If you think Jisan Zaman ’12 looks vaguely familiar, you’ve probably seen him on one of his tours (he holds the record for the most campus tours ever given at Wesleyan). Zaman has also won the first ever R.A. of the year award, has dressed up as a sperm cell in front of hundreds of people, and is an avid sports fan. He is working on a thesis on the U.S. response to genocide in Bangladesh after it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. If you want to learn more about this soulful dude with the laugh of a hyena, or what the German word for “unicorn” is, read on.
The Argus: I heard you’re a tour guide. How’s that going for you?
Jisan Zaman: I started my freshman year. I’ve given more tours than anyone in the history of Wesleyan—313 and counting. I feel like I should get a cake. My tours have definitely changed over the years. There were times when people decided to disrupt my tours. One time a zombie came, or a person dressed up like a zombie, and took me down on Foss Hill. It was really insulting because the [tour] group kept moving without me. That was stupid. But it’s really amazing what kind of questions you get during tours.
A: Tell me about the history thesis you’re working on.
JZ: In 1971 Bangladesh gained its independence from Pakistan, and basically Pakistan committed genocide in Bangladesh. I’m investigating the American involvement in the scene, especially the diplomats that were in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. They wrote this incredible dissent letter called the [Blood Telegram]. I’m trying to figure out the reasoning behind the dissent letter, which said something along the lines of, “America is morally bankrupt, it’s not doing enough to suppress atrocities, it’s not combating genocide,” things like that. I’m using that as an analysis point to talk about the problems with Nixon’s and Kissinger’s foreign policy.
A: Have you learned anything about yourself during the thesis process?
JZ: The thesis process has taught me a lot about myself. I remember I heard this speech given by the Bengali leader in 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and it made me cry a little bit. I’m from Bangladesh, I was born there, and to see this happen and this incredible speech really moved me into thinking that I need something to be passionate about. Some of the crying has not been just from inspirational materials, it’s also from me thinking, “Oh god, this thesis needs to get done.” But overall, it’s something I care about, and I’m really happy I’m doing it.
A: I heard you spoke to an ambassador and traveled to D.C. for your thesis.
JZ: I’ve interviewed quite a few people actually. Yesterday I actually interviewed a person who’s a State Department South Asia specialist. I went to talk with a Columbia professor a couple of weeks ago. One of the best interviews I had was with a guy named Scott Butcher. He was a Foreign Service officer stationed in Bangladesh in 1971, and he basically wrote the [Blood Telegram]; he was one of the first draftees. It really blew my mind how much detail he went into and how much information he shed light on. It’s basically the backbone of my thesis. D.C. was frustrating at best. I tried to go to the National Archives Building, but they have all these restrictions on classifications even though all the documents I asked for are de-classified; you still have to go through the Freedom of Information Act and that takes months. It’s really stupid, but I did find things that I can make use of.
A: I heard you used to be an RA.
JZ: Yeah, I was an RA for two years. I’m actually going to grad school to pursue a higher degree in higher education student affairs, which is basically like administration of RAs and those sorts of things that are college-related.
A: Tell me about your most interesting experience as an RA.
JZ: One time, I came home and saw that one of my residents was outside his door naked and out-of-his-mind drunk. He was knocking on his own door trying to get in. We thought that his girlfriend was in there, but it was empty. That was my first, “Whoa, what the fuck” moment. I had to deal with so much stuff though. I’ve had to deal with weird personal things that have really made me question Wesleyan and the student body, like sexual assault or discrimination by hateful speech. But most of the stuff I dealt with was people coming and asking how to access their portfolio. I actually won the R.A. of the year award in my junior year; it was the first time they did that.
A: Did you get a cake?
JZ: No. Actually…no. Do you want to give me a cake?
A: I hear you were featured in a high school stage production as a sperm cell. Do tell.
JZ: [hyena-like laugh] That pretty much describes it. If you look at my name, it’s “Jisan Zaman.” If you fuck it up really badly, it sounds like “jizz on the man.” I don’t know if that’s appropriate to print in The Wesleyan Argus…
A: Our standards are pretty low.
JZ: [laughs] Well, I’m not going to go any more into that.
A: Is it fair to say you’re a huge sports fan?
JZ: Yeah! When football season’s happening, I always watch like nine hours of football on Sunday. I’ve been religiously following Knicks basketball since Jeremy Lin, but now I don’t know if I can keep that up because he’s injured. I follow baseball too when I get the chance. I’m glad the Giants won!
A: Do you know what the German word for unicorn is?
JZ: [more hyena-like laughter] I believe it’s “einhorn.” Did you know the German word for fisting is “faustficken”?
A: I’ll have to look that up.
JZ: It’s true.
A: But seriously, how did you get obsessed with German unicorns?
JZ: I’m not obsessed with German unicorns. I’m obsessed with awkwardness. I’ve spent more than half of my life time trying to avoid it by being a little bit awkward myself, so I always keep questions in mind just in case a conversation hits a lull or a weird moment. That’s the reason why “What’s the German word for unicorns?” came about.