University worker challenges abuse at Azusa Pacific

An immigrant former staff member of Azusa Pacific University (APU), a Christian college in California, has come forward to expose a workplace sexual assault and its subsequent cover-up. Mahesh Pradhan was working as a chef and a supervisor at APU when he began to experience chronic abuse by other supervisors and employees who perceived him as gay. On multiple occasions he was pushed against the wall and groped, while the assailants taunted him, telling him he liked it. They would repeatedly prod him with utensils or lock him in the kitchen’s walk-in freezer for their amusement.

Photo by Leo Jarzomb, San Gabriel Valley Tribune/ SCNG http://www.sgvtribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/sgt-l-apu-rally-1107-03.jpg?w=620

Mr. Pradhan says he reported the abuse to higher-ups but nothing was done. Instead, while the abuse continued, he was demoted and required even to pray with groups of coworkers that included his assailants, until he was granted medical leave in 2015.

Throughout his ordeal and his exposure of the abuse, Mr. Pradhan did not resort to denigrating Queer people, but understood the importance of making common cause. He spoke to a rally of about 50 supporters gathered in front of the APU campus on Nov. 6: “I told them that I am not gay, but what’s wrong with being gay or being straight?”

A prominent speaker at the rally to support Mahesh was Erin Green, an APU student who is part of the underground Queer student club HAVEN. This group meets off campus because the college refuses to recognize it as an official club.

“I am asked oftentimes by Christian universities to be patient while the universities are trying to make progress in this area,” she said, before quoting Martin Luther King Jr.’s adage that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

APU has been exceedingly stubborn in its refusal to “make progress.” Its student manual prohibits the formation of any “romanticized same-sex relationship.” In 2013, the college took advantage of a religious exemption in California’s non-discrimination statutes in order to terminate the contract of a professor who came out as Transgender. All of his courses were reassigned mid-semester.

Back then, students visibly and angrily protested the removal of their professor, and meanwhile they have been protesting to demand the revision of the student code and the recognition of HAVEN. Inherent in the rally to support Mr. Pradhan, a further and essential step has been ventured: the action of bringing together many voices. Theirs was a gathering in favor of true sanctity and integrity of bodies, in favor of respect and self-determination of immigrants, and for Queer people’s recognition and validity. It is a glimmer of what must happen if human beings are to arrive at an authentically new way of structuring relationships in society.

–Buddy Bell

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