Ben-Gurion University of the Negev opened a special student center last week for Bedouin female students who face significant academic and social challenges pursuing higher education.
There are some 1, 200 Arab students studying at BGU, nearly 450 of them are Beduin and 70 percent of the Bedouin students are women.
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The Robert H. Arnow Center for Bedouin Studies is the first of its kind: a social center and “warm home away from home” for Bedouin women who study at the University.
According to the university, these Bedouin women face numerous challenges from language barriers to transportation problems, in earning their higher education degrees.
“We noticed that female Bedouin students were often found sitting in the lobby of the student union early in the morning, and during the day we saw them hanging out on the grass with nothing to do, ” says Merav Yosef Solomon, head of administration in the Office of the Dean of Students.
With cooperation with first woman Bedouin clinical psychologist, Dr. Sarah Abu-Kaf, and the Arnow family the university dedicated a space where they can feel safe, where they can rest, hang out, or receive instruction and assistance from professionals, explains Solomon.
A social worker from the staff of the Office of the Dean of Students will be on hand as a guiding and supportive figure. The students will be able to rest between classes and wait for their rides home, study and meet for joint activities (empowerment workshops, women’s health lectures, social activities, and more). The center will only be accessible to those with specially programmed student cards in order to increase the women’s sense of security.
At the beginning of the school year during the orientation seminar for Bedouin students, the 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 young women have a safe space to rest and to wait for transportation home will alleviate worries and encourage parental support.
The center was created to provide a solution for some of the unique challenges facing these women:
- 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 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.
- Relative to other Israeli university students the Bedouin are experiencing independence for the first time, while the vast majority of their counterparts have already served in the army and traveled extensively.
- Those who study in the humanities and social sciences often begin their degrees unsure about what they want to study and are in need of academic guidance.
- They also face additional cultural pressures: a reluctance to ask for help, close scrutiny from Bedouin society and other unique social pressures.