“A student project” in Jordan Times

A student project
by Nermeen Murad

A group of young women at the University of Jordan recently put together a video as part of a class project in which they tackled the issue of sexual harassment on campus. The young ladies carried placards with the comments they hear regularly and on daily basis from the young men on campus who have come to think it is acceptable to use this kind of language and approach.

The video was published on YouTube and with that, a door was opened for public criticism and debate outside and within the university.

And, unexpectedly — at least to me — the debate appeared to be not about the persistent and quite serious problem of sexual harassment of young women at Jordan’s universities, but of the college professor and her students for allowing and carrying out such a project.

No one wanted to know. No one wanted to resolve the problem. No one at the university wanted to hold a conference to discuss the issue of sexual harassment on campus. No one wanted to discuss whether this kind of video — essentially aiming to shame the young men — was a useful tool in tackling this issue. This type of debate apparently would have been “too academic” for this supposedly academic institution.

Instead, the young women were intimidated into silence through a campaign of questioning from other students and the university.

The college professor who ran the course was subjected to a smear campaign, her motives were questioned and a shadow was cast over her moral standards. She eventually was removed from a leadership position at the university less than a year after she was appointed, without clear professional cause or explanation.

I do not want to personalise this column or make it about this one person. But I want to compare this case with that of a Sharia professor at the same university who last year decided to shame the young university men and women whom he catches sitting together at university.

Persistently he would grab the young men’s mobiles and shout at them until they would give him their sisters’ mobile numbers so that the esteemed professor could call the sisters and harass them in a tit-for-tat scenario.

This same university professor made videos, that he also published on YouTube, of this exercise, followed by many more shame tactics aimed at prohibiting the mixing of young ladies and men at university. Notice, please, that this university professor was combatting the consensual public mixing of students, while the first project was to combat the common practice of verbal harassment of women by young men.

This second professor continues to hold a well regarded public profile, is seen as a modern maverick of 21st century Sharia and is invited to attend seminars and official meetings aimed at discussing education, Sharia and the challenges that they face.

I have a problem with this situation. I have a problem with the fact that a very hardworking and dedicated university leader was allowed to become victim of our inability to tackle the challenges that face us as a society and as an institution of higher education, only because she is a woman who allowed her students to take initiative and “air our dirty laundry”.

All her academic, intellectual and professional contributions were discarded and the university management appears to have allowed the gossipers and backstabbers to win.

At the same time, the university continues to allow the other professor to go after the students who are mixing openly — and normally — on the university campus, using multiple tools of harassment and intimidation. I have yet to hear of one action being taken against his tactic by the university, even though I am aware of several campaigns and appeals to the university by students to try to stop him.

The bottom line is that education, and especially higher education, is not only about academic grades, it is also about arming this next generation — during those amazing four years when we have their attention — with the moral set of values that will enable them to succeed professionally and through hard work and merit.

The lesson I would have liked to see the university showcase when dealing with these two very different university agents and leaders is that the university supports professionalism and open dialogue and rejects dogma and intimidation tactics.

The university should have found a way to laud the professor who provided an academically valid enabling environment for the young women to put forward their views. They, in turn, must be recognised for their courage in creating an awareness tool to tackle the problem of sexual harassment on campus without launching any personal attacks on their abusers.

At the same time, I believe the university should protect its students from the personal attack and harassment carried out by the other professor who clearly has an ideological view against the mixing of young men and women at universities.

I assume that since our universities are mixed, this ideological view is not part and parcel of the university’s moral judgement of its students, and as such, it should have come out and put a stop to anyone who is trying to force another reality on the ground.

We talk about reforming universities. Shouldn’t the first sign of reform be support for the role models that espouse professionalism and academic excellence in an open, mixed and respectful educational environment?

Are we teaching our students that we are too afraid to rock the boat even when we know it is right? Are we teaching them to duck their heads and hide in the face of dogmatic and ideologically driven intimidation?

We should review our moral yardstick.

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