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Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Accountability must be taken for Omaar Hena situation

Both the university and Hena himself have failed the Wake Forest community by not acknowledging the events of last spring
Evan Harris
No element of the situation involving Dr. Omaar Hena, including the Title IX investigation reported by the Old Gold & Black last spring, has been addressed by the university or Hena.

Since Wake Forest students discovered and publicized Wake Forest English Professor Dr. Omaar Hena’s Reddit, which was filled with explicit videos and photos, Hena has been subject to a lot of unfair criticism. The subreddits Hena was posting on were age-restricted to 18+ accounts, and the communities were designated for sharing and discussing users’ sexual content. He did not violate any boundaries of consent, nor did he break any laws. His account was not monetized, and even if it was, sex work is a perfectly legitimate profession — one that many people turn to because it is their best option for generating a liveable income.

It is also important to remember Hena’s positionality as a queer man of color. Were he a cisheterosexual white man, it is hard for me to imagine that his actions would have received the same level of criticism. While some of the criticism Hena has received is well-argued and reasonable, some is just thinly veiled bigotry. Hena is entitled to the same level of respect and privacy as anyone else on this campus and does not deserve to be shamed for his sexuality. 

With all that being said, I do not believe Hena should return to Wake Forest without first apologizing for his behavior and promising to more effectively compartmentalize his online presence from his professional life moving forward. His conduct both preceding and following the discovery of his Reddit account has violated appropriate student-teacher boundaries, and his status as a tenured professor and expert in his field does not excuse that. And Hena is not the only person at fault here. The university has not once addressed the controversy surrounding Hena and there is no explicit policy regarding his behavior.

When I first heard about Hena’s Reddit, my reaction was not disgust at his sharing of explicit content, but shock that he had shared explicit content in which he was so easily identifiable. If Hena had not publicly shared his Snapchat with other Reddit users and posted content showing his face, he could have preserved his online anonymity. It is likely that students never would have discovered his Reddit account at all, it would not have altered their opinions of him as a professor and he would have never gone on leave in the first place. 

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Professors should be judged solely on their instructional competency, fairness and ability to foster a safe and inclusive learning environment; however, because Hena failed to separate his inappropriate online persona from his professional life — and has not addressed that failure — that kind of judgment is no longer possible on a large scale. 

Whether a student’s opinion of Hena is positive or negative, it will most likely be colored by the controversy surrounding him. It is not fair to expect students to separate their feelings about Hena’s online presence from their assessments of his teaching ability. 

Once Hena’s account was discovered, there are a number of things he could have — and should have — done differently. He should have immediately put his Instagram account on private, rather than waiting until he no longer had a choice. He should not have let students follow him, nor should he have Direct Messaged them. He certainly should not have invited an underage student out for drinks — of all his behavior, this is perhaps what I find the most egregious. 

Also of concern is the Title IX complaint filed against Hena, which the Old Gold & Black learned of from an anonymous source in the English department. It is unknown whether this complaint is related to his online behavior or concerns something else entirely, but it should be taken seriously regardless. Wake Forest has swept far too many Title IX cases under the rug and has not fostered a safe environment for survivors of sexual violence, as evidenced by the results of the 2022 Campus Climate Survey. This cannot continue. 

Additionally, while Hena’s Instagram content was tame in comparison to his Reddit profile, many of his posts and stories were sexually suggestive. One such photo was even taken in his classroom, with the university geotagged. Just as he did on Reddit, Hena failed to create and maintain an appropriate boundary between his personal life and professional life. Again, the issue is not that he was sharing sexual content but that it was shared in a space students could easily access. 

Some might argue that if a student does not support Hena’s behavior or feel comfortable taking a class with him, they can simply choose not to do so. However, due to divisional and major requirements, no student is granted complete freedom in the classes they take. Every first year student has to take a first-year seminar (FYS), and not every student is able to enroll in the seminar of their choice. It is entirely possible that students who do not want Hena as their professor next semester will still have to take his class to fulfill their FYS requirement. 

English majors and minors — or even non-English students fulfilling their Division II requirement — may face a similar dilemma in Fall 2024. While Wake Forest prides itself on providing students with a well-rounded liberal arts education, and that is certainly admirable, students should not have to compromise their personal comfort and safety in order to receive this education. 

University policy is too unclear

It is also worth noting that the university does not have a clearly outlined social media policy for faculty members, just a directive that “Faculty … conduct themselves in a manner consistent with generally accepted standards of conduct and behavior for profession” stated in the most current edition of the faculty handbook. Due to the absence of this policy, Hena may not be wholly responsible for any violation that may have occurred. 

