Agadir - Violence has struck Moroccan universities once again, and this time it has apparently escalated to the extent that local authorities will now enter universities for any violent incident that they deem to be “a threat to security or public order.”
Agadir – Violence has struck Moroccan universities once again, and this time it has apparently escalated to the extent that local authorities will now enter universities for any violent incident that they deem to be “a threat to security or public order.”
They have the right to do so now after the adoption of a joint resolution to that effect last week between the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Interior. The Minister of Communication and Government spokesperson’s statement about the issue shows that there are fears shared by all parties involved in the matter. Mr. El Khalfi reassured everyone that the resolution will “abide by constitutional provisions and Morocco’s international commitments in terms of human rights.” Similar previous attempts based on security approaches alone have failed to eliminate the problem. In this interview with Dr. Deidre Combs I explore the problem of university violence and the factors that drive it. I will also try to address the calls for a politics-free university and if that is in the best interest of our students. Finally, I’ll ask Dr. Combs about innovative approaches to deal with the problem and overcome it.
Dr. Deidre Combs is a licensed mediator and corporate consultant. She is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges. She is a core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate program. She has provided intensive leadership, dialogue and conflict resolution skills to thousands of students and professionals from just about every country in the world as a private consultant, and as a State Department and Sustained Dialogue Campus Network trainer. Dr. Combs has facilitated dialogue around such topics as responding to drug violence in Mexico, keeping children off the streets in Puerto Rico and multi-generational family disputes. Dr. Combs’ firm Combs and Company has provided management consulting, mediation and skills development services since 1992 to a variety of corporations, NGO’s and government agencies. She has also served as a Montana State University professor in critical thinking and leadership for over a decade.
MWN: There are some people in Morocco who think that university violence is a Moroccan phenomenon. Can you address that and cite other countries that face the same problem and the main factors that drive it?
Deidre Combs: First let’s agree that university violence is definitely not a Moroccan phenomenon. The US has had a history of violence during our turbulent times and a continuing one around the issue of gun control and mental health. Look at the famous Kent State shootings as an example on the political front where a group of unarmed and unsuspecting students were directly shot at the university campus in 60-plus firing rounds, causing the death of four students and the injury of nine others, of which one was paralyzed by a hit in his spine for simply protesting the invasion of Cambodia. There is also the issue of sexual assaults on campuses across the country that the US government is working on today and you can easily find news articles about calls to create safer campuses.
Moreover I think that whenever there is heightened political struggle in a country, I suspect you can find violence on campus. As in the case of Venezuela, which went through really hard times earlier this year for the same reasons that we are talking about. News reports have revealed that all the violent events that spread around the country earlier this year stemmed from university; the violence started in the city of San Cristóbal, which has been hit the hardest by the violence. The city of 650,000 is a college town, it hosts three large universities. On February 2nd of this year and after a whole year of raising the issue of security measures inside the universities and asking the state government to improve them in order to curb rampant crime on campus, a student was sexually assaulted which consequently caused a wave of local protests tarted by groups of students and civil society groups taking to the streets and demanding justice and joined by others after being repressed by authorities. Within only 18 days, that first protest in San Cristobal snowballed into the nationwide mess that we saw at the beginning of this year. It seems that we find campuses being the microcosm of the macrocosm.
MWN: You talked about different types of university violence and factors driving it. In Morocco the main reason for violence among youth at universities is politics and ideological differences. Is this something that you can relate to and still exists in American universities? I know you mentioned the case of the Kent tSate shootings, which were politically driven as well, but that was in the seventies.
Deidre Combs: It is more subtle today in the US with issues related to events like the stand for integration that was made at the University of Alabama in September of last year, where students at the university marched across campus to demand racial integration in the university’s mostly white sororities and fraternities. And the incident at the University of Mississippi earlier this year, where a national fraternity group closed its University of Mississippi chapter after three members were accused of tying a noose around the neck of a statue of the first black student to enroll in the Southern college that was all-white at the time as well as draping a pre-2003 Georgia state flag with a Confederate battle emblem in its design on the face of the civil rights icon James Meredith statue a few days earlier. Yet, I have to say that the incidents today had violence associated with them in the past as we were working through our issues of race in the US.
