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Your fellowship can help end sexual misconduct at university

Image credit: Makerere University.

Editorial

About 12 years ago, Makerere University introduced a policy on Sexual Harassment Prevention to address acts and practices related to sexual harassment at all levels within the structures of the University.

In this policy, the University reaffirmed its zero-tolerance towards sexual harassment and expressed committed to creating an environment that respects and protects the rights of all its members, male and female.

In January this year, a report released by an independent committee mandated by President Museveni said that over 50 per cent of female and about 40 per cent of male students interviewed called sexual harassment a major cause of discontent on Makarere’s campus.

One student told the BBC that a lecturer attempted to rape her, however the university officials insulted her and “called her stupid” after she reported the attack.

She, according to The East African, was left disappointed when the university senate committee formed to investigate her case concluded that there had been “an environment of sexual harassment”, but told her nonetheless to return to class and be taught by her alleged attacker.

On Tuesday, the University was hit by another devastating case of sexual harassment, and was forced to suspend Mr Edward Kisuze, a senior administrative assistant in the Academic Registrar’s Department for allegedly harassing a female student in his office at Senate Building.

Local media reported that the victimized student, a Kenyan national, made a statement at Police Station in which she said she was sexually harassed by a man in Room 507. She took a selfie photo, as evident, of the proceedings with her phone as there was no camera in the room.

But as the stories keep coming out, I am reminded of various Christian student fellowships in Universities – most of which I believe are attached to many of the Churches we have in the country today.

I hope you all agree that Jesus wouldn’t appreciate the sexual exploitation or abuse of women/men. So why would your fellowship be afraid to represent the values of Jesus on such a clear-cut issue?

So I’d like to propose that the fellowship leaders develop a program and begin taking necessary steps to enter a conversation we should have been leading long ago.

Sexual misconduct is real evil happening right before your eyes, among the very students/lecturers that come and congregate with us. It is time to start talking about it from the pulpit. Each Sunday our pews are filled, but failure to address real issues will keep many in bondage.

We cannot speak of University revival when students/lecturers are hurting and privately battling these issues alone! While we pin lectures, we should also remember that some of the students you see in fellowship are very willing to offer the lecturers “anything they want” so as not to re-sit an exam, test or coursework.

“Way before the semester begins, female students find out what lecturer will be teaching which course unit. Once they have acquired this information, they weigh their options and make decisions accordingly. They will know who is a no-nonsense lecturer that they will not bother with their crafty schemes. They will go for that one they suspect can easily succumb to their appetising offers.” One male lecturer  at the School of Computing and Informatics Technology (CIT) – Makerere University recently confessed to Journalists.

As fellowship leaders, such revelation is the reality we should not run away from or be afraid to tackle during our prayer meetings. Tip students on values regarding dealing with failure.

Failure is not a word that is talked about much. Our society is geared up for success. But all of the historical figures we admire today had their fair share of failure. Failure is not the end of the story. It’s what we do with that failure and how we handle it that matters.

If you, ‘Papa’ or ‘Mama’, are not talking about these issues from the pulpit, then we join the list of predatory forces in the world. Our silence makes us complicit.

Additionally, your fellowship should not be limited to students alone, don’t restrain the move of God to that extent – move out to administrators, stuff and non teaching stuff. Influence as many as you can to an environment where the gospel is richly being shared.

Every single fellowship and University chapel should offer tangible help to victims of sexual violence. Perhaps there are fellowship members available for conversations, or support groups for victims.

At the very least, we can place signs in each public room offering resources for people who need help. Make sure your congregational leadership and members know that women are valued in the community of Christ and that sexual harassment, abuse or denigration of anyone is unacceptable in the university.

We know that healthy, loving communities of any kind can be instrumental in making our world a kinder, safer place.

But so far, a fellowship group or church has too often been last in line to provide that kind of community for sexually abused victims. This is a shameful reality we must confront.

If the fellowship leadership can’t get itself to start protecting the very people who gather each Sunday, then it might be time to throw in the towel and let someone else take a shot at representing the love of Jesus to the world around us.

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