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Professor Rula Quawas: Preserving the Right to Education
I started this segment about a month ago by talking about Queen Rania. My main motivation in doing so was to highlight her efforts in promoting the power of gender equality and education, the two causes closest to my heart. This week’s kick-ass woman title goes to a woman who stood up to these causes and lost her job as a result: Professor Rula Quawas.
The University of Jordan in Amman is regarded as one of the most prestigious universities in the region, but what happened with Professor Quawas definitely tarnished its reputation in my book. She was fired half way through her two year contract for allowing students to produce and publish (on YouTube) an anti-sexual harassment video. One particular video was deemed too controversial by the University Administration.
In short, what you see is female students holding up signs of abusive words, phrases, and statements directed towards them by several of their male classmates on and around their campus. The video spread on YouTube, and eventually caught the attention of the Administration. Furious that such a film could tarnish the university’s reputation, the University’s Vice President called Professor Quawas demanding an explanation, and was asked to take it down. Quawas refused to do so and wrote a letter defending the work of her students. She was stripped of her post as a result of her refusal.
Professor Rula I salute you for standing your ground, protecting your students’ freedom of expression, and promoting their right to education and dignity.
Several issues arise from this case. First is the fact that a university such as the University of Jordan would not stand by one of its own professors, especially one who completed her undergraduate and graduate degree there and returned to give back to the institution.
Second, and more importantly, is the fact that rather than praise the work of the students and recognize gender-based harassment as an area that needs immediate attention, the university disappointed its female student body by firing the Professor who stood up to their rights. The Administration thought that this route would save their reputation, when it actually achieved the exact opposite. In a letter sent by the Committee on Academic Freedom for the Middle East Studies Association of North America, Quawas was supported, and the University’s decision was deemed a violation of academic freedom.
I was touched by the video that the students put together, and am shocked that such vulgar phrases are used at an educational institution like the University of Jordan, which should be a place that promotes gender equality and human dignity rather than prevent it.
So thank you Professor Rula for standing up for these students’ rights despite the university’s decision.