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Public displays of affection on aampus: What changed?

Nour Jane Kachicho
Special to Outlook

A professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB) caught sight of a couple having sex in broad daylight. ‘‘ I was embarrassed, and so I did nothing,’’ he said.

Acts of public displays of affection (PDAs), such as holding hands, hugging, kissing, and, in rare cases, having sex, are becoming increasingly common on the AUB campus, and have grown to be less stigmatized over the years.

 In the past there were handbooks instead of the ID cards students carry today, according to Professor Nabil Dajani, chair of AUB’s social and behavioral sciences department, as well as long-time AUB sociology professor Samir Khalaf, who is the director of the Center for Behavioral Research at AUB.

 The handbook consisted of the rules at AUB and would be confiscated if a couple were holding hands, for example. It could then be retrieved from the dean of Student Affairs after students would provide a valid explanation and excuse.

 ‘‘PDAs were not condoned on campus,’’ added Dajani. ‘‘Nowadays, students behave like cats and dogs,’’ he said, adding that they follow their instincts, disregarding the Lebanese culture and tradition of which they are a part of.

 But not so long ago, PDAs were not as tolerated as they are today. Kristina Zouein, 29, a 2004 graduate from AUB in business, recalls that in spring 2003, she had been sitting on her boyfriend’s laps on a bench overshadowed by the trees, when a security guard scolded them and demanded their IDs. ‘‘He said that he would report this case,’’ she recounted.

 Something changed between 2003 and 2009. An AUB student, who requested anonymity as she had breached university rules regarding intimate behavior in public, tells of the time she engaged in sex on campus.

She and her boyfriend, were walking in the forest on campus at around 11 p.m. in fall 2009 when they decided to do something, ‘‘spontaneous and daring.’’ They were undressed, when a noise forced them to stop. Carrying their clothes in their arms, they disappeared for fear of getting caught.
 Peer pressure is a factor that Khalaf believes to be a reason for the increase in PDAs. ‘‘Expressing sexual intimacy is like holding a cigarette,’’ he said.

 AUB Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin said that if a security guard catches a couple ‘in the act’ on campus, ‘‘the first thing to look for is the power relation.’’ This is to say that the first thing the guard should look for is whether the act was consensual or forced, whether the girl had been pressured for example.

 Students caught having sex on campus will receive a dean’s warning or even be suspended, said Nizameddin. This is done both to comply with AUB and Lebanese laws but also to maintain AUB’s image, he added.

 Nizameddin said that in the 1970s and 1980s, because of political instability, AUB’s policies had to be stricter, which meant that PDAs were much more condemned than they are today. In the mid-to late 1990s, Nizameddin recalls more tolerance towards PDAs, such as hugging, and holding hands.

This article was written for the course SOAN 205 titled “Basic news writing.”
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