Harassment Creates Divide In Student Body at the University of Jordan

Copied from http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu

November 14, 2012
Within two days of being in Amman, I decided that I needed a pair of sunglasses. Usually unbothered by the sun, I failed to include them in my long packing list. On a campus where eye contact is considered extremely forward, however, sunglasses are essential for other reasons. Sexual harassment pervades campus culture at the University of Jordan, and making eye contact with someone of the opposite gender while walking between classes only encourages more harassment.

With a lack of eye contact and general interaction between women and men, the student body is inevitably divided into two separate groups. Looking around the cafeteria, I rarely see a table with both male and female students. In a conversation with a female UJ student, she explained that having an open conversation with a stranger or sitting with a male student outside of her family would cause unwanted speculation about her behavior. To avoid this risk, women are expected to have a serious expression and demeanor at all times.

Students walk with their heads down to avoid seeming forward or attracting harassment, but in doing so the divide between male and female students becomes even greater. Female students are well represented at the University of Jordan, making up 63% of the student body. In a campus culture where social norms and harassment discourage the majority of its student body from interacting openly with their counterparts, a lack of collaboration and dialogue among students is inevitable.

While the best solution to harassment, in the moment, is often to ignore it, some students refuse to passively accept this part of the culture. In Spring, 2012, three students in a feminist theory class decided to start a conversation about sexual harassment on campus. Female students are featured in this video holding signs of statements they have heard on campus. While this video is short and contains very little content other than the signs, these students gained widespread attention for their message.

The University of Jordan administration quickly learned of the video as it gained attention on Youtube. The controversy surrounding the video resulted in the removal of the supervising professor, Rula Quawas, from her post as Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages. Frustratingly, the video did not prompt any actions from the administration to address sexual harassment on campus. Despite the lack of immediate change on campus, the video does signify the existence of a conversation, however small, about gender roles and social norms.


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