BGU Administration with Josh Arnow (third from left) and Eman Abu Aiada, a representative of the Bedouin students, during the dedication.
(photo credit: SHAKED BEN-SADEH/BGU)
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in a joint initiative with Josh Arnow, a benefactor of the university, dedicated a student center last week serving Beduin women students.
The center, the first of its kind, aims to serve as a social center and “warm home away from home” for Beduin women students who study at the university.
There are some 1,200 Arab students studying at BGU, nearly 450 of them are Beduin and 70 percent of the Beduin students are women.
According to the university, these Beduin women face numerous challenges from language barriers to transportation problems, in earning their higher education degrees.
“We noticed that women Beduin students were often to be found sitting in the lobby of the student center early in the morning, and during the day we saw them hanging out on the grass with nothing to do,” said Merav Yosef Solomon, head of administration in the Office of the Dean of Students.
“There had been several attempts to create interest groups specifically for them – an all-women’s sports lesson, a support group, a handcraft workshop with Desert Embroidery [women’s status association]. The attempts did not succeed, primarily because of lack of participation because of a lack of trust in the ‘system,’” she explained.
Many of the Beduin students arrive early in the morning and leave late at night on dedicated buses, though they only have classes for a part of this time. Many of them are young relative to the other university students. Also, the majority arrive immediately after high school and this is their first experience with independent living.
In addition, many of them still have difficulty speaking, reading and writing Hebrew, which makes it harder for them to integrate academically and socially. They also face additional cultural pressures such as a reluctance to ask for help and close scrutiny from Beduin society, the university explained.
Furthermore, those studying humanities and social sciences often require academic guidance as they are not sure what to study or what career path to take.
“Over the course of many conversations that we had with BGU faculty member and first woman Beduin clinical psychologist, Dr. Sarah Abu-Kaf, the need for a space for the students emerged. A space where they can feel safe, where they can rest and hang out. A place where they can receive instruction and assistance from professionals,” said Yosef Solomon.
As such, a social worker from the staff of the Office of the Dean of Students will be on hand as an “older guiding and supportive figure” at the center.
The students will be able to rest between classes and wait for their rides home, to study and to meet for joint activities including empowerment workshops, women’s health lectures and social activities.
The club will be closed, and access will be granted only to those with specially programmed student cards in order to increase their sense of security.
At the beginning of the school year, during the orientation seminar for Beduin students, the women students will be invited, along with their parents, to visit the center, with the aim of encouraging cooperation from the parents in supporting their daughters’ academic study.
The knowledge that the students have a safe space to rest and to wait for transportation home will alleviate the worries of the parents and encourage their support, the university said.