Editors Notes: In a previous version of this article, the Daily News failed to clarify that Shaheen Borna's ethnicity was incorrectly perceived by a student in the situation. The article has since been updated.
A Ball State professor issued an apology to his students after having police called on one of them during his class. The incident was not how that student said he wanted to start his final semester.
“I haven’t had the police called on me for throwing parties. I had the police called on me for sitting in class, learning,” said Sultan “Mufasa” Benson. “That’s something I can tell my grandkids one day.”
Benson’s comments came while he reflected on the incident that took place Tuesday morning during Professor Shaheen Borna’s marketing 310 class. Borna called University Police Department (UPD) officers on Benson for not moving seats. The incident was caught on video, posted on social media and currently has more than 140,000 views.
Barstool Ball State, local affiliate of the platform Barstool Sports, posted the video on its Twitter account showing UPD officers arriving to a classroom during class. It shows Borna complaining about a student’s refusal to move seats.
Benson responded to the Twitter post and claimed he was the student in the video.
He said the incident began when he arrived at the classroom in the Whitinger Business Building and found another student sitting in his assigned seat. He said Borna told him to sit in an empty seat at the back of the class. The seat was near an electrical outlet, so Benson plugged in his computer charger.
Halfway through the class, he said, another student sitting in the front row left early, and Borna asked Benson to take that student’s seat. Benson refused because his laptop was still charging.
Borna gave him two options — move to the front-row seat, or he would call UPD. When Benson refused to move again, the professor left the class and returned minutes later.
A student worker, at the request of Borna, made the phone call to UPD, said Kathy Wolf, vice president of marketing and communications at Ball State. Following the call, she said, two UPD officers arrived to the classroom without much information to work with.
“Based on the limited information they had, they believed that there was a student in distress,” Wolf said. “That’s what they had in mind when they responded.”
Benson began recording the scenario on his Instagram Live prior to the officers’ arrival. When the officers arrived, they asked Benson if he was a Ball State student and if he was disrupting class.
Both videos about the incident show other students in the class standing up for Benson and claiming he was not disrupting class. Benson said because the class supported him, he left on his own accord so he wouldn’t escalate the situation.
He spoke with the UPD officers in the hallway, who he said appeared confused about the incident.
Wolf said the officers were able to speak with Benson and offer him suggestions, advice and further steps for him to take.
Benson said he was afraid during the incident because of his perspective of the situation — he is a large, African-American man, and a person he believed to be a white professor called the police on him.
“I’m from the south side of Chicago. I wasn’t supposed to make it to college if [I’m] being honest,” he said. “I made it to college, and I got the police called on me for being in the classroom. It scared me to say the least. You don’t know what’s going to happen in that 20 seconds. If I hadn’t kept my composure, I could’ve been riddled with bullets, tased, beat down, handcuffed — there’s no telling.”
Despite his initial fears of law enforcement and social media comments alleging police use of profanity, Benson said UPD did not use any racial slurs toward him during the incident.
In the email Borna sent to Benson and his marketing class apologizing for the incident, the professor said 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,” he said in the email. “I am sorry that my actions today did not contribute to that.”
Borna has refused to comment any further on the incident.
According to a statement released by Ball State, during such incidents, the university works to understand what happened and how to improve based on what is learned — including talking with those who were involved and putting into place measures that will prevent future situations.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Benson said university administrators had not contacted him.
In an email sent out Thursday morning, Ball State President Geoffrey Mearns said he wishes to meet with Benson to hear his account of the situation.
Also in the email, Mearns said he wants to meet with student and community leaders to get their advice on how Ball State can improve.
On Wednesday, Benson said he met with Russel Wahlers, chair of the marketing department, and was moved to another Marketing 310 class.
After speaking with his family lawyer, Benson said he and his mother are thinking about taking legal action.
Contact Hannah Gunnell with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hagunnellNEWS.
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