A prominent opponent of racism and colonialism, Dr Gopal is no stranger to online abuseNoella Chye

A senior Cambridge academic, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, has taken to Twitter to reveal the racist abuse she has received in recent weeks, and to condemn Churchill College for continuing to “ignore” the racism she is subject to.

Speaking to Varsity, Gopal confirmed that she has “received a large amount of racist abuse via social media as well as hard copy mail”, saying that “many are vicious without being directly abusive in language”, but “all are racist”.  Alongside the use of racist slurs, she said, “many of these missives suggest I return to where I come from”.

She published images of some of the “most racist” pieces of hate-mail, which include use of the n-word and references to Gopal’s origins as “Bongo Bongo Land”.

One hate-mail writer listed their address as “8 Farage Way”, while many others placed great emphasis on “British values”, with one signing off as “British citizen” rather than giving their name.

She criticised the response of her College to the racist abuse, tweeting that Churchill, “had received even longer ‘vile communications’” about her, but had decided it “was ‘best to ignore’” the abuse. When contacted, Churchill College did not dispute Dr Gopal’s version of events.

Dr Gopal spoke of the “real problem” of “colleges repeatedly minimising or diminishing the existence of problems while paying lip service to not being complacent”.

She said, “it is not enough to make high-minded policy statements which express ‘abhorrence’ of racism and so on: the experiences of BME students, many of whom I have engaged with in the last year, is at stark odds with institutional claims.”

“I have seen racism being minimised, denied, excused or explained away multiple times.” Gopal did not wish to provide examples of specific instances at this time.  

Master of Churchill College, Professor Dame Athene Donald said, “the College deplores all racist and/or misogynistic attacks against Dr Gopal or anyone else.”

Donald told Varsity that Churchill College “has policies in place”, covering both staff and students, “to prohibit and take disciplinary sanction against hate language” and other forms of discrimination. Although optimistic about the environment within Churchill, Donald emphasised the need to “remain vigilant”.

Gopal, a senior lecturer in the English Faculty and a fellow of Churchill College, has been at the centre of many high profile events in recent months, playing a major role in last term’s industrial action and publically engaging in a Twitter row with classicist Mary Beard, following Beard’s controversial comments about aid workers in Haiti.

She was also the subject of a Daily Mail article last month, which described her as a “prolific internet troll”.

According to Gopal, all the recent abuse is “directly connected” to The Daily Mail’s “racist and sexist hatchet job”. She claims that the abusive comments often reference “falsehoods propagated by that piece”.

In a statement released on the College’s website following The Daily Mail’s article last month, Athene Donald cautioned that Churchill is not Gopal’s “primary employer”.

Although she refused to comment on the specific roles played by individual organisations, Gopal said that she believes “in all these situations, especially when it concerns vulnerable minorities, the institutions should be on the front-foot in condemning the abuse publicly – including attacks by the press – acknowledging they are racist, making clear it will not be tolerated, and offering immediate support to the victims.”

She emphasised, “it is of the highest importance that victims of abuse not feel further victimised for speaking up.”

Dr Gopal addressed Professor Donald directly on Twitter, writing that as Master of her College, Donald “owe[s] a female colleague of colour under public racist attack more than ignoring it”.

Donald told Varsity, “I, for myself and on behalf of the College, have been offering Dr Gopal support since the original appearance of the Daily Mail article. She and I have exchanged emails, which is preferable as a mode of communication to the 140/280 characters of Twitter. I hope that, in consequence, we understand one another better.”


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Arguing for more transparency in the fight against discrimination, Dr Gopal said, “there is a tendency at Cambridge to sweep matters of racism and racist culture under the carpet in the mistaken belief that ignoring it or not giving it the oxygen of publicity will make it go away.”

“What we need instead is the disinfectant of strong sunlight.”

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