Academic Exchange Program Takes University Life Staffer to South Africa

Posted: April 13, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Mitchell

When Chayla Haynes, associate director of orientation, heard about an opportunity to visit universities in another country and learn about student development, she jumped at the chance. Having never traveled abroad, she was thrilled by the prospect and turned in a proposal to become Mason’s representative for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) exchange program.

Originally, the exchange was supposed to take place in France. But when Sandra Hubler, vice president for university life, called Haynes to tell her that she had been accepted, she asked Haynes how she felt about going to South Africa. On hearing the news, Haynes says she was overcome.

The location holds a special significance for Haynes because it is part of her personal heritage. “I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to go to South Africa, let alone for something I love to do professionally.”

Hubler was instrumental in forging the way for Haynes’ opportunity. A longstanding member of NASPA, Hubler, along with several colleagues, helped develop the exchange program.

“I’m so excited that I can make the international exchange experience available to the University Life staff. It gives them an invaluable opportunity to learn about students and higher education from around the world,” says Hubler.

Haynes in South Africa
Chayla Haynes, far right, with other NASPA delegates in Capetown, South Africa.

Haynes also happened to be in South Africa for a historic event. She and her fellow delegates were on hand to witness a new beginning for South African college students. Port Elizabeth University, where Haynes first arrived, and two other universities—Port Elizabeth Technikon and the University of Port Elizabeth Vista (Port Elizabeth’s black college)—merged into one desegregated university on Jan. 1. Before then, schools in the area were still segregated, despite the fact that the practice had been declared illegal.

Now called Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, the three campuses and their students are learning how to operate under new degree programs, one administration, and one faculty. Haynes was able to talk with many of the students and find out what they thought about the merge.

“They, along with the faculty and staff, believe in the purpose,” says Haynes. “Most of the students also had the same concerns as students here, such as whether or not their credits would transfer. But you can see in their eyes the hope for what is going to be, after life has been so hard for many of them.”

The second part of the trip took Haynes and the other delegates to Rhodes University in Grahamstown, where British settlers first entered and began colonizing South Africa. The university was the site for a conference by the newly formed South African Senior Student Affairs Program, an organization similar to NASPA. Haynes says that even though the South African program has only 60 members, the conference presentations she attended were extremely helpful.

“We were able to understand how South African culture plays into leadership development,” she says. She could appreciate the impact that apartheid has had on students there. “We all consider what students arrive with [on campus] in an American culture, but it’s been a long time since we’ve encountered what is happening in a country as having a direct impact on students’ education—at least on that sort of scale.”

Haynes hopes to form a future partnership with the people she met in South Africa to create a teleconference learning program. She would also love to partner with Mason’s Center for Service and Leadership to adopt a South African township and send books and clothing to students in need there.

Haynes calls her trip “life-changing” for two reasons. First, as a student development professional, the trip has given her renewed energy to encourage students to be contributing and active members of the greater community. “The experience really gave me a sense of validation. How can we expect change to happen in society, if it’s not happening in academia? What we do as professionals needs to reflect the values of who we serve.”

Second, she now is determined to return to South Africa and is keeping in touch with many of the students she met there. “I have a commitment to traveling abroad that I never had before,” she says. “I will go back. I feel I didn’t give them half as much as they gave me.”

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