UMCG threatens to ban student
Stalker or victim?
The messages in her inbox paint a clear picture. There are emails from her lecturers. Letters from the exam committee. Letters from the Board of Appeal for Examinations. Letters from the dean of medical sciences Marian Joëls. Letters from the legal department. And finally, letters from the UMCG’s lawyers.
If Marwa Mejalad doesn’t stop bombarding people at her department with emails and letters – in other words, stalking – the UMCG will take legal action and apply for a restraining order. Marwa isn’t allowed inside the UMCG, unless it’s for medical help. She will only be allowed to continue her studies after a cooling-off period of six months.
Marwa’s answer is short. ‘If you feel that I should see the error of my ways, you’d better start substantive proceedings and bring streamers’, she writes the lawyer.
What’s going on?
The department contends that Marwa’s behaviour is unacceptable. What that behaviour exactly entails, the daily board at the Centre for Dentistry and Oral Care won’t say. ‘To protect her right to privacy.’ ‘What we can tell you is that miss Mejalad’s behaviour unfortunately led to us banning her from UMCG property for now.’
They labelled me as nuts
Marwa was conditionally suspended from her programme because of exam fraud. She appealed the decision to the Board of Appeal for Examinations, but the board upheld it. And while her suspension has been lifted, she’s still bombarding people from her department with e-mails. Enough is enough, says the UMCG. That’s why they’re threatening legal action in the form of injunction proceedings.
Marwa says she’s being bullied and sabotaged. There is no conflict, she says: the department is unjustly preventing her from studying. It’s not her fault. She’s the victim, pure and simple.
How did it ever come to this?
From the very start of her studies, Marwa felt like something was wrong, she says. She was enjoying the programme and got along with her fellow students. But her relationship with some of her lecturers wasn’t great. She felt bullied. ‘There were these sneaky things I could never really get them on.’
There was a fuss concerning the course on ‘professional behaviour’. Nearly all the other students received great feedback, but she was always doing something wrong. ‘I started to see a pattern emerge.’ There was also her first-year practical course, where she had to drill a hole. She aced the test, she says, but her lecturer failed her for ‘other reasons’. ‘Those were just excuses’, she says.
She saw it happen again during her resit, and then once during the resit for that resit. Lecturers want her to fail, she says. But how does she know? ‘Intuition, I guess. They’re turning me into a project, trying to label me as nuts, off my rocker.’
Things started to get really out of hand during the pandemic. Tests were moved online, and Marwa didn’t feel comfortable with that. She was made to log in on time, switch on her webcam so invigilators could keep an eye on her, and keep her eyes focused on her computer screen. She admits that she was late, repeatedly. She also admits that she switched on her webcam too late, repeatedly.
But these things were understandable, she feels. ‘There’s so much unwanted negativity there. It was only natural that I was stalling for time.’ Besides, she never needed the whole two hours for a test, so why be on time?
They’re all in on it together
The cameras got on her nerves. ‘I feel watched’, she says. And she was being watched, something she realised when she received a warning not to move her eyes so much. She responded to the warning in the group chat: ‘How authoritarian.’ That may not have been the smartest move, as she was reported for being ‘inappropriate’.
These ‘irregularities’ happened during four more exams, and the whole thing ended with her being reported to the exam committee for cheating. Her exams were declared invalid, she was put on conditional suspension, and made to require direct supervision during any exams that followed. The committee felt she got off light, since ‘students were already suffering due to the pandemic’.
But she says it wasn’t fair. There was no cheating, and no intention to. Who cares if you’re a little late? Marwa’s appeal to the Board of Appeal for Examinations was denied. She’s learned from the experience, she says. ‘They’re all in on it together.’
But the biggest problem she’s facing is that she wants to finish her studies and graduate. Nearly two years after her first exam, she’s got no further.
When she reported to the faculty to sit an exam in person, like the exam committee had instructed her to do, her lecturer seemed to think she was supposed to be at the Aletta Jacobs hall. Marwa wanted to take her exam. Her lecturer wanted to leave and called security when Marwa refused. ‘In the meantime, she went out into the hallway, crying. Not because I’d done anything wrong, but because she was being confronted with her own actions.’
After that, Marwa continued to write e-mails. Her lecturers considered it harassment, but she takes a different view. ‘My attitude is always positive and practical, she says.
This year, she wasn’t even assigned to a class, which means she can’t finish her studies. She wants an action plan and demands a meeting on it. She wants what she’s ‘entitled’ to, she says.
Dean Marian Joëls became involved in the matter. The head of the UG’s legal department became involved in the matter, too. They want her to cool off for six months, after which she’ll be allowed to continue her studies in September. ‘We hope that’s enough to ensure that everything goes back to normal’, says UMCG press officer Joost Wessels.
But Marwa doesn’t want to cool down; she doesn’t need to. ‘I’m so cold I’m frozen.’
Things like these don’t just happen
UMCG press officer
But then the UMCG’s lawyers contacted her, saying they would start injunction proceedings if she kept going. Marwa wouldn’t even mind that all that much, since it would put the case before an impartial judge. ‘I think I could get a lot out of that.’
She’s also sent multiple emails to the lawyer. ‘I’ve noticed that in your messages, you’re blind to the things that are there while referring to things that don’t exist’, she wrote him. ‘The only thing I can conclude from your messages is simple: you’ve got a screw loose.’
Is nothing her fault? After all, it’s rare for a department to ban a student. Press officer Wessels has been with the UMCG for a while, but he’s never seen anything like it. ‘Things like these don’t just happen.’
Marwa shrugs. ‘My attitude plays a big role’, she admits. ‘I know I need to change, but knowing something and realising it are two different things. It’s really weird. Knowing something, but not feeling it. Besides, I don’t feel like I should be walking around pleasing people just so they don’t think I’m “threatening”.’
Even then, she says, the consequences for her are disproportional. ‘I’m fully aware that I might be too much for some people. But I can’t help that.’
The UMCG has been non-committal. Wessels: ‘It’s an accumulation of things that took place over a long period of time that ultimately led to the department’s daily board seeing no other way out.’