Students, faculty and other academics are showing their support for Carnegie Mellon linguistics professor Uju Anya with letters to the university and petition.
The rallying behind Dr Anya comes in the wake of the university condemning her recent tweets, which wished an “excruciating” death upon Queen Elizabeth II.
On Thursday, Dr Anya, who teaches second language acquisition at the esteemed Pennsylvania university, tweeted in the runup to the announcement of the Queen’s passing: “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating,”
When there was a backlash against her tweet, including criticism from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who quoted her original post, Dr Anya doubled down.
“If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star,” she tweeted.
Dr Anya, who describes herself on Twitter as an “antiracist” and “feminist,” was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and mother from Trinidad and Tobago. Both countries were colonised by the British.
Twitter removed her original tweet with a message that it violated company policy. Carnegie Mellon quickly took strides to distance itself from her comments.
“We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya today on her personal social media account,” the university tweeted last week.
“Free expression is core to the mission of higher education, however, the views she shared absolutely do not represent the values of the institution, nor the standards of discourse we seek to foster.”
Champions of free speech and academic discourse, however, have since come to the aid of Dr Anya.
The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday that it had sent a letter to Carnegie Mellon President Farnam Jahanian urging the university not to sanction the professor.
“Professor Anya’s criticism of Queen Elizabeth is clearly protected under the First Amendment standards to which the university commits. CMU promises faculty that it values free speech, and it cannot backtrack when facing criticism — no matter how strong,” Sabrina Conza said in an emailed statement to the newspaper.
On Monday, students, faculty and other members of academia penned a letter with a corresponding petition to the university in support of Dr Anya.
“We recognize her immensely impactful role on campus and believe firmly in her right to free speech and safety,” it reads.
“CMU’s public condemnation of her tweet provides no institutional protection from violence and places her in a precarious position, ignoring a long history of institutional racism and colonialism. Rejecting calls for ‘civility’ that are frequently leveraged against the marginalized to silence dissent, we express our solidarity with Dr Anya and reject the tone-policing of those with legitimate grievances.”
The letter also takes aim at the university’s hasty response to the professor’s tweets last week.
“We have seen the brief statement distancing the school from Dr. Anya’s tweets, claiming she does not represent the school’s values,” the petition continues. “We agree. Dr Anya certainly does not represent the values of Carnegie Mellon University. A university with unceded First Nations land and only nine Black tenured professors out of 477 cannot possibly share the same values as an African-Caribbean Black woman who is also an intersectional feminist, can it?
“Given CMU’s statement, one has to wonder, is the silencing of people of African and Caribbean descent in line with CMU values? Is the right to the full expression of emotions and speech reserved for Americans of a specific hue?”
Neither Carnegie Mellon nor Dr Anya has returned requests for comment from The Independent.
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