Since the news broke about a real or putative sex-for-grade scandal involving some lecturers at the University of Ghana and the University of Lagos in Nigeria, I never felt compelled to write about it until today. The reticent I exercised over writing about the subject was because I did not see anything novel about the documentary, except that this time BBC had decided to cast the spotlight on a practice that has gradually become endemic and entrenched in our universities. Obviously, whenever men and women meet, love, romance, and sex are the triad that will likely feature. It is even more existential with mature adults. Usually, when mature adults finish talking about ‘serious' issues, what engages them afterward is about love and sex and gossip. But there are always rules and regulations about the triad. The questions of who has the right to have sex and with whom one can have sex are all shrouded and circumscribed in ‘shared’ norms and values. Sometimes, myths and spurious assertions are invoked to permit and proscribe the act of sex.
But it is becoming one too many that sex-for-grade is taking over our capacity to reason and act right. I have no illusions about the supposed omnipotent mental capacity of men to resist sexual temptations. I have always wanted the way of the historical and biblical Joseph – when I am face-to-face with a woman, who can titillate my sexual urges, I first consider myself a weaker vessel and avoid the space. I try not to overestimate my capacity to avoid a woman who loves me or whom I love. Thus, I keep struggling to align myself with Job when he said that he had covenanted with his eyes not to lustfully look at a woman (Job 31:1). I must say that when it comes to sexual allurement, men are the weaker vessels. This is not coterminous as saying that men cannot discipline themselves before a nude non-kin female member. It is rather to say that men must understand their psychological and cognitive predisposition to guard against succumbing to a woman.
I still remember what one of my professors at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) said about sexual discipline. He said that sex organ is not what is in-between the thighs, as it is about the mind. He also said that below the belt, there is no discipline. So, in his own conclusion, men must guard against being forced or forcing themselves to get to the point where they lose control over the belt. This professor also told us that he does not trust himself, and so he would not entertain any lady in skimpy cloth in his class. He, therefore, overruled the right of ladies to wear just anything to his class. Since cloth is not just a material to cover the body but also speaks cultural issues, he informed all the ladies to avoid any cloth that exposed their cleavages, thighs, and the contours of the bodies in an explicit manner.
For a moment, some people felt the lecturer was unreasonably harsh on ladies. But most men will agree with me that as men we walk more by sight, and less by touch (feeling). Most of us men, whether by divine fiat or genetic makeup, tend to enjoy seeing women in ways that satisfy our emotional palette. Could this explain Jesus's caution that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already sinned? Well, possibly, if Jesus were to take us on, no man will be saved! This ‘walking by sight’ also leads many men into trouble. It is no wonder that a musician sang a song that ‘too much watching will kill men.' The sight of men remains one of their greatest predicaments. Sadly, in the world's political economy that thrives on consumerism and capitalism, some advertisers have leveraged men's fallibility to latch on ladies to objectify females in adverts. Sometimes, adverts that have nothing at all to do with females feature females who unashamedly show some ‘sensitive' parts of their bodies. Indeed, Job was right when he prayed that his eyes would not come into contact with a woman lustfully.
Certainly, men have no excuse whatsoever to operationalise what they see. In fact, in Islam, men are advised to lower their gaze against feeding lustfully on a female. In a world that runs on the axis of libertarianism and licentiousness, men will continue to court lowering their gaze and taking charge of their belt to avoid any menacing trouble. It will be inexcusable for a man to rape or sexually harass or abuse a lady because of how the lady is dressed. As the feminist world has made known to us, women must have absolute control over their bodies, which includes what they wear. In the 1990s, when mini-skirt (apuskeleke) became the fad and craze of our society, some self-styled feminists freely counselled women to wear what they wanted and sternly cautioned men to keep their eyes away from preying on women. This was an unresolved paradox! One of such feminists has recently admitted that she was wrong in pushing for women to do as they please with their bodies.
At the University of Cambridge, sexual harassment is such a big deal. It is nearly considered a taboo for a student to harass or be sexually harassed. To declare an unabashed position against sexual harassment, every Cambridge student must take a day's consensual course to understand the nuances of sexual harassment. Until one goes through that course, one will not matriculate. In the course of the discussion, students get to understand the nitty-gritty of sexual harassment. Given that Cambridge is a cauldron of transnational cultures, students share their perspectives on sexual harassment. This is generally followed by the rules the university, reflecting the normative practice in the United Kingdom, has set on the issue. No student has an excuse to sexually harass a fellow student. No faculty member also has an excuse to harass a student. The law against sexual harassment has a far-reaching consequence.
In Ghana, virtually all our universities have rules against sexual harassment and culprits are adequately punished. But the unbending predilection of the universities in Ghana has not led to an end in sexual harassment. The challenge still continues at all levels of our educational system, including the basic level. At the basic level, the idea of ‘teacher’s copy’ has emboldened some mindless men to sexually abuse some female pupils. While some female pupils dared to report such abuses, others have suffered in silence. This has nothing to do with the absence of an ideologically charged sexuality education (I will discuss this in another article). The situation is rather puzzling at the university level. This is because, at the university level, most students are treated as young or mature adults. They are expected to know better and be able to jealously guard against any form of sexual abuses. But strangely, it is at the university level that sexual harassment appears to find explicit expression.
