MAJORING IN THE MINOR
When Waldane Walker, the valedictorian for the Edna Manley graduating class of 2019, ended his speech with the words “big up oonu bl**cl**t self”, I do not know if he realized how much of an impact it would have made. But it landed and detonated like a nuclear bomb. Many people lost their minds, were deeply offended, and vociferously expressed their displeasure. I have heard rational, and irrational, arguments both in support and critical of what was said. However, in my opinion, we have given this incident way too much energy. I see no reason to either vilify or praise the drama major. He expressed himself the way he wanted and made his point, and in my opinion, we ought to move on.
So today I will not delve into the incident, but rather the response of many to it. I am fascinated by the fact that there are people who are more offended by a word deemed to be inappropriate than the alleged sexual harassment of female students by a senior lecturer at the institution. Indeed, a woman recently told me that after viewing the valedictorian’s speech she decided not to send her daughter to “Edna”and was apparently more disturbed by the mention of a sanguineous fabric than her daughter being in an environment that has a history of alleged tolerance of sexual harassment.
For those of you who may have forgotten, kindly allow me to refresh your memories. In May of this year, The Sunday Gleaner published a story about a sexual harassment scandal and claims of a cover-up at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, sparking a“toxic atmosphere of fear and intimidation”. According to the report, several female students had been sexually harassed by a male lecturer, but despite the submission of oral and written complaints, no action had been taken. A student who claimed that the lecturer began harassing her four years ago said that incidents had been reported to the principal and the dean but were “swept under the rug”.
Professor Maluwa Meshane Williams-Myers, an American lecturer at the college, supported the claims by the students, stating, “I have known about four or five of the cases involving students. Some of them have had their hair grabbed. Some have been asked questions or told, ‘I can’t wait until you are old enough to have sex with.’ Others, basically said, if you don’t do this for me, you are not going to have a good grade … a passing grade”.
Williams-Myers also said one of her colleagues was allegedly assaulted, and that although she filed a complaint two years ago, the lecturer was still working at the institution. The professor claimed that she had been personally affected to the point where she lodged complaints with the public defender, Bureau of Gender Affairs, and the United States Embassy.
Sexual harassment at educational institutions has the potential to significantly affect a student’s academic performance which, in turn, can have a deleterious effect on their future and quality of life.
In their 2006 report, “Drawing the Line”, The American Association of University Women (AAUW), examined the effects of sexual harassment on female students. According to the study, students experience a wide range of effects from sexual harassment that impact their academics. These effects include having trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, decreased participation in class, avoiding certain study groups, thinking about changing schools, changing schools, avoiding the library, changing majors and not going to a professor or teaching assistant’s office after hours.
In terms of percentages, it was found that, regarding female students:
32 per cent who had been sexually harassed reported feeling afraid or scared.
16 per cent who had been sexually harassed found it hard to study or pay attention in class.
9 per cent dropped a course or skipped a class in response to sexual harassment.
27 per cent stayed away from particular buildings or places on campus as a result of sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is not benign. It is damaging and can have serious short and long-term consequences. We do not take it seriously enough, but we ought to. The word bl**dcl**t may be one that was initially used to disrespect women, but I am far more outraged about the actual disrespect and harassment of women that can affect their physical, mental and social well-being.