Chakma: Attack serves as a reminder work remains

Condemning the downtown London attack on Western student Mohammad Sharifi in the “strongest possible terms,” Western President Amit Chakma called on the university community to continue working toward a more inclusive institution and, in turn, society.

“This is an important occasion to remind ourselves of, and to reiterate Western’s steadfast commitment to, the ideals of diversity, inclusivity and respect,” Chakma told university Senate Friday afternoon. “It goes without saying, but it bears repeating in clear terms, that such despicable behavior, motivated by racism and hate, has no place on our campus or in our society.

“We have come a long way in building an inclusive society in Canada, but incidents such as this should remind us all that we still have much work to do.”

On Saturday, May 28, Sharifi, an English and Writing Studies PhD student, was physically assaulted by two men as he and his girlfriend sat outside the Covent Garden Market in downtown London around 8 p.m., according to London Police Service investigators.

According to CBC News, the men approached Sharifi, who is from Iran, and allegedly called him an Arab and told him to go back to his country. Sharifi said one man then punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Both men continued to hit Sharifi in the face.

London Police later arrested Blaire Gibson, 24, and Justin Smart, 24, both of London, and charged them with assault in relation to the incident. According to police officials, the incident is also being reviewed by hate crime officers “as it has elements of a hate/bias motivated offence.”

Originally from Tehran, Sharifi has been a member of the English and Writing Studies program since he began his PhD in 2012. He is currently writing a dissertation on the grotesque and 20th-century American novels.

In a letter to his department, English and Writing Studies Chair Bryce Traister reaffirmed “our community’s commitment to an ethic of inclusivity, welcome and recognition of difference.”

He continued, “Mo Sharifi continues to be a valued and respected colleague, scholar and friend of Western English and Writing. We honour the real courage and human grace he has shown in the face of his assailants’ failed attempt to diminish him. We stand with him today.”

Sharifi continues to recover from his injuries.

Chakma told Senate the university owes it to the community to reach out and have conversations on building an inclusive environment.

“It would be easy to consider this incident an isolated one. However, recent experiences have shown it is not,” the president said. “We all have much work to do to shine light on the shortcomings of our community and work harder in our own spheres to make our community more inclusive. Let us rekindle that spirit of humanity and generosity this community, and others, have shown in recent time welcoming Syrian refugees.

“But not dealing with the issue is not a way to solve the problems.”