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.