By Lindeka Namba, School of Journalism and Media Studies student
The 2021 Rhodes University graduation ceremony marked a special day in Lindiwe Tsope’s life and academic career, as she became the first Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) alumni to graduate with a PhD.
Tsope, who arrived at Rhodes University as a first-year student in 2013, completed her doctoral degree in 2020 in a research area that proved significant for the betterment of the Rhodes University community. In her PhD research, Tsope focused on the topic of “a narrative study of students’ and staff’s experiences of living with HIV and AIDS at Rhodes University”.
Her research proved significant and was a conversation starter within the university community. The first of its kind at Rhodes University, the study looked into the lived experiences of both students and support staff living with HIV and AIDS at the University.
The research also served as important reference material for stakeholders such as peer educators and nurses, who wish to see genuine change and progress in the way HIV/AIDS is perceived and how it affects communities.
During the eight years she spent at the university, Tsope fulfilled several roles, including a tutor, mentor, teacher’s assistant, lecturer, and honours supervisor. It was during her experience as a lecturer from 2018 to 2020, that she received her most valuable lessons. As part of her scholarship requirement, she taught a ‘Social Research Methodology’ class at the undergraduate level. “I did not know how I was going to be received, especially as a young black female,” she said. Although it was a daunting and challenging task, she took the responsibility very seriously and tried to be as relatable as possible to the students.
The transition from student to tutor and eventually lecturer was an interesting one for Tsope. She admitted that some students were taken aback when they realised she would be their lecturer, as she seemed very young and not that far off from them in age. However, after a few classes, she won their respect. “As a lecturer, I felt like my life had come around full circle, as I was also once a student in the very same class I was now teaching,” Tsope fondly recalled. She added that having the opportunity to teach alongside people she admired and who were her lecturers at some point was surreal and one of her best memories.
Tsope’s journey to attaining her PhD was not an easy one. In the year 2020, which was her final year, she faced some serious challenges to her research due to the COVID-19 lockdown regulations, which left her limited in some areas. It was during this challenging time that she considered extending her degree by one more year. However, after much-needed support and encouragement from her peers and colleagues, she found the will to push herself and complete her journey within the designated time.
“I had people calling me and reminding me what a big deal my achievement is,” she said. “It is the greatest thing I have done for myself literally.”
She remembers how she was overcome with emotion upon receiving the news: “I cried for an hour when I received that last email that confirmed I had completed my qualification,” she said.
Tsope credits her family members, peers, supervisors, and colleagues for being excellent support structures. She said their support was honest and unwavering.
“The level of support I received was from the ground up. I had people who believed in me so much, they started calling me ‘Doc’ even before I completed my qualification,” she added.
Tsope also expressed her deep and heartfelt gratitude to her OWLAG family, with special thanks going to Ms. Oprah Winfrey, the “driver” of her dreams.
Tsope is an Old Rhodian through and through. She attained a bachelor’s degree (honors) in psychology and sociology in 2015 and a master’s degree in social sciences in 2017 from Rhodes University.