LETTER OF THE DAY - UWI rejects claims of gender violence haven
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, has taken note of an article, 'Halls of horror: gender-based attacks haunt UWI, Mona', which appeared in The Sunday Gleaner dated February 1, 2015.
The UWI, Mona, totally rejects the article's assertions that 'sexual harassment and other gender-based violence' is rampant on its halls of residence or that the campus is 'a haven for those who assault and harass women'. These statements are not supported by available data, nor is there any evidence of wide-scale gender-based violence on the campus, or on the halls of residence, in particular.
The university does not dispute the fact that incidents of violence take place at the Mona campus (in which males and females are both perpetrators and victims). The university is a microcosm of the wider society and many of our students come from communities where the breakdown of family structures has led to an inability to deal with conflicts in a non-violent manner.
However, in a student population of approximately 15,000 persons (70 per cent of whom are female), with just over 3,000 residing in halls of residence, the figures quoted in the article amount to fewer than one per cent of students reporting acts of violence over a five-year period. On what basis, then, can your newspaper assert that the campus is a haven for violent attacks against women?
The UWI, Mona, also rejects the allegation that the issue of gender-based violence has not been accorded priority by the campus. The university takes a zero-tolerance approach to any act of violence perpetrated by staff and students, and, where cases are reported, the matter is investigated and disciplinary action taken against perpetrators.
The UWI, Mona, has also recognised the need to provide avenues for students to manage conflict of any kind, given the wider societal context, and has implemented a number of measures to address the matter:
The university has had a sexual harassment policy in place for several years.
In 2007, a director of security was appointed to deal with security issues on the campus.
For many years now, interpersonal relations skills training and a focus on domestic violence have been among areas of focus during the annual orientation programme and through the First-Year Experience programme. These workshops assist students in developing wholesome interpersonal skills/relationships with roommates, dealing with date rape, male-female relationships, dealing with your sexuality, etc.
The campus, through the Office of Student Services and Development, continuously reviews its programmes in an effort to be responsive to the changing environment in which students operate. As a result, a number of interpersonal relationship Initiatives have been introduced.
Individual halls of residence mount workshops and meet with students to discuss issues of gender-based violence and sexual harassment, as well as other issues of concern within the student population. These may range from interpersonal to academic concerns or events-planning issues.
It is unimaginable that widespread acts of gender-based violence would have gone unmentioned by the students during these meetings.
The university health centre has a 24-hour online and telephone counselling service and also has a counselling centre where staff and students can receive help.
The health centre works closely with the security services to deal with any incidents which are reported to the organisation. The managers and resident advisers on the halls have also referred students to the Counselling Unit, if it was determined that they were at risk of, or have experienced domestic violence.
The Institute for Gender Studies & Development offers a range of programmes aimed at sensitising male and female students to the social underpinnings that lead to gender stereotypes/misconceptions which might result in unacceptable behaviour.
As part of efforts to make the campus environment safe for all students, the UWI, Mona, is in the process of developing a safety and awareness campaign to address the various issues surrounding safety - both as a community and as individuals within that community.
As The UWI, Mona, continues its efforts to ensure a safe environment for its students, I hope that this will bring clarity to the matter.
CARROLL EDWARDS (PhD)