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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Darwish, students speak out about UBSC appeal

Published: April 4, 2008
Section: Front Page

The suspension of Transitional Year Program student Mamoon Darwish continued to stir up debate on campus this week, after it was announced that the second of his two appeals would not be heard until June. Darwish, whose first appeal will be heard April 8, was suspended in February following a fist fight outside of the Gosman Gymnasium, and has been banned from the university grounds.

Since being found responsible for the charges against him, Darwish posted a letter to the community on Facebook, where he alleged the university repeatedly violated his right to due process. “It is discrimination based on color, religion and national origin. As a result, my rights to a fair trial have been destroyed,” wrote Darwish, a Palestinian student. “Typical of Brandeis they are drawing out this process over two months so that no one is here on campus and I have no choice of even applying to Brandeis since I am a TYP student.”

When asked for an interview by The Hoot, Darwish’s student advocate Laura Cohen ’10 said her client would not speak about the case except via e-mail. Despite sending a list of questions via e-mail on Tuesday, neither Cohen nor Darwish responded before publication.

Chief amongst Darwish’s complaints were several allegations of police brutality. Not only was Darwish intercepted by Public Safety without receiving medical treatment, but later, Darwish claimed, “when the police came to arrest me they came in…to my room with their pepper sprays [sic]. I was beaten outside my room in my dorm.” According to a witness, Mohammad Kundos ’10, Darwish was slammed against a wall by Public Safety, who transported him to the Waltham Police station. The arrest record states Darwish was charged with assault.

Darwish alleged in the letter that he was not given a written statement of the charges against him. In addition, “the same weekend, I was accused of a separate incident. The Brandeis police filed a case against me but several days after this, the accuser dropped the charges,” wrote Darwish. “I was still tried and Director of Student [Development and] Conduct Erika Lamarre, used old charges against me to manipulate the [University Board of Student Conduct].”

Because he was unaware of his requirement to plead responsible or not responsible within 48 hours, Darwish said he was not allowed to bring both cases to the UBSC.

Furthermore, Darwish felt the UBSC hearing was biased against him, as he was unaware of the option of having an advocate and was not permitted to bring in photographic evidence of his injuries or character witnesses to the proceedings. According to Senator for Racial Minority Students Gabe Gaskin ‘08, Darwish did not have an Office of Judicial Advocacy advisor in the Feb. 29 proceedings, with Cohen joining the case early March. In regards to character witnesses, according to UBSC representative Ryan McElhaney ’10, “there are none. It’s just not done.”

The other witnesses, Darwish alleged, were prejudiced or gave inconclusive reports. “The first witness that was brought against me was the person I had the fight with…the second witness said that she saw my accuser start the fight. The third said he did not see who started the fight,” said Darwish. “And the [fourth] witness, a senior citizen, said that she didn’t see who started the fight but that we were both fighting. She said she saw ‘a big Arab boy beating a small Jewish boy on the Sabbath. Some new gang rite of passage, to beat up a Jewish boy on the Sabbath.’”

Since the UBSC’s decision, Darwish said he has been on campus twice, each time leading to problems with the administration. Not only did Darwish say he was escorted from campus after trying to meet with Dean of Student Life Rich Sawyer, but later, after visiting the photo exhibition on Palestinian life created by the group Students Crossing Boundaries, he was threatened with arrest by Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch.

Afterwards, “I walked outside and got into the Waltham shuttle to get out of here as fast as I could,” Darwish said. “The police came up to the Waltham shuttle with their sirens on. Two cop cars surrounding [sic] it.” Furthermore, he added, as a member of the Transitional Year Program, Darwish’s suspension has effectively ended his Brandeis career.

The description of the incident given by Darwish was challenged by the other student involved in the fight, who spoke to The Hoot solely on the condition of anonymity. According to the second student, the fist fight stemmed from Darwish’s jealousy over his online communications with a female student. “Around midnight on Thursday, Feb. 14, the female phoned me… and sounded frightened and shaken,” said the student. “She said that she had been out to dinner with Mamoon and he had been constantly accusing her of ‘thinking about someone else’ and had said that he knew she was involved with someone else and that he would ‘find him and hurt him, and hurt you’…as you may have guessed, Mamoon had been hacking into the female’s Facebook account and reading her private messages.”

