Dr Gopal has been a prominent opponent of racism and colonialism on TwitterSam Harrison

Dr Priyamvada Gopal, a senior lecturer in the English Faculty and a fellow of Churchill College, has condemned an article in the Daily Mail today which described her as a “prolific internet troll”.

In a statement to Varsity, Gopal called the Daily Mail article – ‘How CAN Cambridge let this hate-filled don pour out her racist bile?’ – “a racist and sexist hatchet job” and “more evidence of the degraded and fraudulent tabloid culture of this country”.

Dr Gopal, Reader in Anglophone and Related Literature and an outspoken critic of colonialism, was criticised by journalist Guy Adams for her “prolific” use of Twitter – citing 17,000 tweets in 7 years – to speak out against fellow Cambridge academic Mary Beard and Oxford theologian Nigel Biggar.

Gopal criticised Biggar publicly, following an article by the theologian in The Times on 20th November last year – ‘Don’t feel guilty about our colonial history’ – which she labelled “outright racist imperial apologetics”.

Biggar responded in another article two days ago, claiming that “spitting hatred” was directed at him in the backlash last November, and mentioning that a “senior academic at one of Britain’s most prestigious universities”, which Adams alleges was Dr Gopal, had publicly called him a ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’.

He then complained to Master of Churchill College Dame Athene Donald, and the head of the English faculty Peter de Bolla, who did not take action against Gopal. Adams cited this inaction as evidence that the University is “quite happy for one of its senior academics to use Twitter and Facebook to spread obscene bile”.


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However, Gopal was not alone in rejecting Biggar’s premise, with fifty-eight academics from Oxford writing an open letter describing his approach as “too polemical and simplistic to be taken seriously” and that historical debate cannot be informed “through simple-minded equations between “pride” and swaggering global confidence, or between “shame” and meek withdrawal”.

A spokesperson for the University told Varsity: “We replied to Professor Biggar in January pointing out that we uphold the principle of free speech, as required by law. We said at the time that such language could be inappropriate in an academic paper or lecture. However Dr Gopal’s comments were made in a personal capacity on social media.”

Speaking to Varsity, Dr Gopal said: “I am sorry but not surprised to see that the Daily Mail is hypocritical on the matter of freedom of expression. A woman of colour who has strong anti-racist and anti-colonialist views must be shut down.”

Cambridge staff and students were quick to come to Dr Gopal’s defence. A solidarity statement started this afternoon has since garnered over 100 signatures from students and academics alike. A separate letter of solidarity from staff has also been created.

In a statement, CUSU spoke out against what it called “a racist attempt to discredit [Gopal] by the Daily Mail because she [has] consistently pointed out this country’s imperialist past and refuses to remain silent about racism.”

They called on the University to speak out in her defence alongside them, and remarked: “It is the height of hypocrisy for the university to paint itself out as diverse and progressive and remain silent when academics of colour come under attack.”

The CUSU BME Campaign has also posted to their Facebook page urging people to tweet the University, English Faculty, and Churchill College in support of Gopal, saying it is “completely unacceptable” for them to “remain silent while an employee is subject to unjustifiable attack and racist abuse.”

The statement went on to “demand that the University speaks up in defence of the freedom of speech particularly for those who are marginalised”, citing the Prevent strategy as a tool used to “target and censor particular radical bodies and spaces”.

FLY Cambridge and the CUSU women’s campaign have also tweeted their support.

Dr Nicholas Guyatt, a History lecturer and fellow at Trinity Hall, tweeted it was a “badge of honour to draw fire from the racist, xenophobic and misogynistic Daily Mail”, while Professor of Classics, Mary Beard, whose prior public disagreements with Gopal were cited by Adams as further evidence of Gopal’s misguided social media usage, said that she suspected the article would be a “thinly disguised racist hatchet job”.

CUSU education officer Martha Krish urged the University to stand behind Gopal “openly and immediately”, while women’s officer and new NUS National Executive Committee member, Lola Olufemi, noted that there has been “no attention paid to the many white academics that perpetuate racism in the institution or the ones that remain silent and look on whilst it happens.”

Olufemi herself was the centre of national attention last year following an article in the Daily Telegraph, where the paper misreported an open letter by FLY calling for the decolonising of the English Faculty as an attempt to force the University to “replace white authors with black ones”. The newspaper was later forced to issue a correction.