College responds to cult claims

Daily Herald/March 26, 2004
By Robert Sanchez

Wheaton College officials on Thursday said they have no knowledge of any abusive acts occurring on campus in relation to an alleged cult leader while he was enrolled there.

College officials released a two-page statement in response to a Boston newspaper's report that the parents of several former Wheaton College students claim their children were lured into a physically abusive cult controlled by another student, Feroze Golwalla, a graduate student there from August 1999 to May 2001.

Golwalla, the Boston Herald reported, was known for recruiting students on the Wheaton campus. When parents complained to administrators, no action was taken, according to the published report.

The Boston Herald report adds the college allowed Golwalla to continue as a graduate student and supported his "Parsee Missionary Team," a program Golwalla ran to help the Parsee people of Iran.

In its statement, the college said it grieves for any victims and condemns any such abuse. It said the allegations appear to relate to incidents that occurred after he left campus.

"The college did not then and does not now know of any such abuse during Mr. Golwalla's period of enrollment," the statement said.

Golwalla is wanted by Maryland state police on assault charges in the alleged 2002 beating of two members of his cult, according to published reports. Maryland state police confirmed there is a warrant for the arrest of Golwalla, 40, on assault charges, but declined to give any more details.

Wheaton College's statement said the school "unequivocally condemns abusiveness of any sort."

"In fact, we consider abuse of the sort alleged in the 'Parsee Ministry Team' led by Feroze Golwalla to be particularly egregious, and grieve with the victims of any such abuse and their families," the statement read.

College officials said they did not know of any abuse occurring during Golwalla's enrollment. He graduated in May 2001 with a master of arts degree.

They said Golwalla developed the Parsee Ministry Team "on his own" while he was attending the college. They called it "an informal and unsanctioned student group."

"Student-led ministry efforts are common and diverse on our campus," officials said.

In the fall of 2000, Golwalla did seek formal college approval for a summer 2001 trip he was planning with his group. The college's Office of Christian Outreach, which oversees student mission trips, denied Golwalla's request.

In addition, college officials said, letters were sent to every student who had expressed an interest in the Parsee ministry trip. That letter informed the students that if they chose to go, their parents and church would need to understand the trip didn't have the endorsement of Wheaton College and the Office of Christian Outreach.

College officials said "due to stringent legal restrictions regarding student confidentiality," they cannot discuss the reasons for refusing to sponsor the trip.

"It is enough to say that these reasons did not involve any knowledge on the part of the college of the sorts of abusiveness that have been alleged," college officials said. "To the college's knowledge, no one has even alleged that anything that could be called 'abuse' was occurring during the term of Mr. Golwalla's enrollment at Wheaton College."

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