For the benefit of students and professors alike, it would be in the university’s best interest to address this gap by adding a clear social media policy to their faculty handbook, regardless of whether such a policy condemns or absolves Hena’s behavior. While Hena’s behavior is questionable, the university’s failure to address the questions and concerns surrounding this behavior and clarify their policies to students, parents, staff and faculty members is inexcusable. 

This past summer, I had the privilege of student-teaching seventh grade math and psychology. My students were eager to know the details of my personal life, and many of them made repeated efforts to follow me on Instagram and find my TikTok account. Unlike Wake Forest, the non-profit organization (NPO) for which I was working had clear policies prohibiting student-teacher interactions on social media unless we specifically created a separate, classroom-friendly account for engagement with students. We were repeatedly reminded that our students were not our friends, and we should not treat them as such. It would be a lie to say that I always respected these boundaries, although I certainly tried my best. Because I have a little sister who is around the same age as my students were, I sometimes forgot myself and engaged with them the way I would engage with her. However, whenever I realized that I had crossed a line, I always apologized to both my students and my superiors. Hena should be held to the same standard.  

Our situations are not entirely comparable — I am a student in the process of getting my college degree, I do not have a pornographic online presence and I was employed by an NPO, while Hena is an experienced professor with a Ph.D. employed by a private university. However, it would not be difficult for the university to clarify their policies, nor would it be difficult for Hena to apologize for his behavior. In order for Hena to return and for Wake Forest to collectively move beyond the controversy surrounding him, it is necessary that the university clarify their policies and that Hena express remorse for his behavior. 

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About the Contributor
Sophie Guymon, Opinion Editor
Sophie is a junior from the San Francisco Bay Area majoring in psychology with a WGS minor. Outside of the OGB, she is involved on campus as the Student Life Editor for the Howler yearbook and an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta. In her free time, you can find her rewatching the same five Netflix shows because she doesn’t like surprises.

Comments (8)

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  • G

    GDOct 19, 2023 at 5:06 pm

    The assumption that a straight white professor would not see similar scandal, despite this exact scenario causing this exact level of scandal in the past, is absurd to the point of humor.

    I suppose I shouldn’t question an opportune chuckle when one presents itself.

    • S

      StudentOct 21, 2023 at 5:56 am

      Out of genuine curiosity: was that straight white professor allowed to go back to teaching too?

  • A

    AnonymousOct 9, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    An excellent article overall: thank you for the thoughtful attention and clear-eyed assessment of the situation. I am troubled, however, by the certainty that an apology will solve or dissolve the concerns you lay out so clearly. Among the questions yet to be addressed here (along with the question of the status of a Title IX complaint) are the following: 1. What–if anything has the WFU administration done in response to this issue, which has been unfolding over several years; 2. What does the professor himself need (he appears to have become, over time at his Alma Mater, someone who has lost a sense of boundaries and is perhaps eager for inappropriate attention and intimacy): what help has he been given? And 3. Is the leave he has been granted paid: has the time off from teaching been funded by the tuition of the students? How has that leave been spent?

    • S

      Sophie G.Oct 9, 2023 at 8:20 pm

      I’m not saying that an apology would completely absolve him, only that it’s a vital first step — ofc actions speak louder than words and he would have to live up to the apology in order for it to be meaningful

  • W

    Wake StudentOct 6, 2023 at 8:20 pm

    THANK YOU for writing this fair, thoughtful, insightful piece. Dr. Hena’s content isn’t the issue; it’s the fact that he explicitly goaded students into engaging with this content. His judgment was very, very poor, and it is not okay to sweep this problem under the rug.

    • S

      Sophie G.Oct 9, 2023 at 8:22 pm

      thank YOU lol — I’m glad what I wrote has resonated with ppl, I really thought I’d be flamed

  • A

    AnonymousOct 6, 2023 at 11:42 am

    I agree there must be more transparency. And, in view of the current ambiguity regarding the online conduct of the faculty, I also agree faculty policies should be adjusted accordingly. But could we please stop making what seems like a gratuitous association of a person’s identity and sexuality with their unethical behavior? While I am not aware of every opinion that might have been expressed on the issue, I do believe, though, the faculty’s actions are substantial enough to merit criticism. As a faculty of color who also identifies as queer, I refuse to get my identity/sexuality questioned as potential catalysts for unprofessionalism.

  • A

    AnonymousOct 6, 2023 at 9:48 am

    Why does the article mention sex work, is there any evidence that the professor received any monetary gains from those posts? Doesn’t the participation in other sources of income parallel to the full time position a tenured faculty member holds require a signature of approval from the Dean?