Many reasons explain the endemic situation of sexual harassment at our universities. But let me first rack into my personal experience to make a point. Since I started teaching in 2001 all through to the university level, I have had cases where I had to literally run away from some female students who planned to seduce me with sex. In 2001, when I had just finished senior secondary school and started teaching, my age and stature misrepresented me before some of the pupils I taught. At one point, a class six female pupil who was almost my age (because she started school very late) thought she could seduce me with sex. Knowing what she wanted to achieve, she located herself in the front seat, and would always open her legs wide while facing me. Because I knew what she wanted to achieve, I initially decided to ignore her. But with time, I felt concerned that she could easily be abused by any man whom she did that to. So, I mustered courage and called her for counselling. During the counselling, she was bold enough to say she loved me. I understood her but managed to redirect her passion to learning. I left that school later, and have not been able to locate her since then.
In 2008 when I started my mandatory national service at the UCC, I was confronted with the case of a female student who walked into my room at Casely Hayford Hall (Casford) and requested that I did anything to her. This was because she dreaded failure and thought she could turn her fate around if only she succeeded in luring me to engage in an amorous relationship with her. Graciously, I managed to leave the room, which forced her to do the same. In 2010, while teaching at a senior high school in Accra, a female student who considered me a gentleman of her choice thought she could get me to begin a conjugal relationship with her. She decided to pester me with all manner of allurements. But, again, I graciously escaped all those traps.
Two main reasons explained my decision to avoid any form of amorous relationship with my female students. The first was that I considered the relationship between my students and I as one of power relationship. I knew that I was in a position of influence and could get from the students anything that I wanted. This meant that I asked myself whether any female student, but for the sake of me being a teacher, would willingly offer her body to me. Concerning this, I also asked myself the question: is it not possible that a female student considered herself vulnerable? The second reason I decided to stay away from all forms of amorous relationship with my female students was my faith in Jesus Christ. Obviously, I have not always succeeded in doing what my Lord expects from me. As I write, I still think God has many stern words against some of my actions and inactions. But when it came to my relationship with female students, I allowed the teaching of the Bible to guide me. The Bible clearly warns against taking advantage of the vulnerable. It also enjoins me to treat everyone with fairness and justice.
While my personal experiences and values may not be universally shared, it must be pointed out that sex-for-grade has persisted for many reasons. The first is the failure of some male teachers/lecturers to understand that the relationship they have with their students, particularly females, is one of power play. A teacher or lecturer is always in a privileged position. He is a man in the captain's bridge, especially in the university environment. It is, therefore, wrong for any lecturer to adduce any form of reason to justify sexual harassment. The second reason is the lazy attitude of some of our female students. At the university, some female students relax their determination to learn hard. They think the university is the point for them to depart from the values of industriousness they had to learn at the basic level of education. They, therefore, prefer to use easy ways (not easy in the long run) to get their grades. While I was at the UCC, there were lots of rumours – some were real – of female students who never attended class and sometimes never wrote quizzes and yet scored grade ‘A’ in all papers. These female students were believed to align themselves with the sexual orgies of some male lecturers.
The third reason is what students consider to be the ultimate goal of life. In our postmodern world, where there is nothing like absolute truth and where conventions are being challenged (poststructuralism), the idea of the purpose of life is a matter of personal preference. A few years ago, many students were more concerned about eternal bliss in the hereafter than the allurement of the material world. Those were the days, people will allow eternal vision to shape how they lived in the material world. People were more concerned about what will take them to heaven rather than the shortcuts and the cutting of corners that would bring them temporary happiness. At the university level, many students consider academic excellence to be the ultimate thing in life. While I relish academic excellence, I consider it to be penultimate to the ultimate (obeying and making it to heaven). I work very hard as a student. I worked hard for First Class at the UCC in 2008. I worked hard for an award for academic excellence at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, in 2010. But, like Paul, I consider all things less important when it comes to my hope for eternal bliss. As far as my faith affords me, the material blessings and glories pale in the face of the eternal glory awaiting me (O, that will be glory, when by His grace, I shall look on His face).
It is important for all students, particularly females, to know that life is not all about getting a First Class. It is also not all about being the most influential person. So, do not condescend so low to trade your pride cheaply. Do not exchange sex for a grade. No matter how failure beckons you; no matter how life becomes difficult; no matter the financial challenges, do not allow any male student or lecturer to abuse or harass you sexually. Do not also sexually harass your lecturers (not all of them have the spirit of Joseph). I know of a female student who graduated with a Third Class because she refused to sexually give in to some unscrupulous lecturers, who because of that decided to needlessly and shamelessly fail her. Every student must understand that failure is a part of life. In fact, we learn lessons in life when we fail than when we succeed. My worst grade at the UCC was a ‘C'. That grade which I thought should have been a failed grade redefined my trust in God and reshaped my studying strategies. Failure is not a crime. It is part of life. It must keep you going. Do not allow the threats of failure to surrender your values.
In the end, teachers/lecturers who sexually abuse or harass female students must be correspondingly punished. They must not be left off the hook. That said, I keep bearing Prof Ransford Gyampo and Dr. Paul Kwame Butakor, who have been interdicted for the sex-for-grade scandal, in prayer. What is happening to them can as well happen to me. I can imagine the emotional trauma they will be going through. At this moment, we cannot afford to mock or even reduce the issue to the level of casual jokes. The times call for prayers for them and their females. We also pray that the Lord will heal female students who feel traumatized because of sexual abuse or harassment.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra