Randa Jarrar returned to the Fresno State campus to resume teaching on Wednesday, nearly five months after she ignited a firestorm with a tweet celebrating the death of former first lady Barbara Bush.
Jarrar was escorted in and out of her class by a group singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” as they left the classroom.
Also present were three protesters, including Ben Bergquam, who said he did not plan to follow Jarrar around to the rest of her classes Wednesday but did plan to return to the campus to protest as long as Jarrar is teaching.
Outside of Jarrar’s classroom, Fresno State spokeswoman Lisa Boyles said Jarrar had requested a police escort, which is available to all students and faculty who would like one. A police car could be seen near the Peters Business Building where Jarrar’s class is located, and an escort followed her as she left the class.
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“It’s the first day back, so they’re being cautious,” Boyles said.
Jarrar spoke briefly to the media after her class, saying she taught Poe and the “beautiful” history of Fresno in the Civil Rights era on her first day back. She missed the start of the fall semester while concluding a medical leave.
Standing near the classroom at his professional fraternity’s tabling event, Andrew Boungnavong said he felt that the issue should have remained Jarrar’s, but the media spun it into an issue with Fresno State.
“If I were in that class I’d just keep my head down, hoodie up,” he said.
Other students were standing outside the classroom, as well, waiting for their noon class to begin with another professor.
On April 17, Jarrar tweeted hours after Barbara Bush died that Bush “was a general and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.” Jarrar responded to criticism by saying she is protected by tenure. She responded to one negative post by seemingly providing her telephone number; it turned out to be the number for a suicide/crisis hotline.
Jarrar’s Twitterstorm drew international attention, with emotional reaction from those who said she should be fired and those who supported her. A week after the comment, Fresno State president Joseph Castro announced that Jarrar wouldn’t be fired. He added that her comments had been “insensitive, inappropriate and an embarrassment to the university.”
Jarrar, who was on leave during the spring semester, bowed out of a scheduled appearance at LitHop 2018 in Fresno just days after her tweets and hadn’t been visible until Wednesday, two weeks into the fall semester.