UWI’s Whirlwind of a Week

It started with this article on the front page of the Sunday Gleaner on February 1. Halls of Horror was the initial headline, since removed online for reasons one can only speculate about. But truthfully, this problem started long before Ms. Heron called out the skeletons in UWI’s closet. The skeletons had to be there first for her to display.

Heron’s study ‘Whose Business Is It? Violence Against Women at UWI, Mona’ is a scathing indictment of UWI’s nonchalant attitude toward gender-based violence on their campus. She cites reported cases and anecdotal evidence in her research (this isn’t a comment on her validity), condemning UWI not for violence on its campus but for not dealing with the issue. The Gleaner goes a step further and calls UWI a “haven for those who assault and harass women” – maybe taking it a bit too far. Meanwhile the entire UWI administration from Camille Bell-Hutchinson (campus registrar) to Lerone Laing (guild president) is denying gender-based attacks left, right and centre.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

A few letters of rejection, damage-controlling press releases, and suitably outraged blog posts later, we fast forward to Tuesday night when this happened. It was virtually biblical: a female (student) being stoned by males (students).

Whatever spin you want to put on it (and my Facebook feed has people demanding to hear the guy’s side of the story; even the UWI statement has unappealing implications) it boils down to boys throwing rocks at a defenseless girl. Which is just wrong, by anyone’s standards.

Naturally, UWI students erupted into protest, postponing the campus Homecoming celebrations and showing the university just what happens when they try to sweep safety issues under the rug. Spearheaded by the campus beacon of gender affairs, Mary Seacole Hall, a peaceful protest was staged on the Ring Road (admirable coverage by Loop and by my aunt’s account also featured on the evening news). The campus called an emergency meeting of its administrators and hall managers – perhaps to figure out how they can bow gracefully out of this debacle. Understandably, people are upset.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In an ideal world, cataclysmic events like this one would spark dialogue and open the way for real change, real policies being implemented in the office and on the ground. But this is Jamaica, land of quick fixes and patch jobs, of putting everything off until it’s SEP. Given UWI’s track record when matters of female safety on campus are brought up in the media (Annie Paul details that quite well), it is all too likely that this too shall pass.

But it shouldn’t be allowed to.

I hear stories of girls going to report assault cases and being dismissed. I hear stories about girls getting dragged around by their hair because people refuse to interfere in ‘man an ooman problem‘. As a girl on this campus – in this society, in this world – safety is always, always, always on our minds. How dare UWI declare it ‘not a priority’? It is our foremost concern.

How many girls have to be raped before we can talk about this openly? How many women have to be assaulted before we can all agree that this (catcalls, harassment, stalking) is not okay? UWI likes numbers: the number of reported cases of sexual assault account for less than 1% of the student body, they argue. What percentage of our bodies qualifies as a priority, UWI?

#HOWMANY do you need to see?

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