In early November, K2.0 published a detailed investigation into the persistent presence of sexual harassment and assault at the University of Prishtina (UP).
The investigation paints a clear picture of this issue, presenting the results of a survey conducted among over 300 students. 100 respondents said they had experienced sexual harassment. The survey also details current and former students’ experiences of sexual abuse at UP.
The investigation highlights the alarming frequency of sexual harassment and UP’s passivity, silence and unwillingness to act against it.
Like many other students, I found this investigation’s findings significant, but unfortunately not surprising. As a UP student, I have witnessed sexual harassment, both verbal and non-verbal, take place on the UP campus. The frequent attestations of my female peers about the behavior of professors who systematically harass female students have become a sad but constant part of my academic life for the last three years.
It is particularly disturbing to know that in light of these repeated acts of sexual harassment, no serious punitive measures have been taken against the perpetrators. This shows that there is no justice for the survivors and consequently no sense of security for me and other female students.
Today, more than ever, it is necessary to speak openly about this (lack of) safety at UP, especially when it is evident that UP’s management consistently shows a reluctance to take concrete steps to deal with this problem, trying instead to ignore its existence.
By refusing to acknowledge the existence of sexual harassment, thereby normalizing it, the university has created a void that should have been filled by student organizations. Unfortunately, instead of breaking the silence, these organizations joined it.
Student organizations remain silent
Student organizations are structured groups of students within UP. They were formed with the aim of representing, protecting and advancing the interests and rights of students. Membership in these organizations is open to all UP students, offering them the opportunity to actively participate in student life and make positive changes to their academic environment.
Every two years, student organizations compete in elections to elect their representatives to the Student Parliament and Student Councils in the university’s departments.
They exert influence through two main mechanisms. First, those elected by these organizations in the Student Parliament have the opportunity to vote in the Senate, the university’s highest academic body. Within the Senate, students possess seven votes, making them an influential voice in decision-making. Secondly, these organizations act as a bridge between academic and administrative staff and students, through the student councils in each faculty. These councils are forums where students can express their concerns and suggestions, discuss important issues and influence the policies and practices of their respective faculties.
The investigation highlights that sexual harassment has been detrimental to student life for a while. It is so common and well-known that it would be logical for opposition to sexual harassment to be an integral part of every organization. This should be the bare minimum.
However, this did not happen before or after K.20’s investigation was published. In the last student elections, held in May 2022, student organizations did not mention the issue at all. Their election campaigns were focused on issues such as digitization (an issue that is not directly under students’ control) and addressing other demands such as organizing conferences and study visits abroad.
The investigation’s findings, which expose unsafe conditions for UP students, have been met with silence from the Student Parliament, which has been led for the past two years by a coalition of Reforma and Studim Kritikë Veprim (SKV). The last social media post on the Student Parliament’s website is dated November 7, six days after the publication of the investigation. This post announced the formation of the new leadership coalition between the SKV and UDS-USPE-OPS organizations. None of the six organizations running in the 2022 student elections reacted.
Since the beginning of the year, the Student Parliament has posted various updates about competition openings, the announcement of results, the participation of their representatives in conferences and fairs around the world and a reception for new students. Yet, many of the students who have experienced sexual harassment miss out on the richness and opportunity offered by student life. Once again, the Student Parliament did not make a single post about the issue of sexual harassment.
UP students have witnessed the power of these groups when they want to organize. They have organized marches and symbolic actions for all kinds of issues. This includes marking the anniversary of the student demonstrations, the selection of rectors, the naming of the university, and the march against the formation of the Association of Municipalities with a Serbian Majority.
There has been notable silence on the issue of sexual harassment. Only the Student Feminist Movement, which carried out a series of symbolic actions after the investigation was published, has taken a stand. None of the other student organizations challenged the university’s silence.
Every day that passes in silence reflects the failure of these organizations to fulfill their basic duty. In the absence of any reaction, statement or show of solidarity with the victims, these organizations tacitly hide the harassment.
Silence, like sexual harassment, is unjustifiable.
Student organizations should act as such
Student organizations are important features of universities and society in general. They are representatives of a specific societal group and should act accordingly. The collective mobilization of such a large social group has demonstrated its capacity to vocally oppose injustices and challenge existing norms, and to advocate for causes inside or outside the university.
In order to do so, these organizations must challenge UP’s silence. They must reflect on why they exist and recognise their duties and responsibilities as well as actively and consistently commit to improving student life for all.
These organizations should not copy UP’s silence. They should avoid adopting the strategies of political parties that prioritize counting votes and gaining power. Instead, they should focus on the safety, dignity and well-being of students.
These organizations must realize that combating sexual harassment is not just a matter for UP’s feminist activists, but something that concerns all of society and the state. At the end of the day, the challenges women in Kosovo face at university are just part of their daily struggles at home, school, on the streets and at work. The widespread issue of harassment in society requires a collective response with a shared commitment to create safe environments for everyone. Student organizations should take the lead in this commitment.
As a UP student, I do not feel safe when the university remains silent. And when the student organizations are also silent, it becomes unbearable. Silently tolerating the situation risks normalizing sexual harassment and protects the perpetrators. When those meant to represent us remain silent, it adds to the culture of stigmatizing survivors of sexual abuse.
Their silence does not represent me and does not represent the students. It does not represent the 100 respondents to K2.0’s survey who said that they have experienced sexual harassment. What is more, this silence fails to represent others who continue to face the risk of sexual harassment. UP must become a safe place. The cycle must be broken.
Feature Image: Atdhe Mulla / K2.0.