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UW professor faces controversy over years-old Facebook post

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UW professor faces controversy over years-old Facebook post

A petition calling for the termination of a Near Eastern languages and civilization (NELC) assistant professor had gathered nearly 900 signatures as of Monday.

The petition was created by an Arab student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, who came across Dr. Hadar Khazzam-Horovitz’s public social media profiles earlier this year.

Wanting to learn more about the cultures and history of the Middle East, the student found a class taught by Khazzam-Horovitz. They planned on taking it, since she had good ratings, then they found her public Facebook account. 

The student scrolled through Khazzam-Horovitz’s public account and found a post from 2012. 

The post contained two images. The photo on the left was labeled “Brave Jewish Mom” and showed a Jewish mother protecting her child by using her own body as a shield. On the right, a second photo labeled “Brave Arab Mom” showed an Arab woman appearing to strap weaponry onto her child. Along with the weapons, the child is wearing a ski mask and a keffiyeh. The bottom of the photo reads, “Whose side are YOU on?” 

Finding the post offensive, the student decided to report it. 

“That is not a political view, that is not a different perspective,” the student said. “That is you expressing your racism.” 

The student was concerned since Khazzam-Horovitz taught and continues to teach a history course on the Middle East. 

“You know how culture and history courses work,” they said. “The instructor mainly shapes the curriculum or their views dominate the material.” 

Using the UW Bias Incident Reporting Tool, the student reported the post April 9. The advisory committee said Khazzam-Horovitz was unaware of her social media post and told the student to contact Dr. Selim Sirri Kuru, the chair of the NELC department. 

A few days after their initial report to the Bias Incident Advisory Committee, the student noticed Khazzam-Horovitz removed all posts and modified her account. 

A week after the original report, the student decided to get in contact with Dr. Denise Dudzinski, professor and chair of the department of bioethics & humanities. Shortly after, the student received an email from Sirri Kuru and an apology letter from Khazzam-Horovitz where she apologized for the post and said she does not remember posting it. 

“I wanted to write my sincere apology for sharing this Facebook post over eight years ago,” Khazzam-Horovitz wrote in the email to the student. “I do not remember posting this terrible post and seeing this now horrifies me as it does not represent my values or my world view.”

The student did not accept Khazzam-Horovitz’s apology, saying they were “not convinced of any change.” 

They took screenshots of her account and the post to show how Khazzam-Horovitz modified the account after they reported the post, while the matter was still under investigation. 

“She didn't give one honest justification since the start,” the student said. “No, she is trying to adjust her explanation.” 

They met with Sirri Kuru to discuss this incident, expressing their demands to take action against Khazzam-Horovitz through suspension or termination. 

Frustrated with the department’s handling of the situation, the student created a petition calling for the termination of Khazzam-Horovitz. 

Khazzam-Horovitz sent the apology she wrote to the student as an official statement.

“I have always fought against racism or discrimination of any kind, and this 2012 post does not reflect my opinions and teaching,” she wrote in the email. 

Sirri Kuru said the NELC department condemned the post, calling it offensive, but acknowledged Khazzam-Horovitz’s apology. 

“The Department, once alerted to the post, agreed it was offensive and condemned the post unequivocally,” Sirri Kuru wrote in an email. “Dr. Khazzam Horovitz also recognized that it was unacceptable, removed it, issued a written apology, and offered to meet the student.”

In an email statement, Robert Stacey, the dean of the College of Arts & Science, said he does not intend to pursue the matter

“I am not going to defend the post, which dates from 2012. It is not defensible, either in 2012 or now,” Stacey said. “Professor Khazzam-Horovitz has admitted placing the post on her Facebook account.” 

The case has been transferred to the University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (UCIRO), which investigates whether a UW employee has violated university non-discrimination or non-retaliation policies. 

UCIRO declined to comment on the issue.

From their perspective, the only adequate action the student said they received was through Dudzinski’s assistance to connect them to Sirri Kuru and Khazzam-Horovitz, and ceasing to offer Khazzam-Horovitz’s course —  Bioethics: Secular and Jewish Perspectives — until issues were addressed. 

Dudzinski also declined to comment on this story. 

“If there's no accountability, there's nothing to fear,” the student said. “There is nothing to restrict them, [nothing] to hold them accountable.” 

Reach reporter Jadenne Radoc Cabahug at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @jadennecabahug

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(8) comments

Uchiki

As I read the comments and the professor’s apology, I like to bring light to the fact that when you offend someone, only they can determine what is enough action to be trusted or forgiven. If I as a black man saw a post of a white child and a black child and the black child was being strapped up, I wouldn’t forgive after a simple apology. There needs and has to be real accountability when actions like these are taken especially when you are a professor in that field. I can’t say people don’t change but I can say that sometimes an apology doesn’t cut it and the disproportionate power between thus prof. and student is enough to believe that this student feels like more should be done. I hope the prof. can take a suspension with community service and clear activism work and possibly write a reflection on her experience to prove that they have learned. Apologies aren’t always proof of learning and there’s no need to explain that, all we can ask is that more effort is put into assuring that the student is comfortable and that the professor learns something.

