A dispute that started over pizza slices and escalated with a sucker punch has generated considerable attention at the University at Buffalo and led to an effort to force out the head of the undergraduate student government.
Hassan Farah, the president of UB's Student Association, was charged with assault after police said he punched a fellow student in the head.
While some student officers have launched a recall campaign against Farah, he contends the attack was a mistake prompted by a racist remark.
"I am the first to condemn my actions and [to] accept full responsibility," Farah said at a lengthy forum held Monday in the UB Student Union.
In response, the victim of the assault, who suffered a badly broken nose, insists he did not slur Farah and said he just wants the incident to go away.
"Honestly, I just want him to stop saying I used a racial slur. I would never use that word," Akash Chakravarty, a senior business major from his native India, said in an interview.
The brouhaha began in July, when Farah approached a table at a freshman orientation session. When Farah took some slices of pizza, Chakravarty told him the food was for incoming students, both men said.
A few days later, Farah and Chakravarty encountered each other again in a hallway on the UB North Campus, and here their accounts diverge.
Farah said Chakravarty acted very aggressively, yelled at him and called him a racial slur.
That's when Farah, who is from Somalia, admits he punched Chakravarty in the face.
"I was intimidated, and I was called inhumane racial names," he said. "Unfortunately, and regrettably, I reacted physically."
Chakravarty said he did rudely ask Farah to get out of the way, but that was it. Farah punched him twice, breaking his nose.
UB police responded, and Farah was charged with assault. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Wednesday in Amherst Town Court.
While Farah has supporters, critics say his actions reflect badly on UB and the student government and he should resign from office. Students have launched a petition drive to recall Farah, and the matter has received front-page coverage in the Spectrum student newspaper.
The opponents also have chastised Farah for not initially mentioning the racial element until well after the incident.
"Where did this racial slur come from, and do you have a witness?" Ernesto Alvarado, vice president of the Student Association, asked at Monday's forum.
Farah said he should be judged on his overall record, and he insisted the recall is invalid because he wasn't acting in an official capacity when he punched Chakravarty.
He also said he wasn't given the chance to tell campus police his side of the story.
Dennis R. Black, UB's vice president for student affairs, said Farah has not given UB police a sworn statement concerning the allegations of racism.
"At the time of the incident, and during the subsequent police investigation, no bias-related language or actions were reported by the suspect student," Black said in a statement.