Arts Faculty Teachers’ Association
Colombo University (AFTA-CU)
Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo
Statement against continuing violence perpetrated by students and repression of democratic freedoms within the Faculty of Arts
The Arts Faculty Teachers’ Association, Colombo University (AFTA-CU), is seriously concerned about student-on-student violence in the Faculty of Arts. This statement communicates the AFTA-CU positions on this issue, as was unanimously decided at a Special General Meeting held on 10 February 2015.
We are concerned about the rising incidence of intolerance amongst students at the Faculty of Arts. One such incident resulted in the assault by male students of a first-year female student for non-compliance.
A more recent incident was the assault of a first-year male student. While some may interpret such incidents as limited to the rag, we believe that the issue is intolerance, and that it should not be approached as merely (and specifically) a violent part of induction into university life. We perceive that there is a culture of intolerance which triggers violence amongst students in the Faculty. The possibility to dissent, which is central in humanities education, is not always assured as a matter of course, as it should be. Ideally, university education should foster in students the ability to hold different opinions and entertain differences in opinion, dress and outlook as a part of learning and appreciating complexity. This is not only a learning goal: it is also an attitudinal development that university life aims to inculcate. It is an indispensable part of the ethos of higher education, which student life is meant to mirror; in fact, it should be kept alive by students and faculty.
By a culture of intolerance, we also mean attempts to deny fundamental freedoms and negate diversity amongst the student population. Gender, ethnicity, class, caste and so on intersect, and are present in a multiplicity of ways amongst a diverse student body. This, needs to be understood, actively appreciated, and acknowledged sensitively. It should not be controlled. Any attempt to project a homogeneous, singular and ‘right’ way of behaving for all, at the cost of the expression of difference, constitutes violence, intolerance, discrimination and breach of freedoms guaranteed by the Sri Lanka Constitution. Ironically, these are the very freedoms that students demand from the administration and have come to expect as their right at university.
At this crucial juncture in the country, the hope of the majority of citizens is for an open minded society where bigotry does not exist, where difference is not stereotyped and demonized, and people begin the difficult work of finding out how to value one another outside those distortions. Institutions of higher education are no more the final arbiters of these matters than any other, but they do participate in the collective responsibility to realize these goals. It is in this context that we call for an end to the culture of intolerance in the Faculty of Arts, as manifest in student-on-student violence. We urge the importance of not postponing any longer the challenge of relating to one another in new ways, without recourse to violence and intolerance.
We expect all university students to treat their fellow students as fellow human beings who have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Arts Faculty Teachers’ Association, Colombo University
Prof. Ananda Tissakumara
Mr. Krishantha Fedricks
Ms. Sewwandi Alawaththa
Mr. Mahesh Senanayake
Ms. Thanuja Weerakoon
Rev. Uduhawara Ananda thero
Dr. Nirmal Devasiri
Dr. Prasad Serasinghe
Mr. R.M. Dissanayake