Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Education and Barbarity: George Washington University

Do you know what a university's job is? According to George Washington U, it's to satisfy people religiously, whatever that means. The university will now have a certain hour in its swimming pool, during which the male students will be banned from using the facilities based on their gender. This will be done to accommodate religious preferences of some students:
Last week, the Muslim Students' Association and the University opened up "Sisters' Splash," a female-only hour at the pool. Every week, GW plans to close the HelWell pool to men and will cover the glass door with a dark tarp, giving female Muslim students the chance to swim at their leisure. The University also hired a female lifeguard to be on duty for each week's event. . . Rahiba Noor, a junior who serves as the community service chair of the MSA, said that prior to attending GW, swimming laps at a private pool was an important part of her health regimen. At school, however, Noor said she's resigned herself to staying away from the water and using a treadmill. "Religious values always define us," Noor said. "Although I wouldn't really mind, it would be satisfying to me religiously to swim only with girls."
I imagine that the next step will be to create male-only classes to satisfy religiously those students who don't want to be offended by female presence in the classroom. This kind of insanity is always unleashed whenever we allow people's personal religious preferences to dominate public spaces.

And then people come here asking me why I'm in favor of niqabs, burqas and Co being outlawed in public spaces in this country. Unless this pandering to any kind of religious fanaticism stops, I can envision the day when I will be required to put on a burqa to teach my classes because my Western clothes might be found offensive by some pseudo-religios fool.


Richard said...

I have argued that if a Muslim woman prefers to wear a burqa when in public and is willing to endure the social consequences of doing so, that is certainly her right.
On the other hand for a minority of students to impose restrictions on the use of a public facility, in this case a pool, that the entire student body has a right (by reason of their tuition payments) to use is criminal. If Muslim students are uncomfortable with mixed swimming, well they will just have to use alternative means of exercising. I find GW’s capitulation in this instance is a cowardly default on defending the rights of the majority.
My philosophy is that anyone should be able dress, behave, and expound any way they please as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else. The Muslim females in this case are interfering with the rights of others.

Pagan Topologist said...

I don't like this either, but a careful reading of the First Amendment suggests that State schools cannot interfere with the free exercise of religion, so State universities may be legally mandated to provide such accomodations. Private universities should be exempt, however. And the same reading says that you cannot be compelled to wear any religiously defined garment to teach, as well.

Clarissa said...

Richard: what we in Montreal have had a chance to learn very well is that the issue never stops at burqas. A burqa in itself requires very special accommodations to be made in the classroom, for example. When there is special treatment for one student, that does a lot of damage to the morale of the rest of the group.

I have experienced a lot of harrassment in the streets of Montreal, in the coffee-shops, etc. from Muslim men who often think that Western clothes on a woman presuppose a desire on her part to be pawed, ogled, and insulted.

There have been vicious anti-Semitic outbreaks in Montreal as well.

And it all started innocently enough, with niqabs, etc.

Clarissa said...

Pagan Topoligist: This is not how I read the First Amendment at all. For me, it means that state universities should be a completely religion-free spaces. State institutions of any kind, in my opinion, should not have anything whatsoever to do with religion. Because as soon as they do, there is no way of making completely sure that no single religion is given an ounce of preference.

Anonymous said...

It's against my religion that anyone be clothed while swimming, male or female.

Won't anyone accommodate my beliefs?

On a more serious note (though I do think swimming naked is much better), I am against allowing any expression of religion in public spaces, because it always leads to things like tolerated Muslim harassment of women, which I have also seen.


Clarissa said...

"It's against my religion that anyone be clothed while swimming, male or female.

Won't anyone accommodate my beliefs?"

-Cool religion! I think I'm ready to convert. :-) :-)

V said...

Hmm... While I agree with you in general, I do not see what kind of accomodating the burqa requires in the classroom, unless, of course, you mean the face-covering one. But those face-covering creatures are too religious to get higher education, so they do not show up in class anyway.

Clarissa said...

No, V., that's not right. I had a students with her face completely covered and small holes for eyes in my classroom in Montreal.
Remember that we teach languages, which means that classes are by necessity very interactive. I had no way of integrating this perennially silent person into the activities.

Any other extra-religious people (who don't cover the face but have their entire body covered in these flowing thingies) also require a lot of extra accommodations. We do a lot of group activities and for them I need to create an all-female group every single time. There is a method of teaching that involves some kind of minor physical touching, which now I can't integrate. There are movies and TV show we watch in the target language, which, try as hard as you might, will have some scenes of men and women interacting. We have debates where controversial topics need to be discussed, which ultra-religious students make impossible.

At Yale, I had a student who "only" wore a scarf. And it was hell in a basket, seriously. I had to scrap most of my activities. And I don't think it's fair that I should be prevented from doing my job by somebody's religious rubbish.

Pagan Topologist said...

"I had to scrap most of my activities. And I don't think it's fair that I should be prevented from doing my job by somebody's religious rubbish."

I agree, you most certainly should not. It should be possible to make clear what is required for a course and let people know that they cannot take the course if they cannot meet the requirements. It is not very different from not letting a blind person learn to be a helicopter pilot, except that the restrictions here are self imposed.

People of my religion often swim nude, though probably most do not consider it a religious mandate.

The past two summers, a religious organization to which I has been participating in an effort to get into the Guiness Book of World Records for the most people simultaneously skinny-dipping. We have not yet succeeded, but will keep trying.

(I hope I did the italicizing correctly.)

Clarissa said...

Of course, I always inform the students at length about course requirements. But the universities end up sending conflicting messages to students. When the message is "We'll bend over backwards to accommodate what you have chosen to call your religion", nobody listens to anything I saw.

As an autistic student, I was terrified by literature courses that have 40-60% of the final grades assigned for class participation and oral presentations. Speaking in class was painful for me on a physiological level. Still, I never demanded that the teacher take that into consideration in any way. I found ways of dealing with that. And autism - unlike a piece of clothing - is not a choice, it just happened to me.

Richard said...

Well look at other cases of distinctive religious dress by lay people. Should observant and conservative male Jews be forbidden to wear the yarmulke? Or Amish men their beards and hats or Amish women their long dresses and bonnets? You start messing around with public dress codes it can get pretty complicated.

Clarissa said...

From what I know about the Amish, they give a chance to their young people to experience life on the outside before they make a conscious decision to live their lives permanently in the Amish community. The young people go into the outside world for a while in the regular clothing.

As for the religious symbols, I do believe that they should not be visible in the school environment. I have no problem with not displaying my Star of David to the students. The same should go for the Christian crosses, in my opinion.

As I said before, public dress codes are already quite rigid, so it's too late to talk about not messing with them.

Pagan Topologist said...

I have a tendency to wear my pentacle under my t-shirt. But, if I see a lot of students wearing religious symbols (Crosse, Star of David, etc., I often take it out and wear it openly. I admit that I cannot really justify this, but I generally do it.