UK

School of African Studies university tells director to step aside over N-word probe

London School of Oriental and African Studies tells director to step aside as it probes his use of N-word in video call

  • Adam Habib, 56, used the N-word during a webinar with his students last week
  • There has since been widespread outrage with many calling for his dismissal
  • SOAS’ chairwoman has agreed with Mr Habib for his to step aside during investigation

The director of a London university has been forced to step down while he is investigated over his use of the N-word in a video call with students. 

Adam Habib, who works at the School of Oriental and African Studies, sparked outrage after a clip of the meeting with the students in which he defended the slur’s use went viral.

Students challenged his use of the term which he rebutted before taking to Twitter with a lengthy 17-part statement.

With an investigation into his use of the word ongoing, Marie Staunton, Chairperson of SOAS’ board, confirmed Mr Habib would would stepping back.

Adam Habib, 56, (pictured) has been forced to step down while he is investigated over his use of the N-word in a video call with students

‘As chair of the board, I have agreed with Director Adam Habib that he will step aside while this investigation takes place, so as to not compromise the investigation,’ she said.

‘We will continue to find ways to facilitate the mediated conversations and engagement – including with Adam – that centre the Black community and SOAS community broadly, in ways that also do not compromise the process of the investigation.’

SOAS’ Professor Claire Ozanne will serve as the Interim-Director. She is currently the Deputy Director and Provost. 

In the webinar last week, Mr Habib had been answering a student who had raised a question on how the university intends to addressing anti-black racism

The 56-year-old, who is of Indian descent, replied: ‘The issue around that… firstly, on the n*****, somebody making that allegation, then bring it to me. 

‘I don’t know the case, this is the first I’ve heard of it.’

One of his students then cut him off to state: ‘Adam, that’s not acceptable to be saying that in a meeting.’

Another student said that they had taken offence to its use before Mr Habib replied: ‘You do? Well, I don’t actually. I come from a part of the world where we actually do use the word… The context matters.’

But one of his students once again added: ‘You’re not a black man, you cannot use that word. You have not faced the trauma and oppression of black bodies what we go through 24/7 for the last 500 years.

With an investigation into his use of the word ongoing, Marie Staunton, Chairperson of SOAS' board, confirmed Mr Habib would would stepping back

With an investigation into his use of the word ongoing, Marie Staunton, Chairperson of SOAS’ board, confirmed Mr Habib would would stepping back 

‘You do not embody our history so therefore you cannot use the word.

‘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 then it means a whole different story than when it comes from our own perspective which is the autonomy, agency and reclamation of our own history.’

Shortly after the meeting Mr Habib took to social media with a 17-part thread in an attempt to justify his use of the slur before accusing critics of attempting to ‘politicise the issue’.

The director, who was born in South Africa and appointed as SOAS director in January 2021, wrote: ‘The question is why is it that after this apology, some are still politicising the issue?’

‘So why don’t I think it was problematic to use the word when I did. Well, because context matters and I was arguing for taking punitive action. 

‘You cannot impute maligned intention without understanding context. Do I believe that only blacks can verbalize the word. No, I don’t.’

There has since been widespread outrage with many, including the South Africa-based campaign group Economic Freedom Fighters, calling for the SOAS to sack Mr Habib.

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