Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Seeking alternatives to campus violence
Recently a student was killed and several others hospitalized as the result of a campus club initiation at Fourah Bay College, where I teach human rights as a Fulbright fellow (2008=-2009). Turns out beatings, and rape of females, is a fairly regular part of campus club initiations, at least in recent years. And last year students destroyed their dormitories in a rampage that followed disputes between the rival ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ over campus elections. (The faction names do not designate ethnicity.)
I usually don’t voice my opinion on issues in the classroom, but in my large (130 enrolled) freshman class on human rights, I spoke out strongly to condemn the violence in club initiations and suggested an alternative barrier to club membership: 25 hours of community service. Would graduates prefer to look back one day and tell their children ‘I beat up guys and raped women initiates,’ or say ‘I helped build a school?’
The general sentiment (I hope) in the classroom was against the violence. In the next class I challenged students to consider public statements against it. Several said privately (and one said in class) they were afraid of being beaten if they opposed this ugly norm.
So I have spoken to some of the campus elected leaders and we plan to meet soon to map out public ways to oppose violence and propose a difficult, but non-violent requirement for club initiation, such as community service. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

William said...

What a terrible tradition to sustain. We have been working to end this sort of thing in the US for many years. For some fraternities it has such support that faculty proposing change often find themselves isolated and targeted. last year, my class painted a mural to raise the issue, and i called one of the university photographers to take a picture as we were working, and to post it in one of the school organs. good thing: by the next morning, the taggers had covered, mocked and defaced our message. w