Upright, tall and tough Jackie Dugard, the new director of the Wits’ sexual harassment office, intends to “fight fights” against sexual abuse on campus.
The academic and activist, who formerly worked as director of the Socio Economic Rights Institute (SERI) has her dark hair in a tight bun, indicative of her no-nonsense approach. [pullquote align=”right”]“Myself and quite a few of my female friends encountered highly inappropriate actions from male staff members and lecturers.”[/pullquote]
Law and order
“I bring an understanding of social change,” said the academic and activist. “One of my strengths is that I am strong and like to fight”. Dugard, a former researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, was hired in November to lead the division dedicated to issues of sexual harassment and abuse on all other levels. Her appointment follows widespread revelations of sexual harassment on campus last year, which led to a full inquiry by the vice chancellor’s office and the dismissal of three lecturers for improper conduct and the resignation of a fourth.
Enter Dugard. An understanding of how class, gender and race intersect and influence abuses of power is not all she can offer.
Dugard herself has been a victim of harassment. She told Wits Vuvuzela that as a PhD student during her fellowship at University of Cambridge she suffered sexual harassment and abuse.
“Myself and quite a few of my female friends encountered highly inappropriate actions from male staff members and lecturers. There I was a tiny little student feeling like I don’t wanna rock the boat,” Dugard recalled.
She said the experience made her realise just how pervasive sexual harassment was, even at institutions that “people looked up to”. [pullquote]“We have to be realistic. This is not Moses parting the waves. It will take time,” [/pullquote]
“As with most institutions, it wasn’t immune [to sexual harassment]. And as with many institutions it was largely swept under the rug and tolerated,” Dugard said.
She said the experience taught her to have empathy and understanding for people who don’t report sexual harassment out of fear.
“I didn’t [report the harassment]. I regret it. I feel I really should have. It gave me a sense of why people do not report it,” she said.
Dugard explained that her office would empower students to deal with sexual harassment in whatever way they needed, ranging from counselling, medical treatment and legal assistance to fact sheets, educational drives and even “holding students hands” through the daunting prospect of tackling the institution and systemic issues. The sexual harassment office and its approach to harassment, however, remain a work in progress.
Dugard explained that the office was still in its formative stages, having recently moved into premises on the sixth floor of University Corner, dealing with a backlog of on-going cases, as well as trying to bring together all of university’s existing policies and networks.
“We have to be realistic. This is not Moses parting the waves. It will take time,” Dugard said.
With only Maria Wanyane, sexual harassment advisor at the CCDU, as part of the team, Dugard explained that the office still had to hire a lawyer and an administrator before it gets down to real work.
She described this as an important period of thinking through and understanding what had been done previously in order to map out the future.
“We don’t wanna rush it. But also, we don’t want to be in limbo. We have to make sure we have analysed everything. We are asking ourselves ‘how can we do better?’”
Dugard said confusion around what constituted sexual harassment made this period of analysis necessary, but in broad terms she described it as an insidious form of prejudice akin to racism.
Dugard’s activist background, her academic qualifications especially in law, and her own experience of harassment, place her in a good position to clear up the confusion.