The student who left McGill last November after what he describes as months of Islamophobic harassment and a death threat from his graduate supervisor spoke to The Daily in a wide-ranging interview describing in detail what he says was an ordeal that did not end when he returned to his native Egypt.
Amr El-Orabi said that on November 19, he told Professor Gary Dunphy that he was leaving his lab, prompting Dunphy to yell, “Get the fuck out of the country.”
When El-Orabi asked if there was anything else the professor would like, Dunphy replied, “Yes, your death.” El-Orabi captured the exchange on tape.
Since the incident was first reported by Global News earlier this month, several prominent students, including a student Senator and a SSMU equity commissioner, have called for Dunphy’s firing.
No one employed by McGill agreed to be interviewed for this story, citing the confidentiality of the university’s ongoing investigation into the matter.
El-Orabi’s story began last May, he says, when he noticed Dunphy taking an unusual interest in his religion barely a week after registering for McGill.
“In the first week or something he asked what religion I am,” El-Orabi said on the phone from his home in Cairo. “It’s not that I did mind the question – but it doesn’t work like that in Canada, you don’t ask people what religion they are.”
Soon, Dunphy’s curiosity turned into mockery, El-Orabi says. During a meeting between the two later in the month, the student’s phone began buzzing with a pre-recorded Muslim call to prayer, a song that rings out five times a day across the Islamic world.
When Dunphy heard this, he gave his opinion on how Muslims worship, El-Orabi says. “‘I don’t see the point of you going down on the earth where people can walk with their socks, and your asses flying up in the air,’” El-Orabi remembers Dunphy saying.
El-Orabi says he was offended by the comment, but did not respond at the time.
“I didn’t give it that much attention in the beginning I thought it would fade out with time,” he says. “Whenever he brings up religion or culture, I dismiss it.”
But as the summer wore on, Dunphy’s comments become more inflammatory, El-Orabi says.
The professor did not limit himself to religious or cultural insults, according to El-Orabi: “There were personal things; he would call me names. We were in the middle of a conversation about work. He called me an insufferable bastard in the middle of the conversation.”
The abuse continued into the fall semester, El-Orabi says. While El-Orabi was a TA in one of Dunphy’s courses, the professor openly questioned his graduate student’s sexuality.
“He said that people in [the] downtown campus – because I was going back and forth between two labs [at Mac Campus and downtown] – they think you’re gay because you don’t interact with girls that much,” El-Orabi recalls.
“I didn’t know what to say.”
The alleged harassment began taking a toll on El-Orabi. “He was visibly depressed,” says his former roommate, who asked not to be named. “He mentioned to me that he found it difficult to focus on his studies because of the harassment at school.”
“He would say this professor was making his life a living hell.”
On the advice of a friend, El-Orabi began recording his interactions with Dunphy.
“There were long recordings of what sounded like the rants of a mad man,” his roommate says.
Other students have remarked on Dunphy’s sometimes bizarre conversation topics, especially during his office hours.
Evan Henry, student Senator for Mac Campus, who took a biology course with Dunphy in fall 2010, previously told The Daily that Dunphy once said during office hours that he “likes suing people” – a remark that Henry acknowledged may have been tongue-in-cheek.
Another student, who asked not to be named, told The Daily that Dunphy proposed dropping a “neutrino bomb” on the Middle East in order to kill a large number of the region’s residents in 2009.
The student was attending Dunphy’s office hours to discuss an exam, when the professor brought up the Middle East.
“At one point while talking about how screwed up the region is, he remarked that maybe we could drop a ‘neutrino bomb’ on the area,” the student wrote in an email to The Daily.
“The point of a neutrino bomb, he explained, was that it killed people but preserved such priceless artifacts as books or buildings.”
El-Orabi’s tipping point, he says, came in November, when Dunphy’s comments about Islam became harsher.
“Finally, I couldn’t dismiss what he was saying. He started cursing the prophet and calling him names. This hurt my feelings,” El-Orabi says.
“He said, I remember it crystal clear: ‘Muhammad was an asshole and he was married to a whore.’”
A few days later, El-Orabi went to Dunphy’s office and told the professor he was leaving his lab.
Dunphy lashed out at the student, raising his voice to say, “your biggest and only problem with me is that you put your goddamn god before my asshole god….All I wanted you to do is do your damn thesis but you got some fucking stupid idea in your head and everyone has to be like you…Don’t ever think for a minute that your culture is the be all end all.”
Dunphy also accused El-Orabi of “cyberstalking” during the confrontation, and threatened to press criminal charges against the international student.
El-Orabi says Dunphy was referring to the student’s Skype profile picture at the time, a thumbnail image of a hand with its middle finger extended.
“He thought it was directed at him, but it wasn’t,” El-Orabi says. “That image had been on my computer for months.”
“To me it sounded like someone trying to intimidate me with my ignorance about the law. I contacted my friends, and everyone was laughing, because if this picture was a breach of any law, most of the people who used it would have been in jail for a long time.”
In a five-page written statement he made the next day on McGill letterhead, El-Orabi says that Ian Strachan, associate dean for graduate students in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and another professor told El-Orabi he should not stay alone that night because of Dunphy’s threat. El-Orabi’s roommate was out of town, so he stayed with another friend on the night of November 19, he says.
El-Orabi began planning to leave Canada immediately. “I had a reservation to go on vacation in December – I contacted my airline, and I changed the reservation to the earliest date possible, the 29th of November, ten days after this happened,” he says.
When his roommate returned to Montreal, they tried to convince him to stay.
“I was playing devil’s advocate and I really wanted Amr to stay,” the roommate says, “so I said to him, you know, ‘Maybe [Dunphy] just said that in the heat of the moment.’ But [El-Orabi] told me that he had to take that seriously, and he didn’t feel safe. Knowing that nothing would happen to the professor, he told me he did not feel safe in the same environment as someone who said those words to him.”
The day before El-Orabi left, he says he emailed Stachan to ask for a meeting. “He told me that the case was closed,” El-Orabi says. “I asked for the outcome of the case, and he refused, he said, for confidentiality reasons.”
Back in Egypt, El-Orabi exchanged emails with McGill’s ombudsperson, Spencer Boudreau, who recommended that El-Orabi file an official grievance with the University. On February 14, he did.
“They tell you to summarize in bullet points the grounds of your grievance,” El-Orabi says. “So the grounds of my grievance was cultural and personal and religious offences, that’s point one. Point two was intrusions on my privacy by asking about my sexuality. And point three was the threat.”