The University of the West Indies’ repeated claims that it was clueless about the level of gender-based violence (GBV), or any violence on its campus for that matter, because it “cannot admit to a phenomenon that is not supported by data collected by UWI” are damaging the institution. They are an embarrassment because they lead to the inevitable conclusion that there are fundamental problems with UWI’S methods of data collection. Either that or the methods are designed to evade collection of data that would indicate beyond any shadow of a doubt the enormity of the problem.
Because of course the University’s claims that GBV is not a major issue at the university flies in the face of the experience of students who have to live and work on its campus. On February 12 students at Mary Seacole Hall, one of the only female halls of residence at UWI, mounted a silent protest against gender-based violence on campus (See video above). Accompanying this, for the first time in a long time, students mobilized social media to make their views known using the hashtag #SpeakUpUWI. There were of course the usual disparagers.
“You guys think UWI care abt your tweets?” scoffed @Appleton_King.
“No but UWI cares about their image #SpeakUpUWI” responded @italisvital crisply.
And that is the crux of the matter. It seems there may have been careless under-reporting going on all these years in an effort to ‘protect’ the University’s reputation (see my previous post Sexual Harrassment and UWI: Can we talk? for more background). If UWI Admin think it is the reports of GBV that are ruining its image I suggest that everyone from the Vice Chancellor down to the Hall managers study these #SpeakUpUWI tweets carefully. In the meantime the administration’s stubborn insistence on a policy of denial is not one that the rest of us who work at UWI can or should support for it is bringing the university and all of us who work at it into disrepute. It is simply untenable. We have a vested interest in insisting that Senior Administration reconsider this unconscionably dishonest policy forthwith.
From all available reports around 11 pm on Tuesday, Feb 10, two Taylor Hall girls were walking between the halls of residence when some male students started throwing stones at them. When one of the girls objected and told off the boy who had stoned her in no uncertain terms it appears that he attacked her, leaving her with serious head injuries. The rest of the male students, proud Chancellorites by all reports, stood by and did nothing to intervene. A security guard was also said to be present yet this did not prevent the student from being injured.
Only the previous week the Gleaner had published an article titled UWI Halls of Horror outlining the risks faced by female students on campus. The University’s Registrar and Marketing Director strenuously objected to the article, claiming it wasn’t aware of any such problems. The tragedy is that in spite of having its prevarications thrown in its face by what happened to two female students at Chancellor Hall, just a few days after the University had loudly proclaimed that there had NEVER been a report of GBV on campus, once again the Deputy Principal finds it important to reiterate the tall claim that so-called data doesn’t support the evidence of the numerous attacks that have and continue to take place on campus. What kind of scholarship is that? You fail to collect important data and then claim a problem doesn’t exist because data doesn’t exist??
This is as absurd as a bank saying that it had noticed large chunks of money disappearing from clients’ accounts but as no one had officially made a report it didn’t think there was a major problem. Haha try that NCB!
It’s only a pity that the poor Taylorite whose forehead was bashed in by a male student wasn’t part of a building, or a car or some other piece of private property, the University would have treated the incident like a major crime and steps would immediately have been taken to prevent its recurrence. I bet if asked the University can produce a complete list of property crimes on campus, disaggregated by all sorts of components.
But hey its just another female who’s been attacked. She’ll shut up or go away eventually when she realizes she has to continue attending classes with her assailants as well as those who stood by and watched without intervening.
Take a look at some of the tweets I extracted from the #SpeakUpUWI hashtag and see if you think I’m wrong (i’ve combined consecutive individual tweets for ease of reading) in bringing these matters to your attention.
RT @DanielleaAlexa: Went to UWI for a yr and Likkle bit. Lived on post grad and I was always scared as shit. Scared scared scared. 1 of my fren frm trini who lived on PG was attacked by a guy who lived on PG as well bcaz she never want him. UWI wanted her to hush hush. My girl get her lawyer an everything. Ole demons bwoy had to move off pg. like the whole a dem ova deh a drink mad puss piss to claart. They told her they would move the guy to another building in the complex. She was NOT standing for it. they moved him to the other side of campus.
RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe at UWI yet I need to find a male friend anytime I want to leave my faculty? #SpeakUpUWI
RT @jdrenee_: Girls are safe by UWI but I got trailed when I left the Library by myself at night with no-one around? #SpeakUpUWI
RT @ShanaCogle: If violence is the way of the educated, what say the uneducated? #SpeakUpUwi
RT @Occupy_Jamaica: The first major sign of #Campus social media Activism in the Caribbean in a longtime. Get moving on this #SpeakUpUWI
Responding to the suggestion that things like this happen at all universities and universities in the USA and other first world countries have responded evasively as well, tweeter @Rosina_v retorted “yes but don’t have the time to care about overseas. [I] Care about the university i went to and suffered gender based harassment at.” She then went on to recount her experiences when she was a student at UWI.
Haile Minogue @Rosina_v
I was stalked for months by a man who would follow me to library and laywait me and scribble disturbing notes to me #SpeakUpUWI. had to go 2 a legal aid+get a civil injunction. He ws held by police who found 3 knives on him. Still no help from student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. tried to report it, turned out he had been doing the same to several other girls but me the worst. Directed to student affairs #SpeakUpUWI. I was told by head of Student Affairs not to tell her “Hi” when speaking to her, as she has a PHD & prefers the formal “hello” #SpeakUpUWI. That man had been deregistered from UWI since 1991! Still walking around campus terrorising women w impunity for over a decade #SpeakUpUWI. I couldnt bring myself to attend UWI graduation even though i was nominated as Valedictorian of my faculty. I couldnt stand for u #SpeakUpUWI.
