“It went from crude humour to racial slurs. Awful things were said about rape. Every group was targeted.”
Exeter University student Arsalan Motavali is talking about the WhatsApp group he was in with fellow members of the university’s law society.
“[The messages] started to get progressively worse after certain people were added.”
Five months on and several of them have been expelled after Arsalan’s post of their “vile” screen shots went viral.
Speaking to Newsbeat, the 21-year-old said he had no regrets about his decision to go public.
Update on Exeter: Expulsions and suspensions for them all. Can’t thank everybody who showed support enough, from all the media teams to the heroes on twitter, you’re the best. ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/Jf9iofJztC
— Arsalan (@arsalanm_) May 1, 2018
End of Twitter post by @arsalanm_
Rewind to November 2017 and Arsalan was a member of a WhatsApp group with other people in the university’s Bracton Law Society
But the tone of the messages turned nasty – and Arsalan decided to post some of them to Facebook.
They were shared thousands of times.
“It got too much for me so I just left the group chat and forwarded the messages to some of my [non-university] friends.
“I told them about everything that had happened and they were horrified.
Arsalan’s friends advised him to complain to Exeter University, but he says he just didn’t get round to it immediately.
“I left it on the back burner for a while because I had essays to write, it was a busy time.”
Freedom of speech
The next step was when Arsalan showed the messages to some of his university friends.
He said they were horrified by what they saw: “We talked about going through the university but one of my friends had had a far worse situation and it was a five-month investigation and an outcome that was incredibly vague.
“I’ve always been a massive advocate of freedom of speech [but] there is also an integrity you need to have as someone who wants to practise in the legal field.
“You should know the consequences of the statements you’re making.”
As well as being racist, sexist and bigoted, one of the messages targeted someone who’d been stabbed at university.
“Ignorant jokes are one thing, and genuinely appearing to have some form of prejudice towards people of colour is a total other thing.”
After the investigation was finished an email was sent to students and staff by university officials.
It explained expulsions, suspensions and other sanctions had been used. But there was no comment on how many people had been expelled.
Arsalan says he thinks the investigation was handled well.
“I believe it was, because what if in the future my kid goes for an interview with a law firm and sits opposite one of those individuals?
“Regardless of how much they say they don’t hold those views, those prejudices are still there – I’ve seen it first hand.
“I don’t think I’ve fixed [the problem] but I feel like a conversation has been opened up.”