I didn’t think I will narrate this story in public this soon with a name tagged. I knew I was going to get justice and ensure that other women's and girls’ education are not threatened because of men who cannot keep their zips closed. But here we are. I know what I am about to do is a bit risky for my future, but I also know this is a good time to say something. I was not going to talk about this until I become a powerful woman who can protect myself. But this week’s happenings have forced me to say something. My hope is that, by sharing my story today, the University of Ghana, Ghana, and the world would be more assured that lecturers like Prof. Gyampo need to be removed from the higher education system if women are to have equal opportunity in advancing their education programs.
In 2010, I was a freshly admitted student to Ghana’s biggest university, the University of Ghana, to read Political Science, my dream program (smiling). I was super excited, and that meant that attending every lecture was a must for me. The idea of discussing socio-economic issues and politics and international events and everything was something I had always looked forward to. Prof. Gyampo was one of my lecturers in my very first semester. He was young, super smart and always had a friendly/relaxed/snobbish attitude in class. I admired him a lot. He was in several ways, the dream of many of us, young students. We didn’t want to be old and boring before we get to positions of power. Prof. Gyampo was exactly that. Young, smart and powerful.
The first time I will speak to Prof. Gyampo directly was after class. We had closed from lectures, and Prof. Gyampo asked to speak to me. I was standing below, and he was on the podium. Most students had already left the classroom. I always sit at the front so walking up to him when he asked to speak to me was easy. He said that I am beautiful and smart; why was I always asking so many questions? I smiled. I didn’t know about smart, but I knew I was beautiful. I had a figure that very few people didn’t compliment me on. I was used to being told I am beautiful. Before coming to the university, I had already won my first beauty crown and many beauty and fashion related awards in High School. So in my mind, there was no doubt about how I looked. Prof. Gyampo was simply saying what he so. But compliments about my appearance didn’t ‘wow’ me as it did to other girls. I simply said thanks. Prof. Gyampo said I should come around (to his office) for a chat. I said okay. But I never went (unintentionally).
About three weeks after our first encounter, we will speak again. This time around, Prof. Gyampo asked why I didn’t come around as he asked. Typical of my age group, I only smiled. I had no excuse. I didn’t go because maybe I didn’t take his request seriously. So I promised that I would come and I went. In his office, Prof. Gymapo asked if I knew how to prepare okro soup (I am Ewe. Okro soup is my people’s staple dish). I said yes, I knew how to prepare okro soup. Prof. Gyampo asked if I could come to his house to prepare okro soup for him. I said no, I couldn’t. He asked why, I said nothing. By this time, I had learned from Prof. Gyampo’s choice of words, tone and facial expressions that okro soup in his house meant something else, not food. I was young, but I was not totally naïve or stupid. I had met many men like Prof. Gyampo before starting school in Legon. If the men before him could not get their way with me, he wasn’t going to either.
This was the beginning of my next four years' ups and downs with Prof. Gyampo. In subsequent meetings, which I had to go to because I was his student in various semesters, and that meant seeing him on academic-related issues even when I didn’t want to, Prof. Gyampo often repeated his okro soup request and how beautiful I am. I made him understand in one of those meetings that visiting a married man in his house to make soup for him, especially when he is your lecturer is wrong (it took a lot of courage to do so). But Prof. Gyampo said he was not married. I later found out from my colleagues that, that wasn’t true. Most of my colleagues said he had a woman whom he has kids with. I never verified that information, and I still don’t know if it is true. But that knowledge and the fact that he was my lecturer made me never to honor his okro soup request. But I did not know that will threaten my many years of hard work and sacrifices at the university.
Continued in my next post.
In 2013, a year before I will graduate, I started my long essay process (the Long essay is like a thesis or dissertation that final year students write before they graduate). Part of the process demanded that the department assign me a lecturer to supervise my work. Students had no or very little say in who gets to be their supervisor. Unfortunately for me, Prof. Gyampo was assigned me as my supervisor. I knew from day one that I was dead when I saw his name against mine on the notice board. This is a man who has been pestering me since level 100, how was I going to survive? But part of me kept faith. I argued in my mind that it'd been a while, and probably, he forgot and forgave me for not accepting his advances. But Prof. Gyampo had neither forgotten nor forgiven me. He made sure I understood that I either come to prepare the okro soup for him or I will suffer. I went to see him several times in his office. And in each of our meetings, he was so hostile. Even a simple spelling mistake will make him insult me for several minutes. In one of those meetings, Prof. Gymapo asked me if I was thinking I will graduate. That was when I knew that he had made up his mind. I simply walked out without saying a word. We were done: I was not going to sleep with him even if it meant giving up the long essay.
