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Keeping Up with Changing Times: Student Leaders, Resilience, Fragility and Professional Development

Liezl Dick
Marguerite Müller
Pulane Malefane


The Fallist movements of 2015/16 brought about rapid change to the South African higher education space, which required student leaders to reconsider  their roles as agents of change and transformation. Student leaders contribute as stakeholders of and decision-makers in student  governance, and some find themselves in a context where their working and living spaces become increasingly entangled. This is a particularly  challenging context, which requires them to conflate their personal and “professional” lives. In this article, we focus on the challenges student leaders  face as peer educators in both on- and off-campus residences of the University of the Free State (UFS), Bloemfontein, South Africa. The resilience and  vulnerability of student leaders, and how these play out in their experiences at UFS, will be highlighted. The importance of self-reflection, resilience and  fragility in professional development will be explored. Guided by the theoretical underpinnings of pedagogy as transformative and humanizing, and a  multiple-method-approach that included survey data as well as arts-based methods, we engaged with student leader experiences in order to understand  how they negotiated challenges in a space of tranformation and constant change. We found arts-based research to complement and support the more  conventional data gathering process. Our article thus highlights how methodological inventiveness can address new and different questions that arise in  our rapidly changing pedagogical space. Through this, we highlight the complex micro-social experiences of student leaders who live in spaces of  transformation. Student leaders are in a unique position as people who live and work in the student community, and their role as peer educators remains  largely unexplored. In this article, we hope to contribute to a body of knowledge that could foreground student leadership in relation to  transformed pedagogy.