English Department course plan shows Dr. Omaar Hena will return to classroom

Hena, who was placed on leave suddenly last semester, is scheduled to teach three first-year seminars.
English Department course plan shows Dr. Omaar Hena will return to classroom

An English professor is scheduled to return to the classroom next semester after going on leave in the middle of the Spring 2023 semester following a Title IX complaint filed against him. 

Dr. Omaar Hena, whose public, pornographic online presence became the talk of campus last spring, is slated to teach three first-year seminars next semester, according to a Department of English course planning document obtained by the Old Gold & Black. Spring courses will not be posted on Banner until Oct. 20, according to the University Registrar calendar

When asked to confirm if Hena will be teaching next semester, Dr. Jeff Holdridge, chair of the Department of English, said he is not allowed to comment on personnel issues. For the same reason, Dr. Anthony Marsh, senior associate dean of faculty and interim dean of the college last semester, and current Dean of the College Dr. Jackie Krasas both declined to comment on Hena’s return. Stephanie Hudson, assistant director of provost communications, said that Provost Dr. Michele Gillespie could also not comment on personnel issues. 

Hena did not respond to the Old Gold & Black’s repeated requests for an interview both last spring and within the last week. 

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If Hena teaches first-year seminars next semester, it will be his “Globalization and Culture” seminar, one he has taught in the past. Dr. Lisa Blee, a professor of history and co-chair of the First-Year Seminar Committee, said that the committee had not received a proposal from the English department for a new seminar next semester. New first-year seminars can only be taught if they’ve been approved by the committee. 

Dr. Judith Madera, associate chair of the English department, said she has not been privy to any conversations about Hena’s return and does not know if there have been any. The Old Gold & Black also contacted a few English faculty members, who all either declined to comment or did not return the request. 

Hena went on leave in the middle of last semester after a Title IX complaint was filed against him and photos of himself, which ranged from sexually suggestive to explicit, that he posted on Reddit and Instagram were discovered by students and circulated on the anonymous social media app Fizz. 

The Old Gold & Black learned of the Title IX complaint in Spring 2023 through an anonymous source in the English department, who did not respond to recent requests for an update on the investigation. It is unknown if the complaint was connected with Hena’s online behavior or whether that complaint was related to his leave of absence. The details of a Title IX report, which could cover anything from sexual harassment to assault, remain confidential from the time it’s submitted until it is resolved, according to Wake Forest’s Title IX policy

An email sent to Hena’s students by Holdridge last February gave no explanation for his leave, and Hena’s courses were picked up by his colleagues. 


Students react to Hena’s return

Hena’s online behavior has made students question what is and is not acceptable for professors to do online, especially on accounts that students follow. 

Junior English major Elisabeth Rollins said that Hena should be free to post the content he does, but not on accounts with which students interact. She knows students who would be uncomfortable in his classes, knowing the content he posts online. 

“I personally would be comfortable with [Hena teaching], but I know a lot of people that wouldn’t be,” Rollins said.  

Senior English major Megan Tibe expressed concern that Hena would be returning to a classroom full of first-year students who are not in the English major and were not on campus last semester to hear about Hena’s online presence or the Title IX complaint.   

“As someone who is very passionate about my English major, I know that if I knew an English professor who made me feel uncomfortable, that could deter me from pursuing that major,” Tibe said. “Just the thought of…a freshman with less choice and less familiarity with what happened [being in his class], I guess that’s slightly concerning to me.”

Tibe said she would be hesitant to take a class with Hena. 

“I would struggle to take him seriously, and I would struggle to walk into class every day with the knowledge that he did what he did,” she said.

The planning document indicates that Hena, who is not teaching this semester, will resume teaching English courses in Fall 2024. 


Wake Forest’s policies

Wake Forest does not have a clearly outlined social media policy in its faculty handbook. While the handbook makes it clear that sexual relationships between students and faculty are prohibited, the handbook contains no provisions about acceptable online behavior. 

If Hena did violate university policy with his online presence, it is likely a violation of this statement: “Faculty are expected to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with generally accepted standards of conduct and behavior for the profession.”

Chemistry professor Dr. Jes Bolduc told the Old Gold & Black that the university should take the Title IX complaint seriously, but they also expressed concern about the reaction to Hena being placed on leave and the lack of clear communication from the university about the situation. 

Bolduc said they were especially concerned with how broadly “inappropriate” behavior can be defined, especially pertaining to queer culture, as it relates to a professor’s conduct outside of the classroom and the impact that might have on a professor’s reputation in the classroom. 

“The reaction to Professor Hena…created a concerning precedent that what we do outside of our work could potentially paint our interactions with students in a different, predatory way…” Bolduc said. 

Bolduc also cautioned against overstating the harm of posting “adult-natured” content online. 

“I…hope that we can create an environment where we show students that not everything that makes them uncomfortable is necessarily violent towards them,” Bolduc said. “And that just because [something] makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean that it’s harmful. You have agency to walk away or look away or unfollow.”


Hena’s online presence — and the online reaction 

The Fizz posts last spring referred to photos and videos Hena posted of himself on Instagram and Reddit, which ranged from photographs of him shirtless to videos of him fully naked and masturbating. Hena has since deleted his Reddit account, and the images and videos are no longer available. His Instagram account switched to private after his posts swept Fizz last semester, and it is still private today. 

