiese voorbereidheid. Positiewe emosionele aspekte het ʼn sin van genot; ‘n gevoel dat hulle betrokkenheid waardeer word, asook tevredenheid, doelgerigtheid en ʼn sin van prestasie ingesluit. Op die interpersoonlike vlak moet die studente veelvoudige verskille betreffende taal, kultuur, ouderdom en sosio-ekonomiese agtergrond bestuur soos hulle verskillende vaardighede leer en ontwikkel in die konteks van verhoudings. Verskeie temas word verder bespreek binne die universiteits-, gemeenskaps- en sosiale kontekste. Die temas skets ‘n genuanseerde agtergrond waarteen GB plaasvind. Die studie dra by tot die konseptualisering, implementering en bestuur van GB aangesien dit ’n ryke beskrywing van GB vanuit verskillende perspektiewe verskaf. Die bevindinge toon dat GB blootstelling ʼn wye verskeidenheid emosies by studente ontlok, van depressiwiteit tot gelukkigheid. Daar was duidelike aanduidings dat meer aandag gegee moet word aan voorbereiding van studente en aan sielkundige ondersteuning voor die aanvang en deur die loop van GB. Dit is besonder belangrik in die lig van die psigologiese storm wat in die studie geïdentifiseer is, wat verwys na ’n stel kontekstuele elemente wat tekort skiet en wat studente weerloos laat voel en hulle uitlewer om alleen met die kompleksiteite te werk. Die bevindinge voer aan dat ten einde die groter oorhoofse doelwitte van GB te bereik, is dit van kardinale belang om bewustheid te handhaaf van kontekstuele invloede op die betrokkenheidservaring en om studente se welstand te beklemtoon, aangesien studente dikwels in die kritiese posisie tussen die universiteit en betrokkenheid met eksterne organisasies en gemeenskappe staan.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/101211
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