SushiDeliveryGuy

Uchiki,

You are right the post was wrong, and that it is up to the offended when to accept the apology. But is this about power or letting someone learn from their mistakes? Part of having someone improve is also having them save face. I suspect the professor will be more sensitive to stuff she posts online because she had to go to one of these interventions, the student is trying to escalate, a university newspaper is drawing attention to the issue, and her reputation is probably damaged.

The student scrolled through the entire feed and found one dumb post dating back to 2012. I doubt the professor is as racist as you think she is, as this is more like some Facebook mom trying to a resolve a conflict. Trying to bring in random people to force her to do something will only breed resentment, not cooperation.

Uchiki

You ask a great question, but I think this is actually about trust. Can this student trust the professors apology, can they trust the school for hiring this professor into that dept. knowing they posted that? Imagine the effect those views had on the students of 2008-20whenever they changed? Is there accountability for those actions and can the student really trust that the professor changed views out of their own guilt or was it because they were caught? Saving face is not what forgiveness and accountability looks like, in my opinion. I think that’s grace and mercy but not forgiveness. The student was smarter than most of us and smarter than the university for finding that type of content and holding the professor accountable in my opinion. I’m sure there was opportunity for the professor to look at their memories and correct their mistake as I have had to do in the past but I’m only 20 so I mean, eh, but still. Racism is not about how you see yourself but it’s about how you treat others and how they perceive that. I think true accountability is the professor asking the school for a leave of absence and taking time to reflect and write out what they have learned, public donations to mutual aid, doing the groundwork to make up for their mistakes instead of being bitter that a student found their flaw. If they truly wanted to own up, I think they would do their best to be uncomfortable because that’s how you earn respect and forgiveness in my eyes. It’s like if a defendant went to court and told the victim what they’re punishment should be and getting mad when the victim says no I need more if I’m going to forgive you. Both student and prof. have motives for revenge or peace it’s about who convinces everyone else that they’re looking for the latter ☺️

Husky3820

I do not know who needs to hear this, but if you find really good rating about a professor for a class you are interested in, you don't just randomly think to go and scroll through almost a decade of posts on their social media account - you just take the class. This student clearly had malicious intentions! The fact that this professor apologized, took down the post, and agreed to meet with the student in order to resolve the issue means a lot. Another thing... he cannot speak on the "condition of anonymity out of fear for their [his' safety" if he continuously posts this and admits to doing so on his public social media account. At this point, this seems like harassment towards the professor now.

theguywhoreadsthings

I don’t think it’s fair to be de-legitimizing the intentions of the student involved here. Having seen the post, it’s difficult for anyone to say that an Arab student should simply accept what the professor has said, when it’s clear these stereotypes are still so pervasive in the world today. My friends would not put Arabic, a language of their families’ homes, in their social bios for years, out of fear of being called a terrorist. In New York, for years in to the 21st century having Al-Jazeera on the television, or speaking out politically as an Arab were considered violations of a code that permitted constantly increasing government surveillance. Free speech means dealing with the consequences of your actions, and while the professional future of the professor is still up in the air, we should understand it to be a legitimate question of whether she should stay employed.

husky9821

Ah yes, cancel culture making its way into the academic setting. Because people can't admit prior ignorance and educate themselves over the course of 8 years. As another commenter said, the political climate 8 years ago was entirely different from now. But people who like to scroll 8 years back on a professors social media profile intentionally looking for something to be mad about clearly wouldn't understand that.

TheDon

8 years ago, this lady was in her 30s living in a state where racism towards Arabs in all too relevant. UW has seen time after time again instances of letting professors off loose for the sake of them working at UW and this eases pressure on all faculty for following guidelines. UW is known for being non-discriminatory (as they say), but will not acknowledge the CLEAR racism behind her posts. She was not a child or a teen, but a full on adult. This is unacceptable. Search up the climate of what’s going on towards Palestinians and Arabs today and you will realize that this is should be called out as it is - hate speech. This is from a professor working at NEAR EAST, truly disgusting and nothing but abolition from her position is acceptable.

SushiDeliveryGuy

The professor gave an apology for something that happened 8 years ago, took down the post, and tried to reconcile with the student. And the student still did not believe the professor had changed?

2012 was a different political landscape than it is today, and a lot can happen in 8 years. I hope the student can be more forgiving in the future and understand that tons of people change their opinions over time.

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