Humxns of UCT - Abby May

What makes Her Campus UCT so special and unique from the other chapters is that our members, writers, and students are incredibly diverse. Each person has something beautiful and interesting about them – a story to share, a talent, or an outlook on life. We’d like to celebrate our diversity by zooming in on individual’s stories, speaking to them about what they’re most passionate about and letting them shine on our platform. Whether it be just for a chuckle or to actually share some wise words, we’d like to introduce a new series to Her Campus UCT: Humxns of UCT.     

This Humxn of UCT is Abby May, who is currently doing her Honours in Justice and Transformation in the Politics Department. This is the full interview that was conducted to share her story on social media. Her research is interested in how societies adjust post-conflict, especially with the ever-growing presence of artificial intelligence and what that will mean for human rights in the future. Besides chowing course, Abby plays for the UCT Hockey Club and dances on the side, sometimes “literally” – her words, not mine. She also enjoys a good laugh and will find humour in any situation.   


When did you first start playing hockey? 

I was given a choice in Grade 1 – “do you want a stick or a ball?” – and like any other six-year-old I just kinda picked my hand up and was like “that one” and it happened to be the stick (laughs). We were given the choice between netball and hockey in Grade 1 and I just never stopped. I’ve been playing for 13 years now.



When you joined the hockey club at UCT, did you join just for fun or did you consider playing professionally?

No, I did not. So, my experience in trying to become professional or achieve national level in high school and primary school was not great. That’s because I come from a really small district, so actually competing in higher levels provincially or nationally wasn’t really a dream kind of thing that you could attain or entertain. 


Was it a case of your school was too small?

Yeah. My area was too small- I come from the Garden Route and its just a bunch of small towns placed together called the South Western Districts. We’re in the Western Cape, but we’re like our own little area on our own when we compete in sports and other things. We were always placed in C Sections or the B Sections and that’s not necessarily where selectors look. So, when I came to UCT it was genuinely for fun to play hockey because I really like the sport. 


Which team do you play for?

In my first year, I was placed in the third team. But, I played for all seven teams in the club. So, if anyone needed a player, I’d put my hand up and go play. I continued [to do this] until the end of my second year as well before work and things in my third year got a bit too much so I was just like “I can’t offer my help all the time”. 


So, you’re just playing for the love of the game?

Genuinely. And I got to know literally the whole club, you know what I mean, so I wasn’t just in the first team elite circle, it wasn’t like that at all and I only really started taking my hockey seriously in the middle of my second year. And then I thought, “I could actually compete for first or second team level”. I attempted to do this in my third year.



Tell me about the transformation committee, and how it came about.

