art by Eva Sturm-Gross
[originally published November 2021]
As a student of Professor Mahallati for the last three years, I can honestly say the recent investigation into his past has been disheartening and difficult to digest. Professor Mahallati has been a kind, open-minded, welcoming, and sensitive professor over the course of Covid-19 and many other challenges in my life; however, I also recognize this does not necessarily define all of his behavior. Provided the evidence and that he is teaching the two courses I have with him from afar this semester, I am genuinely disappointed by the mounting reality of the claims made against him.
I have been disappointed witnessing the shift in his teaching this semester, possibly as a result of the accusations against him. Teaching at odd hours in Shiraz, Iran, he is often disconnected in class and less engaged. The courses feel overall distant and a bit disorganized, and it's clear the changes in his life are affecting him both personally and professionally.
As a person, I am struggling to digest his teachings on forgiveness and friendship, themes prominent in all his courses, given his likely history. While I value his work and ideas, my ability to absorb them and consider them has been greatly hindered by the knowledge of the accusations against him, and I often wonder if his work and message is motivated by his past. Other students I talk to feel the same: how much of this can we take as lessons if we do not know how much he truly values it either? Additionally, as a student, I struggle beyond just absorbing his lessons; since he is the only professor of Islam religious studies, my particular focus and degree is dependent on him, and while I want justice, I also fear his removal. I find myself torn between my need for him to be at Oberlin and my recognition that, in not boycotting his classes or actively protesting, I am potentially part of the problem. I also struggle to overcome my own personal biases of how I know him. It is easy to enter into denial when he seems such a kind, generous person, and I often find myself wanting to defend him, despite the mounting evidence.
Overall, the situation is not easy. More than anything, I do want justice, but as a personal acquaintance and student of his, I often struggle to fully process the situation and bypass my own wants, needs, and perceptions. Regardless of my own situation, the college must conduct a more significant investigation and more seriously consider the allegations against him. We all attend this college for a reason, and for the administration to not actively ensure that justice and growth are at the heart of this campus is concerning.