Update: A statement regarding the incident from UCI Vice Chancellor Parham can be read here.
More than two dozen members of UCI’s Muslim community held a demonstration at ASUCI’s Legislative Council meeting Tuesday night to call for the impeachment of ASUCI Councilmember and Vice-President of UCI’s College Republicans, Gevorg “George” Novshadyan over a series of Islamophobic Facebook posts he made public earlier this week, which several students referred to as “hate speech.”
Members of UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union (MSU) and attendees from the Irvine community held signs reading “Let’s Talk About George” and “Say it loud and clear, Islamophobes are not welcome here” during the meeting in Student Center. Novshadyan, ASUCI’s student representative for the Paul Merage School of Business, was reprimanded alongside members of UCI Young Americans for Liberty including their president, Alana Voechting, and a member of UCI Associated Graduate Students for his public Facebook messages regarding an upcoming social event for politically-affiliated campus clubs.
“Remember to pray at least five times before the party and refrain from eating the entire day. Allah is most High and Merciful, and the Prophet Muhammad shall grant us eternal Glory, Peace Be Upon Him,” read Novshadyan’s first post. “Plus, not eating will help you get drunk faster and easier. It is time to cleanse your heathen souls from heresy. Allahu Akbar! #AnteatersforIslamicPreteenAnalCoitus #UnitedinSavagingAllah.” Alana Voechting, President of UCI Young Americans for Liberty, liked the post.
“Bring your burkas everybody,” shared Cole Hubbard, a chairman on Young Americans for Liberty, in another post.
Tyler Walker, whom Novshadyan referred to as a “friend” during the legislative council meeting, responded to fourth-year student Manisha Priyadarshini, who was the first to post her objections in the message chain.
“Lmao some one [sic] is really butt hurt today,” wrote Walker. “Your religion is a joke, and Muhammad is a pedophile. Hope that stings, lmao.”
Finally, Nick Gallo, an Associated Graduate Students representative, wrote, “We all jump out from behind the wall clothed in Islamic garb, the women in burkas, screaming Allu akhbar [sic] and chase him out.”
Novshadyan remained silent throughout the Legislative Council meeting as more than a dozen Muslim students, allies and community members stated their outrage at the messages and called for Novshadyan’s impeachment or resignation.
“As long as you’re a representative of any sort of Student Life and Leadership club on campus, your behavior is under scrutiny on and off campus,” said Priyadarshini, a computer science and engineering major. “You’re representing UCI and its students, and you are not representing them well, because you are making a joke out of them and discriminating against them. We need people like you to understand that there are consequences for the promotion of violence against marginalized bodies.”
UCI’s MSU President, Hayder Chaudhery, called for Novshadyan’s impeachment, and asked administration to make a note of the incident on his record for future employers.
“Tell me, as someone who’s running for President of the UCI Republicans next year, how can your organization stand for this?” Chaudhery asked Novshadyan. “How are you upholding Student Life and Leadership values? How are you upholding Legislative Council values?”
One of Novshadyan’s constituents, Muslim business student Hafsah Lakhany, argued that the Facebook posts contradict the values of inclusion promoted by UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business.
“As a student of business who is representing other business administration students on campus, who’s fostering such a blatant degree of intolerance, of obscene bigotry… it’s just so disheartening and so explicitly deplorable,” said Lakhany. “I sincerely hope you no longer have the privilege of representing one of the most accredited sets of students on campus.”
A 17-year-old Muslim senior from University High School took the stand to say that UCI is currently his top choice school, but “if [Novshadyan] is elected to represent the council, to represent the school, then I would really reconsider going to UCI.”
Nick Gallo, one of the original contributors to the Facebook comment thread, said that he skipped a meeting with Associated Graduate Students to defend Novshadyan in front of the council.
“I’m surprised this got so out of hand,” said Gallo. “We just live in a culture where people mock each other, they make jokes — ‘Saturday Night Live’ made an entire skit about Donald Trump this week, saying that all of his supporters are Neo-Nazis and KKK, racists and anti-Latino … is that not a stereotype too? The hashtag that George put up was just a joke about the militant politically-correct culture we’re seeing right here.”
ASUCI President Parshan Khosravi then expressed his support for the MSU demonstration, and addressed Gallo directly.
“I’m sorry that everyone had to hear that,” said Khosravi. “It seems like you have another council meeting to attend, so why don’t you go to Associated Graduate Students and attend theirs?”
“Do you really think it’s okay to think in such a bigoted way?” continued Khosravi. “This isn’t even about free speech or political correctness — do you really think it’s okay to even think that way? It’s not just about the speech, it’s about the mentality. I respectfully ask, go to Associated Graduate Students and attend your meeting there, and stop disrespecting everybody here.”
Novshadyan himself then took the stand to apologize for the messages, which he defended as a “lighthearted … bad, gruesome” joke. He refused to resign, but said that he would accept his impeachment if the Legislative Council approved it. He left the meeting before council proceeded to discuss any other legislation.
Several ASUCI councilmembers inquired about the impeachment process and expressed their intentions to impeach Novshadyan. ASUCI Executive Vice President Kristine Jermakian outlined the representative impeachment process, which includes presenting a petition signed by 5 percent of undergraduate students from the Paul Merage School of Business — 26 students — and approved by two-thirds of the ASUCI Senate within 15 academic days of the petition’s presentation.
Humanities Representative Miguel Olvera and ICS Representative Katrina Vergara were vocal regarding their support for Novshadyan’s impeachment.
“At the end of the day, he is a councilmember representing the business school, Legislative Council and ASUCI,” said Olvera. “There’s room for disagreement on a plethora of issues, but what he said on a public post was literally hate.”
Vergara called Novshadyan “honestly disgusting” and said she would not tolerate such speech from a student representative.
“I do support his impeachment one hundred percent, because it doesn’t matter how well he can fake an apology statement or sincerity, those are his views,” she said. “Even as someone who is not one of his constituents, to know that he is at the table, and at the meetings and may, in the future, be able to vote on really important legislation that could involve campus climate and diversity … that is not right with me.”
A student-led Google petition is currently circulating on Facebook, asking UCI business students to call for Novshadyan’s impeachment. As of Wednesday morning, the petition had 28 of the necessary 26 signatures, and was presented to ASUCI’s Council Speaker. Representatives will present it to the Legislative Council, which must hold a special election and reach a decision on Novshadyan’s impeachment between March 24 and April 8.
With additional reporting by Sabrina Zuluaga and Roy Lyle. Photos courtesy of Sabrina Zuluaga.