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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

July 2, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Campus divides over racially charged incident

A white professor teaching at Ball State University in Indiana will be suspended for the rest of the semester after calling the police on a black student who refused to change seats. This event took place Jan. 21, and despite campus wide protests that happened in the aftermath, the professor continued to teach for weeks before he was formally suspended. 

In a written statement released by the school Feb. 13, the university announced its decision to suspend the professor, Shaheen Borna. “The decision is in the best interest of Dr. Borna and the University,” the announcement stated. 

The student whom Borna called the police on is Sultan “Mufasa” Benson. Benson called the punishment a “slap on the wrist,” and the overal situation was dealt with insufficiently. Benson also said that he believes the situation was meant to target him because of his race and that once the police were called, he was nervous about his safety.

In regards to Borna only receiving a suspension after the events, Benson said the punishment is not nearly enough but is “a step forward in the right direction.” Benson told The Associated Press, “I want justice, and a temporary leave for all of the policies he broke is still just the bare minimum.”

As for the reaction from the rest of the university, the stances are split amongst much of the faculty, staff and students. 

Approximately 30 of Borna’s fellow faculty members wrote a letter to the university’s student newspaper, The Daily News, showing support for Borna and rallying for the support of the community. In the letter, they urged people who do not know Borna not to judge him based on the way he reacted, noting that Borna is usually a “by-the-book” educator and person. 

The faculty letter justified Borna’s actions because of the university’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities. In “Appendix Q: Responding to Disruption in the Academic Setting,” the code details that faculty are allowed to ask a student to temporarily leave the classroom in the case that they are being disruptive. According to the code, if the student then refuses to comply, the faculty member is allowed to call University Police and request to “remove the student from the academic setting.” Allegedly, Benson was provided the option at the scene to either move seats or have the police be called. 

The code details disruptive behavior as “any behavior a reasonable person would view as being likely to substantially or repeatedly interfere with the conduct of an academic setting.” 

Meanwhile, over 100 faculty members signed a letter to the university newspaper that critiqued the situation. These faculty came to the defense of Benson and stated, “condemning the misuse of police in the classroom, calling out the institutional racism behind it, and telling you, our students, that we are with you.” 

The NAACP described Borna’s choice as an example of “weaponizing the police against people of color impetuously.”

“The actions taken by Professor Shaheen Borna are yet the latest example of thoughtless behavior that yields traumatic and frequently detrimental outcomes,” the organization stated in a news release.