On sex­ual abuse at UCT

CityPress - - Voices -

For­mer Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town (UCT) stu­dent via email

It was with great dis­ap­point­ment that I read Roger Young’s ar­ti­cle on how UCT’s sys­tem failed a fe­male stu­dent af­ter she re­ported sex­ual ha­rass­ment at art school (City Press, Jan­uary 3 2016).

It seems that noth­ing has changed al­most 10 years af­ter I com­menced my un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies there. Although not sex­ual ha­rass­ment, I too ex­pe­ri­enced what I be­lieve to be a great fail­ure on the in­sti­tu­tion’s part to take se­ri­ously the con­cerns I had about the cul­ture in the mu­sic depart­ment.

I quickly learnt that sex­ual re­la­tion­ships be­tween stu­dents and lec­tur­ers were fairly com­mon and openly dis­cussed. I, a fiercely re­bel­lious and hope­lessly naive 19-year-old, fell for a lec­turer who had had his fair share of stu­dent li­aisons. It is a de­ci­sion that was to bring me great pain, anx­i­ety and, ul­ti­mately, re­gret – that was to teach me the dif­fi­culty of tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for my bad choices.

What I haven’t yet man­aged to un­der­stand, and it con­tin­ues to cause me great distress, is the way the uni­ver­sity han­dled (or didn’t) my con­tin­ued voiced con­cerns over the pol­icy that al­lows this be­hav­iour and the to­tal lack of con­cern for the well­be­ing of a stu­dent who might find her­self in such a re­la­tion­ship.

I ex­pe­ri­enced first-hand the ef­fect that pol­icy (or lack thereof) can have in tac­itly en­cour­ag­ing a be­hav­iour to the ex­tent that it be­comes nor­malised and part of the in­sti­tu­tional cul­ture. Re­mem­ber, it wasn’t an odd oc­cur­rence, but rather one in which a hand­ful of lec­tur­ers en­gaged com­pletely openly.

When I fi­nally re­alised the ex­tent of my mis­take, I was left with a bro­ken heart and very public hu­mil­i­a­tion. It be­came an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment to study in. I de­cided that I might pro­tect fu­ture stu­dents if I shared with uni­ver­sity man­age­ment the dam­ag­ing con­se­quences of such a cul­ture, how the skewed power dy­namic had given a lec­turer un­fair ad­van­tage in win­ning my trust. I should have known bet­ter, I know. But I didn’t, and hon­estly, many 19-year-olds wouldn’t. He cer­tainly did, and that is where the prob­lem lies.

I naively be­lieved that SOME­ONE at the uni­ver­sity would care about the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of a stu­dent. Un­for­tu­nately, my con­cern was met mostly with ap­a­thy and some­times ag­gres­sion. A phone call to the dean ended with an in­ter­rup­tion and a don’tworry-you’ll-get-over-it re­sponse. The won­der­ful peo­ple at the ha­rass­ment of­fice (an av­enue I pur­sued only be­cause more ap­pro­pri­ate ones re­mained firmly shut) were ex­tremely kind, but I soon learnt that if man­age­ment higher up didn’t give a fig, then there was noth­ing they could do. One mu­sic lec­turer came into my prac­tice room and shouted at me. A con­ver­sa­tion with the head of depart­ment ended, also, with an in­ter­rup­tion, when he asked me if I wasn’t “just jeal­ous” of the new stu­dent girl­friend that my ex had ac­quired and whether I had con­sid­ered that a change in pol­icy would in­fringe on the right to free­dom of as­so­ci­a­tion of lec­tur­ers. I am still shocked at the lack of rea­son and em­pa­thy in that re­sponse.

It didn’t mat­ter who I tried to speak to or how of­ten I tried to ex­plain that I was try­ing to high­light a struc­tural is­sue at the uni­ver­sity that was ex­ac­er­bated by lack of pol­icy, I was con­tin­u­ously met with crit­i­cism that painted me as a stereo­typ­i­cal “jeal­ous” woman.

So I am not sur­prised that the in­sti­tu­tion failed Larissa Mwanyama at all.

To the young men and women who are vul­ner­a­ble, in­ex­pe­ri­enced, re­bel­lious and cu­ri­ous who will be en­ter­ing that space soon, take care of your­selves. UCT cer­tainly won’t.

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