A Ball State University professor is apologizing and admits he unnecessarily escalated a situation by calling the cops on an African-American student who declined to switch seats in class last week.
The redress was of little consolation to student Sultan “Mufasa” Benson, who says he feared he could’ve been killed or injured by police had he not left in peace.
“I was not acting out, I was not talking on my cellphone. I was learning,” Benson told The Star Press of the moment marketing professor Shaheen Borna threatened to call police. “I was following the lesson plan.”
The college senior arrived to his Marketing 310 lecture last Tuesday at the Muncie, Indiana, university to find another student sitting in his assigned seat. Borna, who’s white, suggested he take an available seat in the back, which he did.
When another student left about halfway through class, the educator asked Benson to move to the front. The business admin major was already settled however, and still charging his laptop at a nearby outlet, so he declined.
That’s when he says things went from one to one thousand.
“Either you move your seat, or I call the police,” Benson recalled Borna saying to him.
“Are you really about to call the police?” he replied.
Two campus officers would arrive at the classroom moments later. Much of the incident was caught on video, and several classmates were heard rushing to Benson’s defense as officers asked if he was being “disruptive.”
“No … he’s not doing anything wrong,” someone says, another adding that Benson “hadn’t said a word.”
After a brief back and forth, Benson willingly left the room and spoke with police in the hallway.
The soon-to-be graduate insists that what happened to him was a “discrimination act,” arguing Borna’s decision to involve the authorities showed a complete disregard for what could’ve gone wrong.
“[It] could have gone several different ways,” he told The Star Press. “I don’t think they are getting the concept of that yet.” In a separate interview with CNN, the Chicago native said his anxiety has skyrocketed since the incident, even causing him nightmares.
“I woke up in a panic [that night],” Benson added.
He’s since withdrawn from classes with Borna, who later apologized for the entire ordeal.
“As a professor at Ball State University, it’s my responsibility to ensure that you and all [of] my students receive an excellent educational experience,” Borna wrote in an email to students last week. “I am sorry that my actions today didn’t contribute to that.”
Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns addressed the controversy in a statement Thursday, saying Borna had committed a “gross error.”
“It was simply an unwarranted overreaction,” Mearns wrote in an open letter to the campus community.
He continued: “The classroom is a special place. It is a place of invigorated learning, and it should always be a welcoming environment for all of our students. In the incident this week, we didn’t meet that important standard.”
University officials sat down with Benson, who heads the campus Men and Women of Color student group, to discuss the incident. A separate meeting with Mearns, who’s been out of state on business, is scheduled for Monday, CNN reported.
So far, there’s no word on whether Borna will face disciplinary action.
Even after reading Mearns’ letter, Benson said he’s less than satisfied with Ball State’s response and is considering taking Borna and the university to court. Benson, who’s set to graduate in May, said he’s grateful to all those who have offered their help.
“I’ve had a lot of support, and I really appreciate it,” he said.