The second student said soon he was harassed by Darwish, who “called my cell phone and said he wanted to talk, but he suggested that we must talk in person ‘for my safety,’” said the student. “Twenty to 30 minutes later, Mamoon showed up at my dorm room…and began to bang on the door and furiously shake the handle…he yelled threats through the door and repeatedly called my cell phone, trying to hear a ring to determine if I was indeed inside the room.” The student, saying he did not want to be overheard, did not call Public Safety, but instead sent a text-message to his coach, who soon arrived at the scene to calm down Darwish.

Later in the day, the second student said he had spoken with his coach, who wanted to speak with him at the Gosman Gymnasium about the situation. On his way there, he and Darwish crossed paths. “As I approached, I was at a loss of what action to take. He turned around and I took off my hood to expose my face and said, ‘You said you want to talk, let’s talk,’” said the second student. “He responded with… ‘I’ve been looking for you all day,’ grabbed me by the collar of my sweatshirt and landed an unimpeded blow to my right temple…he continued swinging, landing about eight to ten punches.”

Several minutes later, after the fight had ended, the student said he made his way to Gosman, where he was then driven to the Stoneman Center. According to the student, while Darwish was not given medical treatment at Stoneman, he and the student were both driven to the hospital in separate ambulances. Regarding Darwish’s claims of injury, the second student said that “was an outright lie unless he suffers from severe respiratory problems.” Simon Miller ’11, a friend of the student, said “[the second student] had bruises all over his face… he had a black eye and bloody lip.”

“These, of course, were not separate incidents,” concluded the second student. “Instead of confronting [the female student] he…sought me out, threatened me, and then assaulted me the first time he got me in person.”

Students were hesitant to give their opinion on this case, with rumors swirling as administration figures such as Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer, Assistant Director of Student Life Maggie Balch, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan, and Lamarre remained silent due to legal obligations.

Meanwhile, members of the Student Union have risen to Darwish’s defense. “This is a due process issue,” said Union Advocate Brian Paternostro ’08. “Regardless of the circumstances that brought you up to the USBC certain procedures need to be upheld…otherwise you have circumstances where Student Life meets in a room and says we don’t like you so we’re going to get you off campus and by any means necessary they are going to find a way to do that.”

Paternostro, who was told of the case by Cohen, said that Darwish’s case reflected a larger unease on campus. “It does exist within the greater scheme of the year, which is do we trust public safety? Basically that’s what guns boils down to, student arrest boils down to…do we trust Public Safety to be just? To be the enforcer of justice on campus? And do we agree with the type of justice and means of enforcing that justice that public safety uses?”

Furthermore, others questioned the speed with which Darwish was banned from campus. Kundos added that Darwish was told he was not welcome on campus as he was being transported to the police station. “They didn’t wait for the court—they didn’t even wait for the [Waltham] police to decide.”

“The ability to remove a student from campus, under [Rights and Responsibilities Code] 22.2, says that that power is given to the Dean, and the Dean shall appoint a designee who also has that authority—we assume that that is Ed Callahan,” said Paternostro. “I don’t think it’s that Ed can’t do it, it’s because Ed shouldn’t do it…[because] the Office of Student Life consider factors and different evidence than Public Safety. If that’s not being followed because it’s a Saturday night and not 9 to 5, that’s a bigger issue…[because] this is a much more restrictive definition.”

Paternostro added that the Union planned to stage a forum on Monday highlighting this case and others in order to air student grievances with the current system and procedure, as well as to urge the administration to accept the newly-written Student Bill of Rights, which would include the right of evidentiary discovery as well as access to an advisor at all stages of the legal process. “I would say that just the way in real courts when cases are higher profile or have added weight to them because of circumstances there is a higher burden placed on the prosecution,” added Paternostro. “There has to be a higher burden of proof so that we know definitively one way or the other who started that fight, and who should be punished according to that responsibility.”