Original Research

Insights on student leadership using social dream drawing: Six propositions for the transformation role of South African student leaders

Neo T. Pule, Michelle May
Transformation in Higher Education | Vol 6 | a138 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/the.v6i0.138 | © 2021 Neo T. Pule, Michelle May | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 July 2021 | Published: 14 December 2021

About the author(s)

Neo T. Pule, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Michelle May, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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Background: Student leadership is central to the South African transformation agenda in higher education. Even so the understanding of student leadership, especially regarding its purpose and its implementation varies across contexts.

Aim: This article aims to present propositions for student leadership practice considering the current diverse and often fragmented understanding of student leadership. Such propositions should aid the formation of a streamlined multi-levelled and systemic co-curriculum for student leadership that equips student leaders for their significant transformation task.

Setting: The study was conducted in a South African higher education institution within the associated Student Affairs department. The university where data was collected is referred to as a historically White university.

Methods: Social dream drawing was utilised to elicit data that enabled insights into student leadership. The data was analysed by pluralistically fusing discourse analysis with a psychodynamic interpretation.

Results: The findings reveal a preoccupation in student leadership with South African historical narratives and the implications thereof for the present, and future, of the country. Additionally, student leaders indicated that there are complex psychological implications that result from their leadership experiences. Six propositions for student leadership are presented.

Conclusion: The insights gained from the research study have the potential to contribute positively to higher education legislation and student development practice, particularly regarding the psychological conflicts that student leaders experience, and to the possible ways to resolve these. Because student leaders are key to the transformation agenda in South Africa, these insights can contribute directly towards their suitability in fulfilling this role.


identity; diversity; higher education; social dream drawing; student leadership support


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