MWN: Because violence in Moroccan universities mostly stems from the ideological and political differences between students, some people are now calling for a university without politics, a university where the main focus is education and academic achievement. Do you agree with that? And do you think that would be the solution to stop violence at universities?
Deidre Combs: I don’t agree with that. We as human beings can learn the skills of civil discourse and dialogue. I say human beings, because this is not a Moroccan, Venezuelan or American issue, this is a skill development issue. Our best solutions come when we can listen and learn from our opponents. We become better countries and better people when we can see an issue from multiple perspectives and see our opponents as equal and valuable. This is a hard task, especially when our opponents wish to hurt or destroy us, but finding out why they see us as so dangerous is the first step. It is not repressing conversation, but instead becoming disciplined and fully adult in our discourse.
MWN: I see that you agree that political and ideological debates should always remain at universities because they are crucial in creating generation of young Moroccans who are not only academically successful but who are also intellectually conscious and politically educated. In this case what do you think is the importance of these debates in university life for the general growth of students as citizens and future leaders?
Deidre Combs: We should come to university to develop ourselves as critical thinkers and mature adults. The skills that are needed are self-awareness, dialogue and communication skills and emotional intelligence. We do our students a disservice if we only teach them chemistry but not how to operate effectively in a globally based, diverse society. I am committed to teaching leadership and conflict resolution skills to university students for this reason. If we cannot learn to respectfully listen to and learn from opposing views, we will be terrible or at least ineffective leaders, innovators and chemists. Our breakthroughs in science, business and engineering come from looking at as many sides of a problem as possible. If I am fixed in my position, I weaken my community, business and country.
MWN: Who do you think is responsible for the problem of violence among university students? Student bodies? University administration and faculty staff? Ministry of higher education? Political parties and ideological movements in Moroccan society?
Deidre Combs: We are each always responsible for our own actions. The systems we are part of, be it a university, city, culture, country or human beings as a whole, can carry certain beliefs that can incite violence. Systems that value diversity and diverse opinions are those that are best positioned to thrive.
MWN: Because of repeated incidents of violence inside the university where some students are either killed or injured or psychologically terrorized, the split among student body organizations is stronger than ever, how do you think a reconciliation inside the university can be achieved as soon as possible among the different student organizations?
Deidre Combs: I am a big believer in sustained dialogue on campus and work with an organization, Sustained Dialogue Campus Network, that trains moderators to conduct effective conversations on campuses around the world. I think that creating a culture of dialogue in every classroom, club and administrative office can transform a campus. As a small step, just working toward creating a conversation with trained moderators between the leaders of the differing political clubs can be extremely powerful.
MWN: Who do you think can play a positive role (either from within the university or outside) in helping those student organizations to achieve that reconciliation? And how can they do that exactly?
Deidre Combs: We each have the opportunity at every moment to say, “Tell me more.” Calling for conversation, seeing our opponents as holding valuable information to creating a lasting solution is one of the hardest and yet the most critical leadership disciplines. It takes practice and a willingness to let go of the belief that I know everything. We each have the ability to become the mandorla, or the almond-shaped intersection between two connected circles. Simply meaning the possibilities that come when opposites remain opposites but they’re in union all the time, at every moment and find a solution where all parties can be whole.
MWN: Do you think that the phenomenon of violence in universities is surmountable? Do you have examples where that was accomplished?
Deidre Combs: I do. I have great faith in people and sincere dialogue. It is difficult and calls for both administration and the students to adopt the belief that we are stronger when we are talking. Each of us can lead through that simple action of asking for more information and valuing the reply.
There are many who do not want us talking because we are easier to control when we are afraid of “The Other.” Watch this carefully, who is demonizing your opponent? They are the ones to be feared even more.
There are different cases and experiences where dialogue was used on campus and had positive effects on students and their interaction, but there are some exciting initiatives occurring now in Mexico around drug violence, Puerto Rico regarding creating welcoming campuses, and in Ethiopia exploring ways to improve relations among students and to create a shared community of inclusion and peace building on campus.
MWN: How do you think we can we achieve that in Morocco?
Deidre Combs: Call for dialogue, call for leadership development for all students, and create respectful conversations wherever you can.
Edited by Jessica Rohan
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