SOAS, the London School of Oriental and African Studies, has recently been caught up in controversy surrounding their new director – Adam Habib.
Who is Adam Habib?
Adam Habib is a mixed-race South African man who has spent much of his working life working within academic institutions to promote racial equality – particularly in post-apartheid South Africa.
He has graduated from multiple universities across the world and worked in high prestige positions before. He was hired to SOAS as a director on January 1st 2021.
In early March, Mr Habib was discussing issues at the university with students over a video call. During which, one student raised the concern of lecturers using the N-word slur in their classes, particularly non-black academics. In response to this, Mr Habib said he would personally look into these allegations of teachers using the N-word – but instead of saying “the N-word”, Habib said the word itself.
Thank u @deadphilsoc for this. What happened today was disgusting and we unequivocally reject it. We know Adams history, we will hold him and @SOAS accountable. Full solidarity to Black students. Pls reach out for support if you need it. We remember Wits and FeesMustFall. https://t.co/uzze0lJgX3
— SOAS Students' Union (@soassu) March 11, 2021
Students at the university were appalled, and the SOAS Student Union released a statement saying that what happened was “disgusting”, and they “will hold [Mr Habib] and SOAS accountable”.
Since the incident, Mr Habib has been on suspension. During which he has posted a 17 part long Twitter explanation, and also sent out an email to students in hopes to apologise and also provide context to what he said, as some of the videos have been selectively edited. He has also tweeted stating: “The question is why is it, that after this apology, some are still politicising this issue?”. This comes after his explanation, wherein he stated he did not believe that the black community had a monopoly over that word.
Students, however, are opposing this opinion. They’re arguing that “many writers, even our own alumni, have written as to why – peers, non-black peers – should not use the N-word, because when it comes from that perspective, it means a whole different story”.
Is anyone supporting him?
Surprisingly, yes. Several academics and people who have worked with Adam Habib before have come out to speak on his behalf, claiming he is “no racist”. In an article featured in The Spectator by journalist Ranjivay Singh, the question was begged whether SOAS students were being too “sensitive”, and how the correct use of engaging and disgusting words like the N-slur can provoke meaningful emotion and subsequent academic discussion. Mr Singh in fact reflected on his time at university and how similar slurs for East Asian people provoked him to think and discuss at a much more intense level.
Similarly, Thuli Madonsela (a South African advocate and professor of law), Justice Malala (a South African political analyst), and Palesa Morudu (South African journalist) have penned a letter in support of Habib. They have said that whilst Mr Habib “exercised poor judgment”, that “context is everything, and Habib is no racist”. They are advocating for his immediate return to his role.