In the next few weeks and the months, before we were supposed to graduate, I tried very hard to find another supervisor. Most of them said that they could not do anything to help me because the department assigns supervisors. Even if they could help, they did not want to make an enemy of a colleague. So I was left alone. I went to see the head of department at the time. He was a man who didn’t smile a lot. He was not friendly or helpful. Finally, I went to a professor I admire a lot. He agreed to help me off the books. But each time I went to see him, we only talked about how pretty I looked, how my colleagues were more willing to give what they had to get what they wanted, and how his wife could never guess that he cheats. I saw many boys/men bring him drinks as a bribe. I guess they could not sleep with him like the girls. I loved and hated our conversations. On one hand, they opened my eyes to a great deal of the world around me that I didn’t know about. On the other hand, they made men and the world look cruel to me.
Gradually, I came to learn that Prof. Gyampo is not an exception. He is just following the tradition of those before him and around him. Lecturers were so desperate to sleep with female students that, even when you said you couldn’t while in school, they will tell you that they will wait on you.
I ended up giving up on my long essay; I never finished. I had three people to help, but all three demanded to sleep with me. What would you have done if you were in my shoes?
The BBC article on the sexual harassment in West African universities this week said that some women could not complete school because they could not satisfy the sexual demands of their professors. It is true. Those women are not lying. A year after we completed school, I returned to the department for a recommendation letter. I met Prof. Gyampo on one of the occasions on which I came to the department for a recommendation. I was leaving one of the good professors' office (I said good because he never made any advance toward me, and he always supported me to do my best while in the school), and Prof. Gyampo saw me. He asked about what I was there to do. I said I was there for a recommendation letter to go to law school. He said, how was that possible when I did not graduate. I smiled and told him that I graduated. He insisted I didn’t. I could understand his frustration at that moment. He thought he had successfully destroyed my life. I took the opportunity and explained to him that, even though I could not finish my long essay under him, I was still able to graduate because I maintained a credit that was above the limit throughout my education. I will be lying if I say I did not enjoy the shock on his face.
Continued in my next post.
In case you are wondering why I didn’t say something sooner, anyone who has passed through higher education knows that one’s next stage is largely in the hands of former professors. So even though I told a few friends and one lecturer about my ordeal with Prof. Gyampo (and others), I never reported him to the department or the university. I knew I would need all those lecturers to recommend me for graduate/law school. So I kept quiet. After all, who was going to fight for me when I didn’t know who to trust? The only one lecturer I reported Prof. Gymapo to, told me that I should manage till I complete. If Prof. Gyampo knew that I could not graduate without him yet he still went ahead to insist on me making okro soup for him in his house before he supervises my work, imagine what would have happened to me if I was seen as someone dragging their reputation into the mud.
These professors are put there to teach and protect us. How come they are rather the ones destroying our future and sense of self-worth? One of the BBC interviewees said that for four or five times, she has tried to kill herself. Many people think that women enjoy sleeping with men in power for favors. No, we don’t. To many women, this kind of behavior from powerful men denies us dignity and should not be tolerated in any way.
I was particularly angry and disappointed (but not shocked) this morning when I heard Prof. Gyampo on radio denying the allegations and saying all sorts of things. It made me realize that the systems and structures that support sexual harassment in our institutions are even more powerful than we are willing to admit. Imagine, elsewhere, would Prof. Gyampo have had the audacity to sit on radio and say things like, the lady is not his student, and he believes Ghanaian politicians whom he offended with his political commentaries paid the BBC to tarnish his image? For heaven’s sake, those holding political power in Ghana are ‘victims’ of the BBC as much as anyone else. So why would Prof. Gymapo claim that they are after his head? Is the BBC an organization that can be easily paid? We know they are Westernized and Western-biased, but pay? That was a stretch even for Prof. Gyampo. Was it politicians who made him to consistently harass me for four years when I was a student in the Political Science Department?
I know that saying all this is dangerous even now. I am fully aware of what powerful people who feel threatened by less powerful people can do. But then, I thought of how Prof. Gyampo is going to be left off the hook if we those who suffered from his advances continue to stay quiet.
I end here by urging my colleagues to talk. One broomstick will fail at sweeping the dirt away but many broomsticks won’t. Please talk. Who knows? By talking at this moment, the University of Ghana leadership and the Political Science Department may be more willing to investigate our claims and possibly do the right thing, which is to remove Prof. Gyampo from the school as a lecturer.