The BGU administration and Josh Arnow, representing his father, Robert Arnow, benefactor of the Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, dedicated a special student center serving Bedouin women students this week. It is the first of its kind, a social center and “warm home away from home” for Bedouin women students who study at the University. The center, a joint initiative of BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi and the Arnow family, is located in the Helen Diller Family Center.
Around 1,200 Arab students study at BGU. Nearly 450 of them are Bedouin and 70% of the Bedouin are women. The center was created to provide a solution for some of the unique challenges facing these women:
·Many of them arrive early in the morning and leave late at night on dedicated buses, but they do not attend classes the whole time that they are on campus.
·Those who study in the humanities and social sciences often begin their degrees unsure what they want to study and are in need of academic guidance.
·Many of them still have difficulty speaking and reading/writing Hebrew, which makes it harder for them to integrate academically and socially.
·Many of them are young relative to other Israeli university students and are experiencing independence for the first time. Most of them arrive immediately after high school and this is their first experience with independent living.
·They also face additional cultural pressures: a reluctance to ask for help, close scrutiny from Bedouin society, and other unique social pressures.
In light of these exceptional circumstances, the University realized there was a need for a unique center. 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 meet for joint activities (empowerment workshops, women’s health lectures, social activities and more). The club will be closed and access 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 Bedouin 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.
Merav Yosef Solomon, head of administration in the Office of the Dean of Students explained how the university decided to create the center.
“We noticed that women Bedouin 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. 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”). The attempts did not succeed, primarily because of lack of participation because of a lack of trust in the “system.” Over the course of many conversations that we had with BGU faculty member, and first woman Bedouin 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.”
In addition to the president of BGU and Josh Arnow as the representative of the Arnow Family, the Rector Prof. Zvi HaCohen, Vice President for External Affairs Prof. Steve Rosen, Dean of Students Prof. Moshe Kaspi and student representative Eman Abu Aiada took part in the dedication.