On June 23, 2020, University of Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal became the target of death threats and harassment over social media following a Twitter post.
On June 23, in response to recent global protests in support of racial equality, Gopal, a professor of colonial and post colonial literature, tweeted, “I’ll say it again. White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives.” She later tweeted, “Abolish Whiteness”. In response, Professor Gopal reportedly received numerous racist and abusive messages, including death threats, and a petition was circulated online demanding Cambridge University fire her. Twitter eventually deleted her tweets.
Professor Gopal responded to the attacks by tweeting “I would also like to make clear I stand by my tweets, now deleted by Twitter, not me. They were very clearly speaking to a structure and ideology, not about people.”
Cambridge University posted a tweet in support of Professor Gopal: “The University defends the right of its academics to express their own lawful opinions which others might find controversial and deplores in the strongest terms abuse and personal attacks. These attacks are totally unacceptable and must cease.”
Scholars at Risk is concerned about large scale, violent threats against a scholar in retaliation for nonviolent expression related to her area of expertise. In addition to the harm and personal risk to their target, such threats erode university autonomy and chill public expression by scholars more broadly. Where such threats occur, universities, law enforcement, and others must take available action to ensure the scholar’s safety and ability to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and academic freedom without risk of physical harm.