Some universities keep headscarf ban despite YÖK move

Published 15.10.2010 12:22

In defiance of a recent attempt by the Higher Education Board (YÖK) to lift the controversial ban on the use of the Muslim headscarf on university campuses, some universities continue to refuse to allow covered students to attend their courses.

Dozens of university students thus far have filed complaints with YÖK against university administrations. Yusuf Ziya Özcan, the head of the board, recently said publicly that students who are denied entry to university courses because of their headscarves should apply to the board. "YÖK will take the necessary steps," he pledged.

At least 50 students sent e-mails and petitions to YÖK, arguing that their teachers did not allow them to enter courses while wearing their headscarves. Most complaints came from universities in Tokat, Bursa, Zonguldak and Ankara.

The wearing of the headscarf at universities is banned; however, YÖK moved to resolve the headscarf issue on university campuses last week by sending a circular to İstanbul University instructing the administration not to send students out of class for violating the dress code.

The circular YÖK sent to İstanbul University was in response to a complaint filed by a student at the faculty of medicine. The student, Zeynep Nur İncekara, was sent out of class twice in 2009 by a professor after she insisted on wearing a hat in class. The use of a hat as an alternative to a scarf is common in Turkey's universities.

"We are three headscarf-wearing students at our faculty. They [teachers] do not allow us inside the classrooms despite the YÖK warning. They completely ignore the warning," read a petition filed by G.K. from Tokat University, which also asked for the removal of the rector from office.

YÖK officials said the board is examining the complaints and pledged that they will take necessary action.

Kerime D., a student at Dokuz Eylül University in İzmir, said she once entered the classroom with her headscarf after the YÖK move to lift the ban, but received a warning from her teacher that discouraged her.

"Security guards did not warn me when I entered the campus in the morning. But when I entered the classroom, my teacher said the university did not receive any official notice from YÖK about headscarf freedom, and thus records would be taken against me if I insisted on staying inside the classroom with the scarf. Then I had to take off my headscarf off," she told reporters. Kerime D. also said she would not be free to wear her headscarf in the classroom until YÖK sends an official notice to the university administration.

Earlier this week, a headscarf-wearing woman who attempted to enter the Aksaray University campus was denied entry by security guards. The woman told guards that she was not a student at the university and was hoping to file an application for additional placement. Universities often accept students through additional placement if vacancies occur after the start of the new academic year since some students fail to enroll in courses on time.

The guards, however, denied the woman entry, arguing that entering university campuses with a headscarf was against the directives of YÖK.

The headscarf ban was introduced in 1997 when the powerful military overthrew a coalition government led by a conservative party. The ban affected university students as well as women working in the public sector. Women with headscarves are currently not allowed to enter military facilities, including hospitals and recreational areas under the control of the Turkish military.

Many of Turkey's universities, on the other hand, recently announced their decision to set the use of the headscarf free both on their campuses and in classrooms. On Tuesday, for example, Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) President Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu said it is unacceptable for someone who wears a headscarf to have her right to an education taken away. He added that students at his university would be free to wear whatever they wish.

Similarly, Gaziantep University Rector Yavuz Coşkun said universities should not waste time discussing how students should get dressed. "To decide what to wear is a fundamental right for individuals. Universities, which should work to expand freedoms, should not waste time discussing what individuals should wear," he stated.

Rize University Rector Nazmi Turan Okumuşoğlu stated that the university administration is developing a peaceful method that will help settle the headscarf controversy without harming either covered or non-covered students. However, Isparta University Rector Metin Lütfi Baydar announced that they have started a work on a "single-type" headscarf model for students at the university. CIHAN

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