Harassment abroad

A student questions sexual harassment policies after rape attempts, catcalls and assaults in Tanzania.

by Conrad Wilson

When Rachel Jamison received a full scholarship to study in Tanzania for a year, she said University officials told her to expect intense sexual harassment.

An experienced world traveler, Jamison said she thought she knew what to expect.

But repeated rape attempts, catcalls and assaults were more than she could have anticipated.

What’s more, Jamison said, is that the University’s Learning Abroad Center did little to help her situation. She said the LAC failed to follow the University’s sexual harassment policy and told Jamison she must repay the scholarship before she can graduate.

Jamison said she wants University officials and the LAC to issue a public apology, forgive the scholarship initially awarded to her and let her graduate this spring. She also said she wants the LAC to draft a different policy regarding sexual harassment.

“To my knowledge, they either don’t have one, or they don’t follow it,” Jamison said.

Jamison, who returned to the United States last week for safety reasons, studied in Tanzania with the International Reciprocal Student Exchange Program. The program, which is run through the LAC, awards nine University students with a scholarship for the academic year in select countries. In her initial program application, Jamison asked to go to Tanzania.

The exchange program is run through the University of Dar es Salaam, in the East African country’s largest city.

The LAC issued a statement regarding Jamison’s case but couldn’t comment further for legal and student confidentiality reasons. For students studying abroad, the LAC follows the same University sexual harassment policy as students studying in the United States.

“The experience that Rachel has had in Tanzania has only just come to the attention of the Learning Abroad Center,” the statement said. “The safety and security of our students abroad is of our utmost concern.”

The U.S. State Department warns about travel to Tanzania, stating that crime and robbery in Dar es Salaam is common. “Sexual assaults involving tourists are also an increasing concern,” according to the State Department’s Web site.

University alumnus Eric Howard received the same scholarship to Tanzania last year. He said a woman willing to go to Tanzania “needs to be strong, independent and willing to take a lot of harassment.”

Howard said he knew that he was going on a program where he would be on his own.

“I don’t think they could have done more to prepare us.”

In Tanzania

Jamison arrived in Tanzania on Aug. 6, 2006.

“Shortly after my arrival in Tanzania, I began noticing that I was receiving lots of unwanted male attention,” Jamison wrote in an account explaining her experience. “That level of harassment in Tanzania soon reached dangerous levels.”

She detailed various levels of sexual harassment from strangers on the bus, police officers, security guards protecting students at the university, professors teaching her classes, classmates and even University of Dar es Salaam officials.

On Aug. 19, Jamison wrote about an incident in which she was assaulted after falling in a crowded bus on her way to class.

“I could feel a hand reaching for the shoulder strap of my dress, and I felt a man’s hand snap off my dress strap,” she wrote in her account. “He proceeded to rip the bodice area of my dress and fondled my breasts.

“I screamed for him to stop, but I could not move as I was under a lot of people.”

Jamison said she was a target because her body type – taller, light-skinned and full-figured – attracted some Tanzanian men.

Joe Amon, director of the AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch, said cultural ideals exist.

“In a number of different cultures, there is a correlation between health and robust stature,” Amon said.

And Howard said harassment in Tanzania isn’t much worse than in the United States, unless you’re a target.

“White women are exotic over there,” he said. “Full-framed women are considered the most beautiful type of women because it shows that you’re rich.

“The U of M doesn’t know about the severity of the situation,” Howard said. “My heart goes out to her, but it was bound to happen.”

Shortly after the semester started, a fellow student began asking her for a “date” (sexual relations), Jamison said. She alleges that the student stole her handwritten final papers for her courses. Jamison said the man would not return the papers until she agreed to sleep with him.

Despite efforts by officials at the University of Dar es Salaam, Jamison couldn’t receive her final papers and only received one grade for fall semester.

Throughout most of the semester, Jamison tried to register for her classes, she said, but was denied because she refused to have sexual relations with a man who worked in the office for international students at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The worst incident of sexual assault was on Feb. 14, when Jamison said she threw a sexual attacker off her into a window.

A crowd quickly formed, Jamison said, and people proceeded to grope her. Police later arrived and arrested her. While in jail, Jamison said police strip-searched her in front of catcalling male officers. Jamison said she had to pay a fine, which officers said they would waive if she slept with them.

Seeking help

Jamison initially contacted the Learning Abroad Center on Jan. 24, inquiring about the scholarship requirements. She mentioned the sexual harassment in an e-mail to Stacey Tsantir, associate programs director for the LAC, on Jan. 30, more than six months after her first documented assault.

Other assaults were documented with University of Dar es Salaam officials or Tanzanian police, Jamison said.

“My main concern is that the administration at (the University of Dar se Salaam) tends to be a bit slow-moving and bribe-motivated,” Jamison wrote in an e-mail to Tsantir.

“I’ve had some bad experiences the first semester with sexual harassment, and I really don’t want something like that to delay my graduation,” she wrote.

Tsantir wrote back on Feb. 1 offering to discuss the situation. “I feel confident that if you can’t get an official transcript, Ms. Kaaya (an office worker at the University of Dar es Salaam) will assist us in order to assure that you are able to graduate in a timely manner,” Tsantir wrote.

Jamison said the response was “inadequate.” The LAC didn’t contact Jamison directly until Feb. 15. However, other University offices contacted Jamison and her mother.

“I was disappointed by this response, as I felt it violated the U of M’s sexual harassment policy,” Jamison said.

The University of Minnesota policy on sexual harassment states that all supervisors and managers must “take timely and appropriate action when they know or should know of the existence of sexual harassment.”

Jamison said she assumed that dialogue would occur, but she “received no such response.”

Kit Gordon, Jamison’s academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts Honors Office, said Jamison would be allowed to graduate by University standards and the credits from Tanzania would be added later.

Jamison, a former CLA Honors Office employee, said she has a close relationship with Gordon.

Although Gordon didn’t acknowledge the sexual harassment, Jamison said that “based on the relationship we have together, I found it an appropriate response,” because of CLA Honors’ role in the process.

According to the LAC statement, the center “has detailed protocol in place to respond to safety and security situations involving our students abroad. That protocol was followed in this case.”

Jamison said she refused further contact with the LAC.

on the web

To read the University’s policy on sexual harassment, click here

“I believe they’re unprepared, but I also believe once they realized their actions weren’t helping me, they’ve taken steps more to cover up what they’ve done, rather than protect my own safety or help me in dealing with this,” Jamison said.

The University of Dar es Salaam has a sexual harassment policy. According a recent report, 26.2 percent of students surveyed at the university indicated they had been sexually harassed, while 16 percent had reported it.

Howard, who enjoyed his studies in Tanzania one year earlier, said “it’s not the U’s job to babysit us.”

“Already there’s a lack of understanding about Africa,” Howard said.

This program bridges an understanding and allows students to “see what life is like.”