So, at the end of 2018, an incident occurred within the club that specifically involved me and the team I was in at the time and the coach that was coaching us. And basically, it was revolving around subtle racism, favouritism, there were a lot of issues within the club. Only specific schools were being looked at for selection. So, let’s say you’re coming from Bloemfontein: you’re a fantastic hockey player but obviously you know no one in Cape Town. They wouldn’t look at you because you weren’t in the “Cape Town group of schools” and it’s a specific group – Springfield, Herschel, Rustenburg, the Southern suburb school system. The coaches at the time were coaching at these schools as well as UCT so they thought “might as well bring up our high school players as well”. There were instances where lines were blurred as well because they were picking high school players to play in first team and second team – which is allowed because we are a club – but there were university girls who were capable enough to be in those spots, but they weren’t being picked. A lot of things were happening at the time and I was absolutely fed up and the incident with my team and my coach triggered that. I stood up for myself, it wasn’t necessarily in the cleanest way, I was emotional at the time but then again what I was saying was quite truthful (laughs). I was in the 2nd team when this occurred, and I dropped out [of the club] and this happened like in the middle of the season and I was like “I’m not gonna play for this team, I’m not about this life”. But then, I started thinking that this kind of thing has been happening especially for players of colour like since primary school where you just aren’t noticed or literally just a quota player just there to fill in the blanks, just to give the team the status to be legitimate in whatever tournament they’re in. But you’d not actually get game time, you’re not made to feel like you were placed there on merit even though you do have the skills and that messes with your psychology [sic] as a player. On top of that, you’re surrounded by girls who have gone to private clinics, or boys who have fathers who are coaches themselves, like all these small advantages that you aren’t privileged to [have]. So, coming to UCT, and working my way through the entire club – I umpired some matches as well – and I was a part of the committee shadowing the internal league committee, so I’d seen how the club operated on all levels and it was just messed up. So many players of colour have walked away from this club, so many players who do not identify as heterosexual or identify with one gender [or the other] walked away from this club even though they are exceptionally fantastic players right, and they walked away for very good reasons. The system that was in place was always against them, and when I walked away I had a choice to make: am I gonna walk away like I have a right to, or am I gonna do something else? I decided to do something else, to come back to the club and make a small change for another first year who’s coming from little ol’ George or from Limpopo or wherever, and at least there’s some kind of system or foundation in place where they won’t experience the same thing I did. I came to the Annual General Meeting and I sh*t [sic] on this club (laughs), I stripped them down. It was very emotional because this club is predominantly white and male, and this is a predominantly white sport, so it was quite intimidating but whatever, I did that. There and then changes were made in leadership overall, and we voted in a transformation rep and now I’ve been allowed to create a transformation portfolio that will entail, you know, a committee and stuff going forward. 



How’s it going so far?

It’s a struggle. Starting anything is very difficult. There were a lot of people who were against it and walked away from the club, and when I say that I mean my outlook on transformation needs to be [as] inclusive as possible. For me, transformation based [solely] off race is just not conducive. Transformation based off one entity is not going to work out long term because in its own way it excludes someone. So, I made it clear we’re going to treat everyone fairly and equally. If you’re on the committee that gives you no right to tell a coach “oh I’m on the committee so I should be on this team”. That was also happening in the club because UCT sports is student-led unlike other universities where people are paid to run the clubs. So that brings in a whole other set of ethics and ethics weren’t considered for a long time (laughs).


Literally the reason why you’re doing this!

Yeah, so a lot of people walked away because they weren’t being privileged the way they were before. And maybe they walked away because internally they just didn’t agree with what was going on. But yeah, I’m working through it. It’s unfortunate that I am in my last year of study at UCT and this is only happening now, but I do believe that things happen for a reason. I’m working to at least have a group of people who will take over the portfolio at the end of the year. 


Is there a transformation rep for the men’s side of the club?

This committee is for the whole club, both the men’s and women’s league and even the binary of those identifications because sports in general is not about changing that binary, so at least try making a few steps towards being progressive and at least acknowledge that that binary is not a thing.



Good stuff. You also dance on the side. 

I dance on the side, I mean not literally (laughs). Sometimes literally. But I do. Currently I do dance and hockey at the same time. But my schedule is so intense that I go to dance class on Tuesday, and then run, no float to hockey


Glide…drip, drip.

Superman moves! But yeah dance has been a very critical part of my life. I wish I could have gone further with it, but choices had to be made in high school (laughs) and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice hockey, so I sacrificed dance and continued with hockey. But now I’ve been getting back into it. I dance in like competitions and stuff and also like I’m moving towards creating my own choreography and things like that because when you’re in a job, in an institution, it’s so easy to lose your touch of creativity just trying to chow course, and part time work because ahem black tax (laughs). But yeah just trying to stay in touch with my creativity and that’s a part of my soul I don’t want to lose and its easy to do that. 


What music do you listen to?

I like K-Pop, Ethiopian music, Turkish music, music that focuses on instrumentals quite a lot. Lyrical music is fantastic, I love that stuff, but when there’s a focus on the instrumental it allows you to work differently with your body. I can’t explain it. I think dancers can show it better than I can explain it. But yeah that’s what I’m doing now, and it’s a lot of fun.