Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Thursday | November 15, 2012
Home : Commentary
UTech: Let's pray?
By Keith Noel

WE ARE still trying to come to grips with the recent vicious behaviour of the students at the University of Technology. When I first heard of it, my thoughts immediately went to other incidents like this, and I became more concerned.

Some years ago, I was working at a prominent boys' high school. A similar situation to the one at UTech occurred when two boys were caught in what was deemed a 'compromising position'. Initially, there was not much fuss. The boys were held by others and, as it was well after school, they were taken to the physical education teacher who was coaching a football team on the playing field.

There were some other students on the compound and they became aware of what had happened. However, their response was not in any way violent. Some student visitors who were on the compound heard of the incident, so by the next morning the news had spread like bushfire over the Corporate Area.

When the students came to school the next day and heard that there was truth to the rumours they had heard, they were, understandably, incensed, as they had become the brunt of much jibes. There were even bus drivers who had refused to allow them on their buses!

Two days later, when the parents of the boys went in to see the headmaster, news went around that 'one a de bway dem' was in the principal's office.

Is it the devil?

It was as if the devil himself had taken hold of the boys. Many swarmed out of their classrooms and surrounded the office like a mad horde. Some shouted incoherently, a couple even banged on the outer office door. It took me and a couple teachers, brandishing canes and threatening fiercely to flog everyone in sight, and then have them expelled, before the mob was transformed into the fairly decent young boys that we knew them to be.

By the next day, I was being approached by boys who shamefacedly admitted to being a part of the mob and apologised for their behaviour.

Some years later, at the school where I was principal, a similar, if less strikingly violent, situation occurred. I drove in to school after a visit to Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association's offices to find the fourth-form block in uproar. The art teacher had just been forced to give refuge to a boy from a small mob of his peers who were intent on mauling him because they were convinced that he was guilty of making sexual advances to another boy. Again, it seemed as if, as one teacher put it, "Satan himself had flown into their heads". Normally respectful boys were defying one of their teachers and refusing to stop trying to get into the room to 'deal wid de B-bway'. The girls, too, were in a real tizzy.

Manic madness

One remembers the videotape that went 'viral' which showed a group of country folk in the quiet rural town of Falmouth morphing into a mindless mob and attacking and beating a cross-dressing man. In that mob were several women who, I am sure, under normal circumstances, were the usual even-tempered, good-humoured Jamaican country folk.

But it cannot simply be put down to mindless homophobia. A similar event which frightened me terribly took place at a Spanish Town school some years ago. In it, a boy had to be secured in the staffroom to keep him safe from a raging mob of khaki, accompanied by a number of outsiders, who had breached the school's security. But there was no accusation of homosexuality; it was alleged that he had been seen in the bathroom performing oral sex on his girlfriend. This seems to have so angered the mob that they stoned a police car which had been sent to quell the disturbance.

It's all well and good to wag our heads and speak in despairing tones whenever these incidents take place. But we need to do more, we need to have our social psychologists and other experts analyse the source of this type of behaviour and suggest ways in which we can tackle it.

But maybe it is, as a friend of mine claims, evidence that 'de devil nah sleep', and what we need to do is pray?

Keith Noel is an educator. Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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