The Dark Side of Orientation Week at LUMS
By: Tasmir Aziz
Orientation week at LUMS is always billed as an exciting affair. As the incoming first year batch is introduced to their oft over-zealous O week coaches that show them around campus, they receive the same pitch that every student in LUMS is familiar with, namely, that the LUMS campus is a safe space for everything from political discourse to expressions of sexuality. Students are told (or at least it is intonated to them) that amidst the socially regressive wasteland that is Pakistan, LUMS is akin to an oasis where the concerns of the student body, the likes of which do not warrant a second thought in this country, are given due attention and importance. So effective has been the marketing of this message that LUMS has become synonymous with what most people crudely associate with the term “liberalism”.
But amongst the light hearted chatter with your coaches and newfound friends and all the thrill that a trip to Joyland can inspire, there are too many former first years that have felt their space violated by the very individuals who were responsible for guiding them during what is always the intimidating experience of beginning a new chapter in one’s academic journey. We refer to instances where coaches and coordinators have abused their power by engaging in predatory behavior with first year students. With minimal oversight from either the administration or the O week coordinating committee, coaches have avoided any semblance of formal reproach with the tarnishing of their reputation amongst (some in) the LUMS student body being the only consequence of their reckless and deplorable behavior. There have been instances where a coordinator has gained access to a student’s contact information by getting themselves added to first year only chat groups after which they then proceeded to try establishing personal contact despite the latter expressing their discomfort with the interaction. There have been stories of coordinators continuing to pursue students over extended periods of time leading many to describe it as textbook stalking. Said individuals have been accused by multiple students of almost identical behavior which constitutes, by any standard, harassment and abuse of authority.
But we have yet to establish the gravity of the issue at hand. It is no secret that many individuals often harass and invade the space of others in social gatherings events of this nature. O week is considered by many an opportune chance to do just this. And many have reported that they have been the subject of unwanted advances by other students. But just as reports of harassment are dismissed by the authorities that overlook spaces outside of LUMS, reports of harassment during O week have been met with a similarly apathetic attitude. Students facing harassment have to trust that coordinators that are themselves deciding which first year to pursue to take their claims seriously. And thus O week creates the same environment of fear that is seen all across this country and it becomes yet again a bi-product of a cat-calling culture that allows men to ignore the consequences of their actions because after all “boys will be boys” and “ a little flirting doesn’t harm anyone”.
This year’s O-Week coordinating committee hopes to continue the tradition of ruining the experience of LUMS for first years before it has even begun. The committee features individuals who have been accused of harassment and making women uncomfortable. These will be people entrusted with ensuring that the incoming first years have a wonderful and safe time at O week.
For an institution such as LUMS to ignore the gravity of this issue to the point where they endanger the space and dare I say, safety of first year students, by enabling such behavior from senior students demonstrates how it is not an escape from the regression of this country but a product of it. If action is not taken in due time by the administration, then it is up to the student body to collectivize and force it to do so for the sake of future batches.