Tribalism and Power in the Sanctioning of Sexual Harassment at a Jordan University

Robbin Headshot

by Zoe H. Robbin 19C, Quantitative Sciences and Arabic
Fox Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellow

Since I began studying Arabic at Emory, I have been interested in the role of women across cultures and social classes. In the summer of 2018, I received a scholarship from the Emory Global Health Institute to intern at the Information and Research Center of the King Hussein Foundation in Amman, Jordan. With an international research team from the Rollins School of Public Health and the King Hussein Foundation, I helped to develop a primarily prevention intervention for sexual harassment at a Jordanian university. I was immediately fascinated by the impact of sanctions on harassing behavior, and sought to explore the social structures that legitimize and reinforce sanctioning power. This research question has served as the foundation for my senior thesis, in which I have examined how tribal affiliation mediates power in the sanctioning of sexual harassment.

Although there is widespread recognition of the barriers many women encounter during informal help-seeking and institutional reporting of sexual harassment, there is a lack of research discussing the specific bases of organizational power that enable harassment. My thesis attempts to address this gap in literature by focusing on institutional responses to sexual harassment at a Jordanian university. Specifically, my study focuses on the mechanisms through which tribal affiliation mediates the sanctioning of sexual harassment on campus. To answer these research questions, this study applies French and Raven’s model of the Bases of Social Power to the results of six focus group discussions with students at a Jordanian university. French and Raven’s model of social power enables a comparative analysis of the impacts of tribal power and institutional sanctioning on harassing behavior. The results of these discussions provide evidence that harassers rely on coercive and legitimate bases of power, while potential targets may rely exclusively on coercive power. Tribal power was also mediated between genders, suggesting gender also functions as a legitimate base of social power. Based on these results, I provide a recommendation for policymakers and institutional architects to increase protections for sexual harassment survivors during the reporting and sanctioning process. Because the negative implications of help-seeking are often social, this may center around the provision of platforms and safe spaces for student activists to organize and train together. I hope my analysis of organizational power will benefit policymakers across the globe as they seek to cultivate institutional climates that are intolerant to gender inequity.

The Fox Undergraduate Humanities Honors Fellowship has been instrumental in my thesis project. Attending the weekly events and presenting my research to the many prolific scholars at the center has enabled me to expand my analysis. As I continue to examine the treatment of women across different societies, I am grateful for the foundation provided by the Fox Center.

Zoe Robbin is a senior in Emory College pursuing a double major in Quantitative Sciences and Arabic Studies. Zoe’s thesis in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies analyzes the impact of tribal affiliation on the sanctioning of sexual harassment at a Jordanian university. Her project builds off of her experience interning for the King Hussein Foundation as a Global Health Field Scholar at the Emory Global Health Institute. As institutional architects strive to develop policies that ensure equity, Zoe’s thesis provides a framework for analyzing and addressing power imbalances within organizations.

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