Students taking a Persian language course are asking the University to apologize after GW Police Department officers allegedly escorted their professor out of class after a scheduling conflict last week.
Fifteen students in a Beginners Persian I class sent a letter to four top administrators Friday describing an incident they said occurred on Nov. 8, when a student who was not taking the class alleged that he had reserved the Oliver Reading Room in Gelman Library at 4:30 p.m., where the class is taught three times a week until 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, and until 4:35 p.m. on Friday. In interviews, students in the class said that after the student called GWPD, officers disrupted the class and “rudely” forced the professor – Maziar Valamotamed, a lecturer in the Persian Language and Culture Program – to leave the room.
“This event reflected negatively on GW as an institution that mistreats professors, neglects certain departments such as the Persian department and does not value the education of students,” the letter states.
The signees also alleged that the incident had racial undertones, saying the student became alarmed when he saw Persian writing on the board, and responding officers did not give the professor the opportunity to explain the situation. The students demanded that the University explain why the incident occurred, issue an apology and enforce sensitivity training for GWPD officers.
The letter, which was also emailed to The Hatchet, was sent to Provost Forrest Maltzman, Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security, Cissy Petty, the dean of the student experience and Keely Walston, an administrative manager in the provost’s office.
Darnell responded to the email Saturday, saying the “alleged behavior” would not be tolerated.
“Appropriate discipline will be taken if the allegations are proven to be true,” Darnell said in an email, which was also sent to The Hatchet.
Nikki Vafai, a sophomore in the class, said Valamotamed instructed the student to report the scheduling mixup to the Academic Scheduling Office, but the student became “angry” and “disrespectful.” She said the student returned about 15 minutes later with “multiple” GWPD officers and two women from academic scheduling.
Vafai said GWPD officers entered the classroom and escorted Valamotamed out, allegedly acting “rude” toward him and treating him “as if there was some kind of criminal activity going on.”
Class bookings always take precedence over student bookings, according to the University’s Classroom Reservation and Rental policies.
“We thought it was ridiculous that he would call the police to come for an academic scheduling conflict,” Vafai, who emailed the letter to administrators, said. “We felt so bad for him because it was such a negative and traumatizing experience to have a police officer intrude into your classroom and escort you out in front of your students.”
Valamotamed did not return multiple requests for comment.
University spokeswoman Lindsay Hamilton said the University is aware that GWPD officers responded to a classroom scheduling conflict, but “it is our understanding” that no one was removed from the room.
“The University is currently investigating the incident, including the conduct of the officers involved, and will take appropriate action in response to any findings,” Hamilton said.
Freshman Daniel Turner, another student in the class, said the instance might be a display of discrimination from both the student and GWPD because the student allegedly looked alarmed when he saw the Farsi writing on the board, and GWPD was dismissive toward Valamotamed. Turner said he thinks the situation would have panned out differently if his professor were white.
“I definitely think there’s some racial undertones,” he said. “Even if that’s not the primary reason it happened, I think some of the disrespect came from that for sure.”
Turner said he and his classmates hope that the University holds the officers involved accountable for their actions and that incidents like these are “approached with sensitivity and respect” in the future.
Freshman Parisa Akbarpour, said she hopes GWPD will learn to fully understand a situation before disrupting a class because the officer entered when less than five minutes remained before the class would have been dismissed.
“It was such an easy miscommunication that could have been settled right off the bat with this kid,” Akbarpour said.
This article appeared in the November 15, 2018 issue of the Hatchet.