University of Cape Town: Comprehensive residence life and orientation programme for 2021

“There is a lot to be gained from living in residence, especially if students engage with the opportunities and communities that are always available,” said Sean Abrahams, Residence Life’s senior coordinator for learning and innovation.
The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Residence Life Division has developed a comprehensive orientation programme for new first-year students, adopting a safe, inclusive and student-centred orientation programme and approach to living and thriving in residences.

The announcement follows a recently concluded five-month planning process, a collaboration with student-led residence house committees and wardens, as well as faculty orientation planning committees and health and safety teams.

The Residence Life Division team, part of Student Housing and Residence Life, comprises five staff members who are responsible for residence life programme training, development and other signature processes for the 7 000+ students who live on and off UCT’s campuses. Their main function is to add value to the residence life experience, said Sean Abrahams, the senior coordinator for learning and innovation.



“Residence is not just a place where you eat, sleep and study but a place where you learn, grow and develop.”

“It’s to provide students with a flourishing, enabling and supportive living and learning experience,” said Abrahams. “Residence is not just a place where you eat, sleep and study but a place where you learn, grow and develop. The aim is to prepare them for global citizenship.”

Abrahams’ colleague Frank Karigambe added, “Residence Life, in collaboration with residences, faculties and service departments, aims to enhance students’ education through out-of-class learning. The value of students’ participation in the Residence Life programmes allows them the space to begin designing their own path.

“By combining their academics and their own [innovative] thinking, they’re able to contribute towards solutions for their residence community and environment.”

Safe and healthy

In terms of planning for this year, the team’s thinking and planning revolved around the new scenario introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic: social distancing and strict health and safety protocols – an adjustment to “the new normal”.

“What makes 2021 unique is the addition of the health and safety team to the consultative planning processes to ensure that fundamental COVID-19 health and safety protocols remain extremely strong,” said Abrahams.

The team’s work is aligned to the academic calendar and the keystone events and processes associated with different academic terms that roll out to serve various constituents of the student community.



“We work on the premise of holistic development.”

“We work on the premise of holistic development, and the key projects involved speak to the elements of developing a student’s and student leadership’s trajectory in their university residence journey,” said Abrahams.

Residence Life collaborates with the relevant university department to provide training opportunities that support those who choose to become house committee members, subwardens, residence mentors and/or residence tutors.

The team also offers signature programmes throughout the year. These range from artistic expression, through the Res 4 Res drama and arts festival, now online; the student entrepreneurial event The Pitch UCT, an annual competition run by UCT’s Academic Representatives’ Council and the Office of the Vice-Chancellor; and the more recent Study Buddy and Writing Buddy programmes.



“The value and importance of these programmes is in producing well-rounded graduates who can take their place in the world.”

They also collaborate with the academic faculties via the Residence Academic Development Committee, a multi-stakeholder committee of students; academic staff; professional, administrative support and service (PASS) staff; wardens and the deputy vice-chancellor for transformation. This is where much innovation and development occurs.

“The value and importance of these programmes is in producing well-rounded graduates who can take their place in the world,” said Abrahams. “There is a plethora of formal and informal opportunities for students to develop – connecting over a meal in the dining hall or attending a house meeting. There is a lot to be gained from living in residence, especially if students engage with the opportunities and communities that are always available.”

Their work as part of the Residence Life team is rewarding and inspirational, said Abrahams.

“We know that we are working in a diverse, dynamic and flourishing community where students bring [their own] hopes, aspirations, fears, concerns and possibilities into what we hope becomes a conducive space that they can call home.

“If Residence Life is able to contribute any small part to a larger, collective process in which the entire university community of visible and invisible staff are playing a key role, then it gives us all the more reason to show up another day.”

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