SOAS ‘investigating’ after uni director used the n-word at a student meeting

Adam Habib has ‘apologised unreservedly’ for the incident


TW: Racism and racial slur

Following SOAS director Adam Habib’s use of the n-word at a student meeting, the SOAS Board of Trustees has announced an external investigation after complaints it received regarding the incident.

It says the investigation will be carried out “in the context of anti-Blackness as a structural issue in SOAS”, looking into the issues raised at the meeting and students’ “concerns about how those were discussed in that meeting”.

During a SOAS All Student Meeting last week, SOAS director Adam Habib used the n-word in response to a question about structural issues at the university. When students told him this was not acceptable, he attempted to justify its use.

SOAS SU condemned Habib’s use of the n-word, calling it “unacceptable” and “disgusting”, further claiming “SOAS is systemically racist”. Students signed an online petition entitled #FireHabib calling for SOAS “to hold Adam Habib accountable”, and calling for his “resignation and/or dismissal” within the next 31 days.

Habib wrote to all SOAS staff and students to “apologise unreservedly”, saying: “I do now recognise the hurt and distress that has been caused and will continue to listen.” Today he said he was “mortified” at the incident.

An email sent by the Chair of Board of Trustees,  Marie Staunton, to SOAS staff and students, says: “We want to reaffirm that SOAS has to be – and be seen to be – committed to anti-racism.”

Alongside the external investigation, today’s statement outlines a series of steps SOAS is taking to address anti-racism after issues were raised at the meeting.

Firstly, “the SOAS senior leadership team will work alongside the Race, Accountability and Listening Action Steering Group in engaging Black staff and student societies to organise listening spaces designed to identify the major […] shifts that need to occur in the institution.”

Secondly, the external investigation will cover “unexplored and unactioned complaints about anti-Black conduct” at SOAS, and review how issues highlighted affect students’ learning outcomes and staff work environment.

It will be focused on “issues that students raised in the Thursday 11 March all-student meeting and their concerns about how those were discussed in that meeting”.

Adam Habib has “reaffirmed” he will focus his time on educating himself by listening to Black colleagues and students. The board says: ” If Black staff and students feel comfortable, an external facilitator will be arranged to facilitate a dialogue as part of a learning and listening exercise that centres the concerns of the Black and Black diasporic world.”

Finally, the university will “ensure” members of the SOAS community affected by this will be given appropriate avenues of support.

There is the opportunity to attend the next Black Student and Staff Forum which is meeting on the 23rd March 4-6 pm.

Other support for SOAS students includes their Academic Advisor or their Student Support Officers, access to the Student Advice and Wellbeing team and the Student Engagement team. Staff can speak to their line manager or contact the EAP.

The board says they “take these concerns from the SOAS community extremely seriously”.  They also note the “unreserved apology” issued to SOAS on Friday by Adam Habib, stating he is “committed to taking all steps he can to address” the impact of his actions with colleagues.

Today’s statement does not directly address calls for Adam Habib’s resignation. It was “endorsed by all members of the Board, with the exception of the two student members where the Students’ Union have issued their own statement.” Earlier this week, the SOAS Spirit released a poll they conducted asking students whether Habib should be removed from his position and over 200 students responded and 89 per cent voted ‘yes’.

Habib said in a statement: “I welcome the move the board is making. SOAS is committed to anti-racism, to tackling hate, to bringing people together and to listening and learning throughout life and I believe the move the board is making will help to contribute to this.

“I am mortified that I made this mistake last week and apologise for this. What I was trying to convey was that I take racism seriously, if there are any cases of racism at SOAS I want to be made aware of them, and that I am committed to taking action. I have fought racism my whole life, battling Apartheid in South Africa, but this has shown me that I still have more to learn and more work to do.

“Having spent my career and my activism concentrating on equality, poverty and social justice, I moved to the UK to join SOAS a few months ago because I want to be part of positive change here. I will focus my time listening to black colleagues and students, to help to educate myself, to keep on learning, and as I do so I am open to my views changing.”

The email from Marie Staunton, Chair of Board of Trustees to SOAS staff and students, said: “We heard with concern the events that occurred at the students’ meeting on Thursday, which were brought to the attention of the Chair of the Board on Thursday evening by the Director. We have also read the Students’ Union statement, the statement by the staff unions, UCU and Unison, and other comments and calls for action by members of the SOAS community.

“We have also noted the unreserved apology that Adam Habib issued to the School on Friday which he has reaffirmed in all discussions with us and SOAS colleagues. We know he recognises the significant impact which this has had on SOAS as a community and an institution and we know he is committed to taking all steps he can to address this with colleagues.

“As Trustees, we take these concerns from the SOAS community extremely seriously. We have spent the last few days talking and listening to different members of the SOAS community. Having concluded the first round of listening, the Board will now take forward a series of actions in response, recognising the pain caused to many in the community.

“We want to reaffirm that SOAS has to be – and be seen to be – committed to anti-racism, to tackling hate, to bringing people together and to listening and learning throughout life. We want to use this moment to affirm and commit to action being taken by SOAS and by Adam Habib as our Director.”

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