Edinburgh anthropology department is ‘taking action’ over lecturer’s ‘racist’ tweets

The lecturer denies claims that he was racist

The Edinburgh University social anthropology department is “taking action” after several students complained about “racist and sexist” tweets made by lecturer Neil Thin.

Last week, The Edinburgh Tab reported that the anti-racist group BlackED, as well as several anonymous posts on Edifess, called several of his tweets “racist” and “sexist”. BlackED also compiled numerous testimonies alleging his “problematic” views were influencing his teaching.

Neil Thin has denied these claims and told The Edinburgh Tab: “There are some specific distortive and very untrue claims on the social media sites about my teaching and feedback.

“Regarding the selection of tweets which are variously described as ‘triggering’,’offensive’, ‘bigoted’, ‘racist’, ‘misogynistic’, and ‘transphobic’, you can see for yourselves that not a single one of them appears to give any plausible grounds for drawing those conclusions.”

Lotte Hoek, head of subject for anthropology, emailed students to say the department was “very concerned about what we see and hear” and that they were “taking action to address the many concerns raised”. She also encouraged anyone affected to contact the SPS Student Support.

Email from Lotte Hoek to students

Meanwhile, other anthropology lecturers and tutors have reached out to students to express their “solidarity” and to apologise for the students having “to shoulder the burden of the damage and hurt that Neil’s behaviour has wrought.”

One said: “The 3rd years more generally and students writ large always have my support. More so when there are issues of racism, misogyny, and transphobia on the line”. She also added she’d “talked to higher ups and there are several processes at play.”

Student letter to the anthropology Department

This intervention from the department came after some social anthropology students – mostly third and fourth years – decided to raise their concerns with the department. They compiled a template to send to Lotte Hoek (head of subject for social anthropology) and Linda McKie (head of school for social and political sciences) with students adding their own personal experiences at the end of the email.

The letter highlights concerns including BAME and female students claiming they feel unsafe because of “a member of the institution openly contesting feminist issues and engaging with racist rhetoric, and not distinguishing their personal beliefs from those of the university”.

They argue “having a member of staff denying the existence of these issues whilst remaining associated with the department invalidates the experiences of the students and staff”. 

The letter also says: “The majority of students of social anthropology are LGBTQ+ and/or women (including trans women), and those of us who have Neil as a Personal Tutor are extremely uncomfortable with his comments after the death of Sarah Everard and his apparent support of transphobic figures such as J.K. Rowling. 

Finally, the students are keen to stress “this is not an attempted ‘cancellation’ or a denial of freedom of speech, as we understand that staff do not have to preach what they teach, nor do we wish to attack Neil’s character. The issue lies in how his position as lecturer and tutor is influenced by his beliefs.

“Students of Neil’s have felt as though their ideas are being rejected for not conforming with his own, or that we cannot come forward with our experiences of institutional racism, sexism, or transphobia because his beliefs are associated with the department”. 

Who is behind the letter?

The Edinburgh Tab spoke to the anthropology Third Year who compiled the letter. She requested to stay anonymous and told The Tab: “The point of it was to voice to staff our concerns with how Neil Thins views have impacted students.

“Unfortunately the conversation got derailed and has focused more heavily on the specificities of Neil’s views rather than how exactly those views have impacted students.

“He is entitled to his own opinions, but worryingly, testimonies show that those views have infiltrated the classroom and are affecting students university experience. This is what the university are seeking to address most seriously.”

She added: “The main intention from the anthropology students was to draw attention to his impact on Anthropology students specifically, it is also incredibly important that policies such as those BlackED are proposing are a part of this conversation. Professors should be taking part in anti-discrimination and anti-racism programs that work to cultivate a safer space for students at the university.”

A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh told The Edinburgh Tab in a statement: “The University is strongly committed to upholding freedom of expression and academic freedom and facilitating an environment where staff and students are able to inquire, study and debate.

“In such an environment, different ideas will often contradict or conflict with others. However, a challenging environment need not be a hostile one. The most effective way to foster a free and frank exchange of views is on the basis of mutual respect.

“Any complaints received as a result of such matters will be treated seriously and are subject to the University’s standard internal procedures.”

Neil Thin has been approached for comment by email.

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