Cross-Union Statement on Adam Habib

12 March 2021

SOAS Director Adam Habib used the N-word in an all student meeting on March 11th and has since publicly denied any wrongdoing. This is an unacceptable act of antiblack racism which we – the campus unions – find intolerable and condemn unreservedly. We stand in solidarity with Black students at SOAS that had to witness Habib’s behaviour. We stand in solidarity with Art and the African Mind Society and Black Student Body who have organised to condemn Habib’s behaviour. We stand in solidarity with SOAS SU’s opposition to Habib’s behaviour. We encourage members to read the linked interventions for details of the incident.

We request the School makes available the recording of the meeting. We note that the SOAS Black student body has stated an apology at this stage is insufficient and called for Habib’s resignation; as campus unions we will now urgently consult our members on their support for the call for resignation and what further action the School should take. We insist that any accountability for Habib’s actions do not reproduce or contribute to wider practices of racism, including racist attacks against Habib himself.

Habib has responded to this incident by saying ‘context matters’. We therefore note our concern with Habib’s wider behaviour, before and after this incident. Both at the moment he said the N-word and subsequently during a discussion of SOAS teaching provision on African Studies in the same meeting, Habib shouted over (if not directly at) students and sought to undermine a Black diasporic student’s African identity. This is consistent with his behaviour in other contexts, resorting to hostility, disrespect and dismissiveness when any objection, criticism or disagreement is raised. We note that such behaviour – in its repetition and consistency – is tantamount to bullying; we are concerned that SOAS’s Code of Conduct, Dignity and Respect policy and duty of care towards students has been breached and call on the School to investigate accordingly.

Following the meeting with students, Habib took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing and (once again dismiss) student objections as ‘identity politics’, claiming that his own position is instead informed by ‘class dimensions’. We reject Habib’s class reductionism, as if racism is not also a class issue. We note the power of antiblack racism, hostility, disrespect and dismissiveness that Habib is able to wield in his interactions with students and staff is not disconnected from his very class position as the Director of a university. We also note that Habib’s problematic behaviour has been a feature of his interactions with working class members of staff, most notably in his hostile and dismissive interactions with (among others) the Justice for Workers campaign. We note Habib’s longer history of reaction in relation to questions of economic justice, including calling the militarised police on #FeesMustFall student protesters at Wits University as Vice Chancellor there. For Habib to invoke class in this context is cynical, crass and unacceptable.

We also note that Habib’s antiblack racism is emblematic of a longer durational and structural racism that pervades the British university sector of which SOAS is a part. It is our duty as workers in the sector to oppose racism in all of its forms, especially when it happens at our own institution. There were a number of conversations among colleagues around antiblack racism over the summer in the context of Black Lives Matter protests. SOAS moreover has public commitments to other practices of antiracism, including the Decolonising SOAS Vision. There are serious ongoing issues at SOAS surrounding the awarding gap, teaching content, Black students’ wellbeing, university fees and student debt, surveillance, bordering and policing. If we are to take these issues seriously and tackle them substantively we require unflinching commitment from everyone, including the leaders of the institution. This incident throws into question whether our Director Adam Habib is fit to meet such challenges.

SOAS UCU Executive Committee

SOAS UNISON Branch Committee

SOAS Students’ Union