A university professor called the police on a student after he refused to move seats
Leah Asmelash and Giulia McDonnell, CNN
CNN) — Waiting for a friend at Starbucks. Working out. Moving into a new apartment. Eating lunch. These are some of the mundane activities done by black people that ended with the police being called.
And now, there’s been another incident: sitting.
When Sultan Benson, a senior at Ball State University in Indiana, arrived at his Marketing 310 class on Tuesday, his usual seat was taken. His professor, Shaheen Borna, suggested he move to an empty seat toward the back, which he did, Benson told CNN.
But about a half hour into the class, another student left and Borna asked Benson to move up. But Benson was already settled. He’d unpacked his stuff, and his laptop was already out and charging.
When Benson asked why he had to move, the situation escalated.
“Either move your seat or I call the police,” Benson recalled Borna saying.
“Are you really about to call the police?” Benson said he asked at the time.
The answer was yes.
‘I woke up in a panic that night,’ student says
Two campus police officers arrived, and they asked Benson if he was being disruptive.
A video of the incident shows multiple students coming to Benson’s defense, saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Benson said he then left the classroom and briefly talked to police in the hallway.
Benson, a Chicago native, has since switched Marketing 310 classes, and told CNN he doesn’t feel comfortable returning to Borna’s classroom. Since the incident, he said he’s had increased anxiety and even nightmares about what could have been.
“I woke up in a panic (that night),” he said.
By calling the police, Benson said his professor displayed little regard for what could have happened. Growing up in Chicago, he told CNN he’s seen how the cops have “reacted with young African American men, and it hasn’t been pretty.”
“I’m automatically going to be scared and on guard,” he said. “That shows me that you don’t care about my life.”
Professor issued apology, but student is considering legal action
University administrators didn’t contact Benson until two days after the incident, he said. He’s scheduled to meet with the university president on Monday.
A statement from Ball State says the school will use the situation to “learn and improve.”
“Anytime something like this occurs on our campus, the University works to understand what happened and how we can improve based on what we learn,” the statement reads. “This includes talking with those who were involved and putting into place those measures that will prevent future situations.”
In an email sent to students, the Ball State President Geoffrey Means said the situation had “unnecessarily escalated” and that the business school’s dean had established corrective actions that included appropriate training and oversight for the professor in the future.
“This choice was a gross error of judgment, and it was simply an unwarranted overreaction,” he wrote.
Borna, who has been on Ball State faculty since 1983, sent an apology email to the class and to Benson specifically. In both emails, Borna wrote that he “mishandled” the situation.
“As a professor at Ball State University, it is my responsibility to ensure that you and all of my students receive an excellent educational experience. I am sorry that my actions today did not contribute to that,” both emails say.
CNN reached out to Borna for comment, but he said he has been asked not to speak with media.
Benson is thinking about taking legal action against the professor and the university. He said he’s grateful to those who offered their help.
“I’ve had a lot of support, and I really appreciate it,” he said.