Maryam Dajani, an 18-year-old student at the American University of Beirut, was discriminated against by an instructor during a sociology class for wearing a headscarf.
“Yesterday I experienced appalling discriminative and abusive remarks from my instructor Dr. Samir Khalaf, regarding the scarf I wear around my head, that left me in shock and utter disgust,” Dajani posted on Facebook on September 19.
“To those of you who don’t know Dr. Khalaf, he is a sociologist bully with a Ph.D. from Princeton, who has written a few books about Arab sexuality. It is without a doubt that he holds impressive accreditations and experience. However, along with that he holds disgustingly discriminative views that he has no problem addressing with all audacity,” Dajani added.
According to her, Khalaf, the chairman of the sociology and anthropology department at AUB for the past six years, snapped at her when she asked him to repeat the last word he said during the lecture.
Khalaf angrily looked at her and told her: “You know why you cannot hear me? It’s because you have that stupid scarf covering your ears. If you removed that scarf, you would have been able to hear me,” to which Dajani responded that this was his “personal opinion” and he does not have the right to attack her like that.
“I am not attacking you,” Khalaf said according to Dajani. He added: “I am attacking ‘you people’ in general,” in reference to veiled women.
Dajani added in her Facebook post that after the class ended, he asked her random questions about where she studied before enrolling at AUB. He also asked her about her parents and whether her mother wears the headscarf as well.
“This harassment and unreasonable public attack is undoubtedly shameful and exceeds all rules of conduct in any educational institute, never mind ‘AUB’ - the best university in its region,” she concluded.
Dajani told Al-Arabiya.net that Khalaf’s reaction is different when other students ask him to repeat what he said, emphasizing that he intended to harass her in particular.
Sharing her experience
She reported the incident to the university department and then took to Facebook to share her story.
Asked why she shared the story on Facebook although the university’s administration promised to address the matter and hold the lecturer accountable, Dajani said: “I felt it was no longer a personal matter but a public one that touches all headscarved women and every women, or rather every person who has the right to be as h/she wants and to wear as h/she likes. Every person has the right to express himself and his identity without being despised or insulted.”
A protest was held on Wednesday at the university to voice solidarity with Dajani and demand action against Khalaf.
“Students’ support during this protest and their calls and messages helped me make my voice heard and allowed them to voice their rejection of discrimination,” she said.
Varsity probe underway
Meanwhile, AUB said an investigation is underway and it vowed to take an appropriate decision as soon as possible.
Talal Nizameddin, the dean of student affairs at the university, said during Wednesday’s protest that AUB has always been a monument for plurality and diversity. He addressed students telling them it is important to always voice their opinions and respect differences “especially since intolerance is present everywhere.”
It is worth noting that this is not the first time Khalaf religiously discriminates against students as according to Dajani, he made similar remarks to other girls. Dajani learnt this when she shared her story with a private group for AUB students.
As everyone waits for AUB to take action, Dajani is left wondering: “Is there a point of resuming studies in sociology and anthropology which are characterized with accepting and understanding others when there are such models in our societies and universities?”