Last semester, student responses to Hena’s abrupt leave of absence varied from feeling upset to ambivalent to relieved. Some students showed their support for Hena on Fizz with posts like “F*ck y’all for getting Omaar Hena fired. Even though he posts heinous things, it’s his choice, and he was by far the best professor I’ve had at this school.” 

Others found his online presence inappropriate, like this user on Rate My Professors who gave Hena a 1 out of 5, the lowest possible score, and commented “@omaarcomin Very inappropriate Instagram.” @omaarcomin was his old Instagram handle, and it has since changed. 

Fizz posts about Hena have subsided since the Old Gold & Black published its first article about Hena in late April. There have been three posts about Hena on Fizz in the past three weeks. One reads: “Bring back Omaar Hena!!! I need to spice up my life (fire emoji).” 

Another reads “Omaar Hena 2.0,” quoting another post that describes a professor making a student uncomfortable by casually texting them. Because Fizz is anonymous, the Old Gold & Black has no further details on this other student-professor interaction nor does it have confirmation that it even happened. 

Another one posted last week blames Hena for Wake Forest’s drop in the U.S. News & World Report college rankings. The university’s decline in the rankings has nothing to do with Hena’s actions. U.S. News considers aggregate data, not individual events.  

Hena, a tenured professor, is an undergraduate alumnus and has taught for more than 15 years at Wake Forest. His scholarship focuses on postcolonial literature, globalization and the history of critical theory. He has also served as an adviser in the English graduate program. 

Daniel Parolini contributed reporting to this article.

The Old Gold & Black will continue reporting on this developing story.

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  • A

    anonymousSep 27, 2023 at 4:40 pm

    i aint wanna hear shit from professor jes bolduc who compared omaar hena to emmett till in the comments of the last article lol please get real

    • J

      Jes BolducSep 28, 2023 at 7:17 pm

      i apologise for that. i was coming from a perspective related to the immense violence ppl experience at the intersection of race, queerness, and participation in sex work and i expressed myself poorly. it was out of pocket. again, i apologise.

  • H

    HankSep 26, 2023 at 6:20 pm

    It’s possible to have all kinds of quirky quiddities and still maintain a clear intelligence, maybe even more clear. But a habit of masturbating online while texting students about their “queer energy” and inviting them out for drinks suggest a troubling social incontinence that warrants further though kindly intervention by friends, colleagues or even the provost. Certainly were I to experience similar compulsions, I would explore social ecologies outside the one in which it started—maybe the opposite of where it started. Re-socialization, so to speak, from the bottom up. Did the provost consider: a probationary sabbatical to teach full-time in a prison for a few years? Given the facts of the case, this could well be among the most humane and restorative solutions for all concerned.

  • S

    Shocked studentSep 25, 2023 at 7:41 pm

    Good job! Next semester we should consider a FYS taught by Russell Brand!

    • W

      who caresSep 25, 2023 at 9:34 pm

      Maybe the rankings went down because some of us clearly can’t read. He didn’t assault anyone. Did you miss that?
      Do you think anyone who has made porn should be banished from higher ed? Just say you’re a SWERF and go.
      And yes, a FYS, you know, the classes students can choose from many different options in terms of who is teaching and content….

      • A

        A studentSep 26, 2023 at 9:44 am

        I do not think anybody who makes porn should be banned from higher ed. I do think, however, a professor who makes porn that is accessible to students while interacting also with them on that same platform maybe -just maybe- has chosen the wrong path. So this could turn into an opportunity to pursue his dream career instead.

  • A

    A studentSep 25, 2023 at 6:03 pm

    Is this a strategy to boost the rankings? I have a feeling it might backfire…

  • A

    AnonymousSep 25, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    And FYS, no less! so, after he invites underage students to drink and exposes his genitalia in a porn video, now he is asked to teach first-year students. This makes no sense at all. What a TERRIBLE mistake. The same hypocrisy that his colleagues exhibited knowing for 7 years what he was posting without calling him out. I am sure the parents are going to be very satisfied with this decision. Good luck!

    • M

      MaggieSep 25, 2023 at 7:38 pm

      You clearly did not read the article. After investigation and the word of former students, he was proven to NOT be a predator. Check your biases. Such an inflammatory and hateful comment about someone who’s been through so much. This is the first time I’ve read about this and I’m curious how you can be so willing to jump to conclusions over a stranger

      • H

        HaileySep 25, 2023 at 8:48 pm

        While I have nothing personal about this professor, this is not the first news I read about this and I honestly have some concern as this could set precedent on the online discretion of both students and employees. Since you read the article, you will notice not everybody is comfortable and feels safe with the decision. Maybe he is not a predator, but how professional that behavior is, I don’t know. Not my role model.

      • A

        AnonymousSep 26, 2023 at 8:59 am

        I did read the article but apparently you just read what you wanted as there is absolutely no evidence in it that he was proven a predator or not a predator. There is only an opinion, by a professor whose relationship to the case is not clear, while the English faculty have not made any comments. Any other information remains confidential so maybe you are the one who is biased.