It is with great pleasure that we announce Professor Jacqueline Akhurst, from the Department of Psychology, as the recipient of the 2017 Vice Chancellor’s Distinguished Award for Community Engagement
Since 2015 Professor Akhurst has coordinated, initiated and run various forms of Community Engagement – including volunteerism, service-learning, and engaged research – for the Psychology department at Rhodes. In her work, Prof. Akhurst links her efforts to respond to the call for a decolonized curriculum, with a shift toward transformational knowledge creation in psychology through engagement. Prof. Akhurst has built partnerships with multiple NGO’s and community-based organisations across Grahamstown not only to offer essential services, but to grow both the pool of learners, and teachers, involved in a more democratic knowledge economy within the discipline of psychology. This is perhaps most evident in her work on the Fort England Hospital Buddy Programme (where partners from Fort England now co-facilitate student briefing and debriefing sessions), and her service-learning courses in community psychology (where students work with, and learn from, over six different community based organisations, including: Khulunathi, Eluxolweni, Amasango, Isiqualo, Mary Waters Secondary School, and the Joza Youth Hub). One of Prof. Akhurst’s colleagues commented on her work in community psychology as follows: “We have had a gap in the “Community Psychology” specialisation in the Psychology Department for some years, with teaching and supervision of community-based learning taken up by a succession of staff, in bits and pieces, here and there, from this approach or that. Professor Akhurst’s leadership and hands-on engagement has quickly steadied this focus, and the depth of her experience, professional standing in the field and theoretically grounded approach has produced coherence in and between courses, projects and research studies… It is extraordinary what she has achieved”
Counselling and psychoeducational support has been inaccessible for the majority of Grahamstown’s youth, and this has been expressed as a source of concern by community-based organisations for a number of years. In 2016 Prof. Akhurst took this concern seriously and developed and championed the Ithemba Peer Counselling Program. Prof. Akhurst has worked with Masters students to train and supervise undergraduate students in psychology to work as pairs in providing counselling support at the Joza Youth Hub and Ntsika Secondary School. In just two years the programme has gained such momentum that 62 additional psychology students have signed up to join Ithemba initiative for 2018, allowing the programme to broaden counsellor availability to 4 days a week. In forming mutually beneficial partnerships across Grahamstown, Prof. Akhurst has practiced deep listening and social responsiveness, developing programmes that focus on sustainability. Prof. Akhurst has run five distinct programmes with the Lebone Centre, who say that her approach to their relationship “has been one of ensuring sustainability and honouring the principles of reciprocity and mutual benefit. She has consistently applied a developmental approach to her interactions with us as a community partner.”
Prof. Akhurst’s work is too extensive to detail in full, but these highlights of her major programmes serve to illustrate the extensive impact of her work. Despite her immense expertise and academic acumen, Prof. Akhurst’s work remains deeply reflective nature, and she has cultivated a rare kind of academic and personal humility. One community partner reflected on their engagement with Prof. Akhurst saying: “Her approach in developing meaningful relationships and programmes which support under-resourced communities, while always remaining humble, has been outstanding.”
The Award to Professor Jacqueline Akhurst will be made at the 2018 Graduation Ceremony. Prof. Akhurst will give a public lecture on her work to open Community Engagement Week on the 9th May 2018 as the Key note address of the Community Engaged Learning Symposium, all are welcome to attend this event.
Congratulations to the Prof. Akhurst!