Authors Note: This is a bit of a long post. I’ve included a note when I think you should take an intermission. If you haven’t been keeping up, I suggest you use intermission to read about my journey from Istanbul to Cape Town! It’s been called my “blogging zenith.”
Greetings everyone! It’s been awhile since I left Istanbul (in fact, I’ve already completed my Cape Town visit and am in the airport to head to Sydney), so it’s about time I updated you with a quick summary of the Istanbul data collection. Being situated in the most conservative culture I am visiting, I was unsure of what to expect in Istanbul.
I arrived at the beautiful university located with incredible views of the Bosporus and spoke with a professor who works on the Committee to Prevent Sexual harassment. This was the first such committee at a university of higher education in Turkey.
I found that the university was one of the most organized and advanced in its engagement and policies surrounding sexual assault and gender violence. The committee’s first action was to draft a policy for the university, however it took quite a long time (and a change of leadership at the highest level of the university) to get the policy implemented. This ‘buy-in’ of institutional leadership was heavily discussed by interviewees in both Brazil and Spain as well.
Their policy has been drafted by looking at leading educational organizations in the United States and the European Union. They translated all of these policies into Turkish, and then tailored the policy to their needs. Interestingly, one of the primary reasons the university had adopted a policy in the first place was that they have a lot of Erasmus and foreign exchange students visit the university. Currently, they are attempting to update the policy to include sections that help protect students in consensual relationships, which has been a problem at the university.
In addition to the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment, there is a group of students called the Women’s Research Group that has become a hub of feminist activism on campus. They have a representative on the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment, played a role in a research project to collect student opinions on sexual assault and harassment, publish a journal that includes feminist points of views and features student research projects, and hold open discussions and educational events on campus.
~~ Intermission: Take a breather, go read my last blog post, or just count to ten. Now you’re ready to proceed. ~~
Culturally, the university has struggled with awareness about gender violence and sexual assault. In several cases, when a complaint has been brought forward, the accuser (in this case, nearly always a male) doesn’t understand what he has done wrong. To counter this. the Committee to Prevent Sexual Harassment set out last year for a month long campaign to raise awareness about their policy and the issue of sexual assault. This campaign included the Turkish equivalent of ‘No means No” buttons (Shown at right), a march through campus, and an educational brochure. Responses to the campaign were varied, some people said there “was no problem on this campus” and others helped participate in an online education campaign that was similar to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” in that you asked three other people to participate once you had. I believe the video challenge was moderately less successful than the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Another interesting thing that came up was the different backgrounds of the students on campus and how this affects student response to sexual assault. Some students have spent their entire life in the liberal Istanbul, while others are coming from very conservative small towns in Turkey. Some students are comfortable talking about the issue of sexual violence, where others have no awareness of it. In some cases, female students have not filed a formal complaint about an incident because of fear of how their family would respond. Several students have feared that their families could be angry with the fact that something has happened and force the student to return home.
The most impressive thing about Turkey is that this institution is a part of a national coalition of universities that meet to discuss what universities should do about sexual assault and sexual harassment. They meet annually to discuss challenges and success. Some universities are formal members and others partake informally – which means a group of professors partakes without the blessing of their institutional leadership. I’ve reached out to some of the leaders of this organization and hope to interview them via Skype to find out more about this. At first glance, it seems beneficial to have universities collaborate in dealing with a challenging issue. In fact, that’s the idea that is driving my research project: “We can learn something from what others are doing.” I’m really hopeful that I can find out more about this.