The University barred a student from campus after he was accused of harassing and threatening his English professor and classmates, a University spokesperson said.
Some members of the class are concerned University officials did not respond quickly enough when they expressed concerns about the presence of an allegedly dangerous individual on campus immediately following the classroom disruption.
The student, William Pressman, allegedly began harassing two of his classmates during their oral presentation in associate professor of English Tara Wallace’s course on the English novel Oct. 3, said a student in the class who wishes to remain anonymous.
The Hatchet granted this student anonymity because he or she is a member of the class and fears Pressman will harm him or her for speaking publicly about the incident.
The student said Pressman allegedly called one of the presenters “a good storyteller, good at twisting people’s minds” when the presenters asked their classmates if anyone had questions on the material.
After the presentation concluded, the student said Pressman moved his seat in the classroom, sat down next to the presenters and wrote threatening messages to them on notebook paper. The messages, written in large lettering, included phrases such as “wishful thinking” and “fuck the law.” The anonymous student also overheard Pressman tell the presenters, “You think I’m stupid and crazy, don’t you?”
Wallace tried to maintain order in the class but was unsuccessful, the student said. Wallace dismissed the class when Pressman allegedly attempted to follow one of the presenters into a restroom. Wallace declined to speak with The Hatchet about the incident.
When The Hatchet asked Pressman for comment, he said he would not speak about the incident and that he planned to “read the article in The Hatchet when it (came) out.” In an earlier interview with The Hatchet, Pressman said he would not speak about the incident until he heard “what the grapevine had to say about it,” but he said he was involved.
Five days after the incident took place, Assistant Dean of Students Brian Victor and Associate Dean of the Columbian College Paul Duff met with the class to assess their thoughts and concerns. After this meeting, University officials made a final decision to bar Pressman from campus, according to an e-mail sent from Victor to the class. Victor and Duff declined to speak with The Hatchet about the incident.
“I consulted with other University administrators and want to report actions that were already in process and that are in line with your requests to help you feel more secure in class and move forward with your normal classroom activities,” Victor wrote in an e-mail to the class a few hours after the conclusion of the meeting.
In the e-mail, obtained by The Hatchet, Victor also said the University had appropriate police surveillance in place to enforce the bar order and that the University increased security around the students’ classrooms last week in response to concerns voiced at the meeting that Pressman would attempt to enter campus despite being barred.
The anonymous student said the class was satisfied with the results of its meeting with Victor and Duff but felt the University had been unresponsive in the interim.
“This is not to say the University was, in fact, not dealing with this issue, but the impression felt on all fronts was of ridiculous negligence and downplaying on the University’s part in terms of listening to our concerns (before the meeting with Victor and Duff),” the student said.
The anonymous individual said in the five days between the incident and the class’ meeting with Victor and Duff, students wanted to switch the class’ day, time or location and even desired to cancel the class for fear of further contact with Pressman.
“If you have a whole class of students and teachers who don’t want to hold the class anymore or who want the room and time to be changed because they are so nervous about the occurrence of another event, assuming you have that on the table, what does (the University) consider a threat?”
Pressman tried to attend the meeting Victor and Duff held with his classmates despite being told he was not allowed to and was restrained by UPD, the student said.
University Police Chief Dolores Stafford said the University has authority to bar individuals from campus because the campus is considered private property. Stafford declined to speak with The Hatchet about her department’s response to this incident.
“We don’t keep officers on street corners (to enforce bars),” Stafford said. “There are hundreds of people barred from campus.”
Stafford also said a student typically cannot be barred from campus if that individual is considered an active GW student.
“A GW student typically must have a suspended or expelled status to be barred from campus,” Stafford said, adding that the only way a bar can be lifted is if the individual submits a written request to do so.
University spokesperson Tracy Schario said the University cannot discuss the specifics of any actions with respect to an individual student, but the University’s highest priority is the safety of all its students and the GW community members.
“The University process to assess these types of situations involves balancing the rights of the individual in question with the responsibility of providing a safe and secure learning environment,” Schario said. “We will err on the side of caution when necessary to ensure the security of faculty and students and maintain the integrity of the classroom.”