Thousands have signed a petition calling for officials to fire a professor who a student said incorrectly claimed she couldn’t have a service dog in class.
Liza Malinsky, a junior majoring in business, said Disability Support Services officials told her that she didn’t need an official letter to attend classes with her service dog, Charlie, this academic year. But Marie Matta, an assistant industry professor of decision sciences who teaches Malinsky’s Operations Management class, raised an issue when Malinsky brought her service dog to class without paperwork earlier this semester.
Malinsky said she had told Matta during the first week of spring classes, which were held online, that she didn’t need documentation because her service dog did not require a DSS accommodation. But in a Jan. 25 class session with Charlie in the room, Matta and Malinsky argued openly in class, which Malinsky captured on video and shared on social media.
Matta did not return a request for comment, but Malinsky said her professor apologized over email Wednesday and acknowledged her actions were a mistake.
GW’s policy for service animals states that students are not required to submit an accommodation request to bring a service animal into campus buildings, except for residence halls. The Americans with Disabilities Act states that colleges can offer voluntary registries for service animals that “serves a public purpose,” like ensuring that emergency staff know to look for service animals in the event of an emergency.
“If I told you I needed glasses or a wheelchair to come to class, or I was using a hearing aid, I can tell you those things if I want to, there’s the voluntary reporting system,” Malinsky said in an interview. “But I’m not required by law to tell you ahead of time I’m coming with my medical device.”
A week after informing her professor about Charlie during virtual classes, Malinsky said Matta claimed the service dog wasn’t allowed and she had discussed the issue with DSS.
But Malinsky said when she contacted the DSS office later that day, officials reiterated that the service dog was allowed.
Malinsky began recording her interaction with Matta in the next class, later posting the footage to Instagram Sunday. Malinsky said Matta raised an issue with the fact that Charlie is a pitbull before the recording began.
The video shows the two arguing and a GW Police Department officer eventually arriving in the classroom to discuss the dispute with Malinsky privately. Malinsky said she had wanted GWPD to come to intervene.
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“This student won’t get rid of the dog from the class and has been told repeatedly that a disability support policy and procedure is that you’re not allowed a service dog in a classroom without paper accommodations,” Matta said to the officer in the video.
The officer asked Malinsky to step outside the room, where Malinsky said she showed the officer the email exchange with DSS confirming service dogs were permissible in class. The officer agreed with her, and Malinsky did not attend the remainder of the class, she said.
University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said officials from the Division for Student Affairs, DSS and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement are “actively working” to provide support to those adversely affected by the “incident.”
“The University is also working with the GW School of Business leadership and will remain involved to ensure that GW students have an inclusive classroom experience,” Nosal said in an email. “Our students’ well-being is our highest priority.”
Nosal declined to say whether officials are planning to take disciplinary action against Matta, if they had received formal complaints about the incident and what training faculty receive on how to best accommodate students with disabilities.
She declined to say whether the GWPD officer filed a report for the incident.
Matta emailed an apology to Malinsky Wednesday morning, saying she was “operating on information that I now realize was incorrect” and acknowledged the “pain and distress” the situation caused Malinsky.
“I am deeply sorry for the pain this incident caused,” Matta said in the email. “I am committed to learning from this experience and moving forward in the most productive way to foster a more inclusive classroom experience for you and your peers.”
Carly Shaffer, a junior studying political communication who is one of Malinsky’s teammates with GW Cheer, started a change.org petition calling for officials to fire Matta “on the basis of discrimination.” As of Wednesday night, the petition reached more than 3,700 signatures.
They said they sent the petition to Anuj Mehrotra, the dean of the business school, on Monday and received a “very politically correct email” in response that didn’t address her questions.
“As the GW community, we must come together to stand with Liza Malinsky and everybody she is fighting for,” the petition reads. “Professor Marie Matta must be held accountable.”
Jhurney Hairston, a junior majoring in marketing, who is in the course with Malinsky, said Matta overreacted to the situation and should have talked to Malinsky privately, rather than in front of the whole class.
“She called Liza and her dog a liability,” she said. “It felt like she was just trying to make it seem like Liza was this aggressive person with this aggressive dog and everyone was in danger, when that just wasn’t the situation at all.”
The Disabled Students Collective posted a statement on Instagram Tuesday condemning Matta’s actions and calling for officials to investigate Matta and GWPD’s actions to the “fullest extent.”
“The Disabled Students Collective is not an organization meant to fact-check ableist experiences,” the statement reads. “We wholeheartedly support and believe the victim of the situation, as well as every other student with accommodations on our campus.”
Tara Suter and Lauren Sforza contributed reporting.