A prominent member of the Weill Cornell Medical College Board of Overseers established a Qatari clinic that describes homosexuality as a “behavioural disorder” and seeks to treat people who are gay.
This week, some Cornell students questioned whether an individual who views such a practice as a viable medical option should simultaneously sit on the board of Cornell’s medical college.
The clinic, the Al Aween Social Rehabilitation Center in Doha, Qatar, was established in 2006 by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the wife of the Emir of Qatar. Its purpose is to serve the public interest, according to the Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The center’s website states that Al Aween specializes in the treatment of disorders such as addiction to alcohol, drug and Internet use, as well as deviant and unusual sexual behaviors. The website hosts a document that lists homosexuality as one of several “behavioural disorders and negative tendencies.”
To treat its patients, the clinic offers a variety of “therapeutic units” and counseling, according to its website.
The website includes samples of counseling provided to patients. A woman seeking advice on her relationship with another woman was told to stop her “unhealthy sexual behaviour” and end communication with her partner.
In addition to establishing the Rehabilitation Center, Sheikha Mozah serves as the chair of the Qatar Foundation for Education, the organization that partnered with Cornell to bring WCMC to Qatar. She also sits on the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers, which makes important managerial decisions related to the medical college.
The Board of Overseers, which is granted authority by Cornell’s Board of Trustees, “oversees academic, financial and other program planning, approves domestic and global affiliations, oversees all clinical, research and administrative facilities, and approves faculty appointments to tenure and endowed professorships,” according to the Weill Cornell website.
Members of Cornell’s Student Assembly had planned to propose a resolution calling for the University to investigate the matter at its meeting Thursday, but decided on Tuesday to delay the vote.
“We’re planning right now to delay our resolution until we find more information,” said Nate Treffeisen ’12, LGBTQ Liaison at Large for the Student Assembly, who had worked on drafting the resolution.
Treffeisen said that the decision to postpone the vote “was a starting point for [doing] more rather than less.”
S.A. President Natalie Raps ’12 agreed that it was important to “take time to investigate [the issue] before rushing off to bring it to the S.A.”
“This is an issue we want to explore,” she said. "We want to make sure we’re not doing anything half-heartedly or rushed."
Still, Treffeisen said he had concerns with the Al Aween Center.
“I personally don’t believe [The Al Aween Center] is a viable option in finding a ‘cure’ for homosexuality,” he said. “I don’t think the standards Cornell has here should be different anywhere else in the world. When something like this comes along, you start to question that.”
In a press release by Weill Cornell in 2001 for the opening of the campus in Qatar, the University stated, “Cornell will select all academic and administrative staff, and admit students according to existing University standards."
Weill Cornell defines these standards in its mission statement, affirming “In pursuit of this mission, the Medical College and Graduate School fully embrace the commitment of Cornell University to support equality of education and employment opportunity by affirming the value of diversity and by promoting an environment free from discrimination.”
Both WCMC and Simeon Moss ’73, deputy University spokesperson, declined to comment on the University’s relationship with Sheikha Mozah.
The partnership between Weill Cornell and Qatar, a country where homosexuality is illegal, came about after Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Kahlifa al-Thani committed a significant portion of the country’s resources to recruiting world-class academic institutions, according to a United Press International article. These efforts culminated in Qatar’s Education City, home to the branch campuses of six American universities.
Despite the views of the clinic she established, Sheikha Mozah is viewed by many in the region as a proponent of progressive development. Dr. David Robertshaw, former associate dean for pre-medical studies at WCMC Qatar, pointed to the positive effects of WCMC’s presence in the region.
“Although it’s never been stated specifically, one of the reasons for bringing American institutions to Qatar was to take education to the students, rather than having to leave their country and go elsewhere. This was particularly important for women, as some families do not like to send their daughters overseas,” Robertshaw said.
“The place of women in society has been changed as a result of this. Their level in society was subservient to that of men, so this has had a liberalizing effect. That’s a very positive thing,” he said.
Regarding the differences in ideology between Cornell and the political stance of Sheikha Mozah and Qatar, Robertshaw said, “One was always sensitive to the local culture, but [our differences] never affected the way in which we worked with the students and the local people.”