Some UCLA students said they think repeated protests against a professor accused of sexual assault are negatively impacting their education.
History professor Gabriel Piterberg’s class was dismissed about halfway through lecture Wednesday morning when protesters refused to leave the classroom, said UCLA spokesperson Tod Tamberg.
The university settled a sexual assault lawsuit brought by two of Piterberg’s female graduate students in 2016, which required Piterberg to attend sexual harassment training and forced him to resign as director of the Center for Near Eastern Studies.
Piterberg has cancelled or dismissed several of his lectures early at the suggestion of administration after protesters in classrooms stood up in the middle of class and held up signs.
The protesters, who sat in the first row of the classroom, stood up holding posters 10 minutes into the lesson, said Viola Ardeni, a member of Bruins Against Sexual Harassment.
Ardeni, a graduate student in Italian, said the protesters inside the classroom were silent and nonviolent. She added some students were aggressive toward protesters when they attempted to enter the classroom.
“Inside the classroom, the students told the protesters that they had no morals, no logic and that the police should arrest them,” Ardeni said.
Tamberg said there were no arrests or detentions at Wednesday’s protest. Police asked protesters inside the classroom to give identification and disclose their names. Tamberg said police forwarded protesters’ information to the dean of students for review.
Ardeni said administration staff, a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild and police were inside the classroom during the protest. Another legal observer and more police were stationed outside the Broad Art Center, where the protesters chanted and used a bullhorn.
Sage Yonaty, a third-year Middle Eastern studies student, said he found the protesters’ actions disruptive. Several other students declined to speak on the record for fear of harassment from protesters.
“We’re not against anybody’s right to protest, because we respect that law,” Yonaty said. “If it was the other way around – if we had an issue that needed to be heard – we wouldn’t want people to withhold us of our rights. The issue is we’re here first and foremost to learn.”
Yonaty said Piterberg’s class, History 105A: “Survey of Middle East, 500 to Present: 500 to 1300,” is an important class for both his major and his personal interest in his own culture.
“(It’s) also a heritage thing; some want to learn more about the Middle East because that’s where (their) families are from; it’s not a random elective class,” Yonaty said.
Yonaty said he discussed his concerns with some of the students leading the protest. He suggested the protesters consider moving to more public locations such as Ackerman Student Union. The protester told him that would not be possible, he said.
“They said, ‘We’re sorry if we are disrupting you guys, but our cause has moral higher grounds,’” Yonaty said.
Yonaty said he thinks the protests’ outside noise and posters distracted the students, and some protesters specifically enrolled in the class to take away spots from students interested in taking the Middle Eastern history class. Yonaty said the class is not always offered every quarter and can impact students’ ability to satisfy major requirements.
“If they’re taking up spots for students who want to learn, that’s not very morally just,” Yonaty said.
Ardeni said she apologizes for the inconvenience the protest may have caused for students, but added BASH was trying to elicit a response from the university on Piterberg. BASH created a list of demands for the university, including that Piterberg resign and changes in the university’s current Title IX sexual harassment policy.
She added the organizations protesting have not yet decided whether there will be future protests outside Piterberg’s classrooms.
Contributing reports by Allison Ong and Dina Stumpf, Daily Bruin staff.