Steven Edwards is a second year maths student at SelwynEmily Brailsford

“It’s disappointing,” said one gay mathematician on his department’s appointment of Aron Wall, an academic who has made openly homophobic comments on his blog. “I’d like to give him a chance,” another student said, “but I would feel uncomfortable.”

Aron Wall’s appointment by the University has been widely publicised after his comments emerged. Earlier this year, Varsity reported that Wall wrote on his blog in 2015 that same-sex couples engage in “unnatural sexual acts”, and same sex marriage “hurts only the couple themselves”. Wall is due to join the university’s mathematics faculty in January 2019.

Varsity spoke to LGBT+ mathematicians about their reactions to Wall’s comments, and their feelings about potentially having to work with him in the future.

“I’d like to give him a little bit of a chance,” said Jonny Tsang, a PhD student in fluid mechanics.

Earlier this year after news of Wall’s homophobic comments emerged, Tsang created an LGBT+ mathmos mailing list. Around 70 students have joined the list, which the mathematics faculty has expressed support for. Meetings of all interested students have been planned for later this term, which organisers have said they hope will create a more unified and supportive environment.

Tsang told Varsity that they told Wall of the mailing list over email, saying, “I’ve invited him to take a look at our mailing list, to join up and to get to know the people here.” 

They said that as far as lectures are concerned, “as long as he sticks to the topic of the lectures, I don’t think his personal views are that troubling.”

However, Tsang remarked that the prospect of being supervised by Wall was “different”: “I’ve certainly had supervisors with strong views on things I disagree with, but then again it’s not been quite as personal as this. Nothing that hits at my identity.”

Tsang added that for supervisions, it is “very important” that there is a “respectful relationship”, both academic and personal, between a student and their PhD supervisor.

Steven Edwards, a second-year LGBT+ maths student, also said that he would feel “uncomfortable” being supervised by Wall.

Although Edwards acknowledged that personal conversations are unlikely to arise in maths supervisions and he wouldn’t anticipate any discussion which would cause him to feel “personally attacked”, the issue would lie in “knowing that in that person’s head they have those homophobic thoughts.”

Wall will begin teaching at Cambridge in 2019Stephanie Stacey

Asked whether Wall’s appointment has affected how supported he feels as an LGBT+ student in Cambridge, Edwards replied, “yes, of course”. He explained: “You don’t expect people like this to exist any more, and especially not to be hired at Cambridge.”

When contacted for comment on LGBT+ students’ discomfort with his employment, Wall directed Varsity to the University’s communications department.

On Wednesday in an introductory lecture, second year mathematicians were reminded of the University’s commitment to equality and diversity, and urged to call out any unprofessional or troubling behaviour by academic staff. Guidance on how best to raise concerns was offered to the students, along with examples of previous incidences of faculty action following student concerns.

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When asked if he would attend lectures given by Wall, Edwards replied that he “wouldn’t have any other choice”, adding: “You could not go in protest but that's just hindering yourself more than helping any cause.”

He noted that lectures, especially large maths lectures, allow little space for personal views to be expressed, saying, “For all I know I could’ve been lectured by massive homophobes before, and I never knew about it, and it hasn’t really affected my experience.”

Although Edwards acknowledged the need to prioritise high teaching standards, and said that with “regards to the University hiring the best person for the job, I respect that completely”, he noted that he was still disappointed. He stressed, “the maths world is so maths-centric that I don’t think pastoral [care] comes into it at all.”

Edwards raised concerns about any role Wall may take on in terms of personal and pastoral care within the University: “Can he really take himself out of the situation of being homophobic and actually give someone real advice? I don’t think he can.”

Wall noted his intention to work as a college supervisor in a blog post earlier this year where he announced his appointment to the faculty, saying: “My talents shine best in a one-on-one setting, where I can adapt my approach to each student”, adding: “I'll definitely apply to join a college, but I don't know which one yet.”

Ethan Redmond, a second year mathematician, said that he has previously raised his concerns over Wall’s appointment to Professor Nigel Peake, the head of the Department of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics, whom, he says, was “supportive” and “genuinely considered” his views.

“Can he really take himself out of the situation of being homophobic and actually give someone real advice? I don’t think he can.”

Asked about the line between the faculty’s commitment to freedom and their commitment to  diversity, he said: “I don’t think the faculty does have a commitment to freedom of expression.”

Redmond explained, “I think the faculty has a commitment to making sure everyone can do the best work they can, which means, in my opinion, no discrimination.”

Although Redmond warned that firing Wall based on his views might set a “dangerous precedent”, he said that other options should be offered to students who would feel uncomfortable being taught by him. He said, “I think we have the right to not be supervised by people who we would feel uncomfortable with, and I would definitely feel uncomfortable in this case.”

The Faculty of Mathematics released a statement when news of Wall’s comments became known, saying: “We take the concerns of our staff and students very seriously.” They affirmed their commitment to supporting current and prospective LGBT+ staff, students and visitors, and promised to work to support any concerned students. They emphasised that the Faculty does not accept any form of discrimination and “will remain vigilant and act decisively when issues arise.”

Redmond praised this, but another mathematics undergraduate, who chose to remain anonymous, considered the explanation and support to be “inadequate” in the face of Wall’s appointment.

The anonymous student said, “I believe that the right to religious views is of the utmost importance, however that simply does not excuse hate speech dressed up as religious views.”

He described the homophobic attitudes displayed on Wall’s blog as “a backwards way of thinking which does not belong at any educational institution.”

In his 2015 blog posts, Wall expressed his belief that members of the “gay community” live a “notoriously promiscuous, reckless, and obscene lifestyle”.

Wall said that “those who seek to normalize gay relationships should start by taking a long and hard look at previous cultures in which it was culturally tolerated for many generations, and ask whether they would really want to live in a society like those.”

In a different post, written in March 2015, he openly criticised the gender transitioning process, and said, “I think the wholesome and psychologically-integrated thing to do is accept the body which God actually gave us”, and that “trying to be somebody completely different is not the right way to fix body image problems”. He added that, “it’s not politically correct to find this procedure disgusting, but again on any objective standard I think it really is”.

Specialising in black hole thermodynamics and quantum gravity, he has been employed by the Stanford Institute for Theoretical Physics since 2017. After previous coverage of his appointment and views, Wall deleted the controversial comments from his blog.

Like other students contacted by Varsity, the student said he would attend lectures and classes given by Wall in order to avoid damaging his education, but emphasised that many of the views openly expressed by Wall deeply offend and distress him. He argued that Wall does not “deserve any pastoral role unless he gives a full statement apologising and retracting his previous views”.

The student did, however, praise the University for the equality and diversity work that they have done, saying: “I don't think I can speak for everyone – but in my personal experience the University has good intentions when it comes to striving for equality,” although “this episode shows it is not perfect.”

Tsang similarly praised the faculty’s work on diversity, but highlighted areas where he believed improvements could be made, in expanding efforts to recruit transgender and non-binary students and in establishing a maths-specific LGBT+ society.


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CUSU LGBT+ Campaign President Alistair Hyde said he found the prospect that Wall could be “involved directly in welfare roles” concerning, as he said it “could have an exceedingly negative effect on the welfare of LGBT+ students”. In a bid to reassure any worried students, however, he added his belief that “any issues will be swiftly dealt with by his college or his department, and concerns will be taken seriously.”