Top psychology student wins coveted Chancellor’s Medal

Dr Xanthe Dawn Hunt and Professor Wim de Villiers, the rector and vice-chancellor of Stellenbosch University. PICTURE: Stefan Els

This description corresponds with the admiration from world leaders in the field of disability studies at a recent international disability conference in Europe, who described her as a “genius.”

Dr Hunt is the recipient of the coveted Chancellor’s Medal – awarded annually to a final year or postgraduate student who has not only excelled academically, but also contributed to campus life in various ways and worked hard at developing co-curricular attributes. She received the medal at SU’s graduation ceremony on Thursday, where she also received a PhD in Psychology.

Dr Hunt already has some 30 academic publications to her name. This is more than many academics in psychology have contributed in their entire careers, says Professor Awie Greeff, chair of the Department of Psychology.

She is also the first Master’s degree student in the history of the department whose degree was upgraded to a PhD. Her PhD was also accepted and passed with no changes required.

Another academic highlight was that during her PhD studies, she enrolled for a course in biostatistics at Master’s level, despite not having completed mathematics at matric level. Initially, the course convenor did not wish to admit her to the course for this reason, but later reluctantly agreed to accept her. She completed the course cum laude and her results were the second best in the class.

In her years of study at SU which commenced in 2010, she won:

The SU Political Science Award for Excellence for Top Achieving First Year Student;

The Department of English’s Award for Excellence for Top Achieving First Year Student;

The Rector’s Award for Academic Excellence Top Faculty Achiever (on three occasions);

She was offered the prestigious Babette Taute English Scholarship.

Dr Hunt passed cum laude in every single subject she took, with the exception of a single service module. During the first five years of her studies, she achieved an average of 82.08%.

Her research spans disability studies, public health, monitoring and evaluation of early childhood interventions, and academic communication.

She holds a Bachelor’s degree in the Humanities, Honours degrees in Journalism and in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Biostatistics, and now a PhD in Psychology.

The title of her PhD is Through a different lens: Examining commonality and divergence in constructions and depictions of the sexuality of persons with physical disabilities in South Africa.

Dr Hunt has worked with many members of the Department of Psychology over the course of her Honours, Master’s and PhD degrees, primarily in the role of project assistant, but gradually formalising her role in the employ of one of the research units.

In her undergraduate years, she was part of her residence’s a cappella choir and worked as a peer tutor both within her residence community and later beyond. She has also worked as a volunteer counsellor in community-based projects in the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek areas.

Dr Hunt has a contract for her PhD to be published as a book with Palgrave next year (2019).

She will present an exhibition from the PhD work at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre early in 2019.