Adapting to a new reality: A welcome to the STIAS 2020 second semester cohort

7 August 2020

STIAS this week welcomed its first cohort of visiting scholars who were awarded short-term residencies after an Extraordinary Call for proposals.

When the South African government reduced COVID-19 lockdown restrictions to Level 3 in June allowing for some activities to re-open but with international travel restrictions still in place, STIAS took the opportunity to provide available office space to local and African scholars for group collaborations.

An Extraordinary Call was put out to all South African universities for scholars to apply to come to STIAS as Visiting Scholars.

“We now look forward to welcoming these scholars as well as some international Fellows later in the year for the second semester,” STIAS Director, Edward Kirumira said.

“The realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on activities in the past months have pushed STIAS to redefine, reimagine and recraft its position in the international space,” Kirumira said.

“We set out in 2020 to reach out further to the African continent, to increase our partnerships with other Institutes for Advanced Study and to continue to allow scholars a creative space for enhanced dialogue and interaction,” he added.

Kirumira pointed out that the lockdown restrictions came at a time when the first semester cohort was in residence. Thanks to strong relationships which were already established among the Fellows themselves, and their commitment to the programme, weekly seminars and robust discussions could continue virtually via webinars.

“The experience has shown us that STIAS can operate within both a physical and virtual space, and can commit to continuing with its mission,” he said.

Increasing our South African footprint

“For the second semester, we are focusing on increasing the STIAS footprint on the South African scholarly scene,” he said. “And thus looking at increasing our opportunities to present and represent STIAS to the local academic community.”

Kirumira said: “Many of these are individuals thinking through what they want to work on in more exploratory and non-mainstream fields. We hope that STIAS will give them the opportunity to establish networks, develop relationships and have conversations that will allow initial ideas to develop into strong thematic areas.”

“We hope to offer a space for exploration,” he continued.

Turning to creating a safe environment for the Visiting Scholars and STIAS staff, Kirumira said months of preparation have gone into the re-opening of STIAS and measures have been put in place in line with COVID-19 safety procedures.

“I want to assure the Fellows who are coming in that we’ve tried to do our uttermost best. We’ve taken care of the standard operating procedures. We’ve also made sure that the accommodation we are obtaining for them also follows the same procedures,” he said.

Kirumira said in addition to STIAS putting safety measures in place, it is still up to all individuals using the space, to take care and to point out where more needs to be done.

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STIAS is a creative space for the mind.