In answer to a follow up question Rosina told me the following:
I went to UWI between 2008-2010. Did a BA in Philosophy and minor in Political science, graduated with a 4.01 GPA and was one of 5 students nominated to be valedictorian of Humanities and Education…Gender based harassment and violence is REAL, and the whole overall culture of the campus–and I can personally attest— is subliminally and overtly abrasively sexist and is a distressing environment for girls to achieve within–if places like the library, where late studying is a must for achievers breeds this kind of unwanted attention. Even in broad daylight, as in my case, harassment was not restricted to day or night.
Then there are the apologists for the University:
RT @GodivaGolding: We can’t blame UWI or Chancellor for the actions of a few. #speakupuwi
RT @GodivaGolding: It seems lost on some that UWI is a mere microcosm of the wider society we operate in. #speakupuwi
The apologists were swiftly dealt with. As @Cuddlephonics pithily put it: Cant and wont blame uwi for the incident but I will chastise them for how they handle these situations. #SpeakUpUWI
RT @Mandi143: “@KristinaLien: Nah we blaming UWI for something they’ve seemingly been ignoring for DECADES/” #SpeakUpUWI
UWI Problems @UWI_Problems
I wonder how many more things UWI plans to sweep under the rug…& how many things it has already that we don’t know about. #UWIProblems
Gaza Slimesha @AudiNatlee
Whether it is being investigated or no, SAY SOMETHING. Let us know you are as deeply outraged as we are. But sitting silence makes it worse.
Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
Women are speaking up about instances where they HAVE attempted to report things and were rebuffed.
So yes. That’s a UWI problem.
It’s been a good while now we’ve been crying out for PROACTIVE measures.
But now, AFTER the fact meetings being held.
Jack Mandora @darius_roberti
If the ‘meetings’ aren’t about the expulsion of the responsible parties and them being charged for assault, what’s the point? #SpeakUpUWI
Campus Police are bigoted, sexist buffoons with no empathy to rassclaat. You are there to SERVE and PROTECT, not victim blame #SpeakUpUWI
If the University wants to tackle the problems women have been trying to bring to their attention for decades let them start with the male halls of residence. @brandonallwood puts his finger on the problem: I went to UWI for a semester. Hall culture is abrasively macho n OBVIOUSLY n PATENTLY distressing for women.” #SpeakUpUWI
What is Hall culture? Has anyone at UWI taken the trouble to study it? Have any of my esteemed colleagues in Social Science thought of investigating the fascinating sociological problems sitting on their doorstep? It’s a charge Verene Shepherd, head of the Regional Unit of the International Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) department has often made. The university’s researchers have been busy studying external problems instead of the ones that beset it internally.
Of course its also true that when a scholar undertakes a study as Taitu Heron did in 2013, the University is liable to reject its conclusions because it suggests there is a serious problem with GBV on campus. This is untenable. The Administration needs to lay out for us what it’s data collection methods have been all these years. Also what happens after a student reports an assault to the Police? Do the Police make weekly or monthly reports to the University about assaults on campus? If not why not? and if so why has the University said Ho, hum! and turned away?
Fortunately not all senior administration personnel at the University of the West Indies, Mona, are in denial. “Sexual harrassment is a troubling aspect of life on the Mona campus and has always been so from the time I was a student. It is not always manifested in violence but it is verbal also,” says Professor Verene Shepherd, head of IGDS at UWI.
“If Taitu found in her research that 67 cases came to the attention of campus security, one can bet it is a higher figure because it often goes unreported,” continued Dr. Shepherd. Education is vital; and I would suggest a Foundation course for all students — a kind of Gender 101 to sensitize all students to the historical roots of GBV and to the fact that the female majority on the campus is no excuse for male students to think that women are available for harrassment.”
In addition to a foundation course in Gender Studies let us at once examine the charge that the male halls of residence at UWI are little more than fraternity houses or frat houses as they’re more popularly known. At many American universities frat houses have been barred from campuses because it is widely acknowledged that such fraternities with their ultra-macho culture and investment in rowdiness, conspicuous machismo and male-oriented behaviour have contributed to the prevalence of rape culture. Yet at UWI not only are fraternity-type dorms such as Chancellor, Taylor and Irving part of the campus, some of them have also been turned into co-ed residences with female students placed in these havens of ultra-masculinity.
Add to this Hall Managers who have graduated from fraternities to become their managers (rather than the post being filled by the most highly qualified and competent candidates whether they lived on the particular Hall or not) and there is almost nothing to curb the masculinist excesses that occur, in fact are encouraged, from time to time.
It is noteworthy that in the instant case of the two female students who were attacked at Chancellor Hall around 11 pm on February 10th the University administration itself was unaware of the attack until the afternoon of the 11th. Allegations are that the Hall Managers concerned neglected to report the matter until it became obvious that the media, social and otherwise, was not going to turn a blind eye to what had happened.
It is sad also that the injured student’s parents, a working class couple from Montego Bay, were not given accommodation at the University so that they could tend to their daughter, instead of having to return to Montego Bay the same day they arrived to inquire into what had happened. Inexcusable also, if true, that the University did not escort the student back to Montego Bay after her doctor’s examination yesterday. These are simple ways the University could have started to repair its image instead of flatly denying the violence that is plaguing its campus.
I end with two tweets worth sharing. Let’s hope that everyone comes to their senses and starts doing what’s necessary to make campus safer for students, faculty and everyone who works there.
RT @_JKav: Worse thing is that some people are going to complain that it’s being made a gender thing.
But it is a gender thing.
RT @italisvital_: My prayers go out to that girl. Confrontation or not, she doesn’t deserve a cracked skull and what they did to her face #SpeakUpUWI