The University of Balochistan (UoB) has been making headlines over the last few weeks over reports of female students being blackmailed by university administration through security footage of them interacting with students. The administration allegedly threatened to inform the students’ parents unless they paid hefty fines.
This news was received with outrage and protests at university campuses nationwide. The policing and surveillance of student interactions was said to have been an invasion of trust and privacy of the students. The UoB Vice Chancellor, Dr. Javed Iqbal agreed to step down to allow for a fair and impartial investigation.
Then this week UoB released a statement saying that the administration has decided to make uniforms compulsory for all students effective March 2020. This, they said, will help “maintain inter-gender decorum” and will help apply their belief that all casual interactions between male and female must be strictly controlled and scrutinized.
While the decision to introduce uniforms might come across as an aggressive strategy to some, it is a solution worth applying. However, it was the responsibility of the university administration to create a safe environment for students to interact in before any of this took place. Students should not be blackmailed for talking to the opposite gender.
Regardless of where they are, universities are centers of learning and innovation in any society. They are the spaces where modern mindsets and ideas develop and spread from. For most students, their time in university is one of learning and exposure to new ideas and environments, and while it is necessary to keep aspects of our culture in mind when taking part in such interactions, it is also necessary to challenge some of these norms. That is how societies progress as a whole.
When interacting and learning from each other, while acknowledging their own limitations, students must also be allowed to feel safe and confident in said interactions.
Universities are learning spaces, they allow students to learn from not just their faculty and their books but also from their interactions with each other. This cultural exchange of ideas and opinions is what sets higher education institutions apart from the rest of the education system.
This scandal once again put Balochistan in the national spotlight, but as usual, for all the wrong reasons. News like this further reinforces stereotypes about Balochistan and its people. Universities must do better to ensure the safety and security of their students while also creating a progressive learning environment.