Cambridge University defends academics’ rights to free speech over Twitter incident
Dr Priyamavada Gopal faced backlash on Twitter for stating that ‘White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives’
Cambridge University has spoken out in defence of academic Dr Priyamavada Gopal following an incident on Twitter yesterday.
Dr Gopal, who is a Fellow of Churchill College, was met with a barrage of outrage after tweeting that “White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives”. The tweet sparked outrage among certain users of the platform, with responses including death threats and racist abuse towards Gopal, as well as the emergence of a petition demanding she be fired by Cambridge University for her ‘racist’ comment.
The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks. These attacks are totally unacceptable and must cease.
— Cambridge University (@Cambridge_Uni) June 24, 2020
In their statement Cambridge University spoke out in support of their academics’ right to free speech, deploring the attacks that Gopal has faced since her tweet, which has since been removed by Twitter on account of it “violating the Twitter rules”. Numerous instances of such targeted racial abuse have been exposed by Gopal herself on her Twitter account.
Many colleagues and students have expressed solidarity with Gopal following the incident, with Cambridge UCU hailing her a “tireless campaigner against racism, both in the university and the wider world”.
Solidarity with @PriyamvadaGopal – being targeted with vile sexist and racist abuse for speaking up against white supremacists. We are proud to be your colleagues both on the picket line and off it. #BlackLivesMatter #Solidarity
— Cambridge UCU – No better time to join us! (@CambridgeUCU) June 24, 2020
Alongside her teaching position in the Faculty of English, Gopal is also a prominent journalist and activist. She has previously exposed issues of racial discrimination within Cambridge, most noticeably in her refusal to teach students of King’s college over an an incidence of racial profiling by the porters of the college several years ago.
The university’s defence of Gopal has been labelled by some as inconsistent and politically biased. Critics have pointed to the recent removal of Noah Carl from his research position at St Edmund’s college over links with far right extremist groups, as well as the university rescinding a visiting fellowship invitation to controversial professor Jordan Peterson in March last year. Opponents of the University’s stance have suggested that the same defence of free speech and tolerance of controversial views was not extended in these instances.
Further to Cambridge University’s statement in support of Gopal, Gopal returned to Twitter this afternoon (Thursday) to announce her promotion to full Professorship. She goes on to express her gratitude to “Cambridge students, past and present” as well as her colleagues at the English Faculty.
Thanks to everyone who wrote to @Twitter: the ludicrous ban has been lifted. I am therefore delighted to share with you personally, that last night Cambridge promoted me to a full Professorship. The hate mails & threats are coming in non-stop but @CambridgeCops are following up
— Priyamvada Gopal (@PriyamvadaGopal) June 25, 2020
The University has been contacted for comment.
Cover image credit: Ardfern, Wikimedia Commons