SOAS: The many complaints against Adam Habib

Staff and students say the South African Director cannot continue after he verbalised the word "nigger"

The following are some of the responses to SOAS Director Adam Habib's comment to a student seminar on Zoom that: “If someone used the word ‘nigger’ against another staff member, then it would violate our policy and action would be taken.


Staff vote no confidence in SOAS Director Adam Habib

23 March 2021

SOAS UNISON members have overwhelmingly backed a vote of no confidence in SOAS Director Adam Habib. A motion of no confidence was passed at an Emergency General Meeting of the UNISON branch held on Tuesday (23 March), with 98% of members present voting in favour of the motion, 0% against, and 2% abstaining.

Members also called on the School to ensure that no student faces repercussions for challenging the Director’s use of the N-word in the All-Student meeting of 11 March 2021 [see below], and to provide transparency regarding its handling of complaints following that meeting.

The branch also called on the School to take urgent steps, in consultation with the Equalities and Black Members reps of the campus trade unions, Students’ Union, and Art and The African Mind Society, to address the serious concerns that have been raised regarding anti-black racism within the School.


Cross-Union Statement on Adam Habib

12 March 2021

SOAS Director Adam Habib used the N-word in an all student meeting on March 11th and has since publicly denied any wrongdoing. This is an unacceptable act of antiblack racism which we – the campus unions – find intolerable and condemn unreservedly. We stand in solidarity with Black students at SOAS that had to witness Habib’s behaviour.

We stand in solidarity with Art and the African Mind Society and Black Student Body who have organised to condemn Habib’s behaviour [see below]. We stand in solidarity with SOAS SU’s opposition to Habib’s behaviour. We encourage members to read the linked interventions for details of the incident.

We request the School makes available the recording of the meeting. We note that the SOAS Black student body has stated an apology at this stage is insufficient and called for Habib’s resignation; as campus unions we will now urgently consult our members on their support for the call for resignation and what further action the School should take. We insist that any accountability for Habib’s actions do not reproduce or contribute to wider practices of racism, including racist attacks against Habib himself.

Habib has responded to this incident by saying ‘context matters’. We therefore note our concern with Habib’s wider behaviour, before and after this incident. Both at the moment he said the N-word and subsequently during a discussion of SOAS teaching provision on African Studies in the same meeting, Habib shouted over (if not directly at) students and sought to undermine a Black diasporic student’s African identity.

This is consistent with his behaviour in other contexts, resorting to hostility, disrespect and dismissiveness when any objection, criticism or disagreement is raised. We note that such behaviour – in its repetition and consistency – is tantamount to bullying; we are concerned that SOAS’s Code of Conduct, Dignity and Respect policy and duty of care towards students has been breached and call on the School to investigate accordingly.

Following the meeting with students, Habib took to Twitter to deny any wrongdoing and (once again dismiss) student objections as ‘identity politics’, claiming that his own position is instead informed by ‘class dimensions’. We reject Habib’s class reductionism, as if racism is not also a class issue. We note the power of antiblack racism, hostility, disrespect and dismissiveness that Habib is able to wield in his interactions with students and staff is not disconnected from his very class position as the Director of a university.

We also note that Habib’s problematic behaviour has been a feature of his interactions with working class members of staff, most notably in his hostile and dismissive interactions with (among others) the Justice for Workers campaign.

We note Habib’s longer history of reaction in relation to questions of economic justice, including calling the militarised police on #FeesMustFall student protesters at Wits University as Vice Chancellor there. For Habib to invoke class in this context is cynical, crass and unacceptable.

We also note that Habib’s antiblack racism is emblematic of a longer durational and structural racism that pervades the British university sector of which SOAS is a part. It is our duty as workers in the sector to oppose racism in all of its forms, especially when it happens at our own institution.

There were a number of conversations among colleagues around antiblack racism over the summer in the context of Black Lives Matter protests. SOAS moreover has public commitments to other practices of antiracism, including the Decolonising SOAS Vision.

There are serious ongoing issues at SOAS surrounding the awarding gap, teaching content, Black students’ wellbeing, university fees and student debt, surveillance, bordering and policing. If we are to take these issues seriously and tackle them substantively we require unflinching commitment from everyone, including the leaders of the institution. This incident throws into question whether our Director Adam Habib is fit to meet such challenges.

SOAS UCU Executive Committee

SOAS UNISON Branch Committee

SOAS Students’ Union



#3 For many of us, people of African descent, both in the continent and the diaspora, the N-word has historically been used by non-Black people for dehumanisation. It is a word loaded with violence, violence that has been specifically targeted at Black people. Adam Habib’s bellicose rationalisation of using such a word against a Black student is especially vicious. We were astonished, shocked and disgusted to witness such a callous attack, on screen, committed by a grown man, who has in his own lifetime seen how pervasively colonialism, imperialism and racism has etched itself on the lives of South Africans.

Many who may share similar politics with Habib could use the excuse of their non-Whiteness to justify the use of the racial slur in question. Non-whiteness has not, nor will it ever be grounds to use the N-word as anti-Blackness is exclusively inflicted upon us, people of African descent, globally. Habib should know this.

Anti-Black racism refers to the direct and indirect, systemic and systematic forms of discrimination that directly impact the lives of Black folks adversely; producing psychological, social, economic, spiritual, physical, emotional and internal degradation and suppression and erasure of Black folk.

As the student who was publicly assaulted echoed the sentiment of the rest of the Black community at SOAS, said to Habib: “You can’t use that word. You are not a Black man so you can’t use the word. You don’t have the lived experience. You do not face the trauma and oppression of the Black body, what we go through 24/7... for the last 500 years. You do not embody our history, so, therefore you cannot use that word. Our own alumni, Walter Rodney have written why people, non-Black POC and white bodies shouldn’t use the ‘N-word’ because when it comes from that perspective then it’s a whole different story from our own perspective which is autonomy, agency and the reclamation of our own history.” (From the student address video clip - 11/03/2021)

It has been almost a fortnight since this horrific incident has occured, and although Habib has stepped aside from his position as director, it is far too little for justice and accountability. The replacement interim director has not even yet communicated with the injured student, instead she has used the opportunity to announce her new position for image control.

Adam Habib is a danger to learners, he has shown more than once that he will inflict violence on his students who all pay fees which guarantee his salary. To pay such exorbitant fees and have one’s welfare compromised is a derision. The Board of Trustees (BoT) headhunted Habib and spent £200,000 in their search. Habib’s position costs another £230,000 a year as salary, some of this money could have been used to fund the Africa Section which was dissolved earlier last year or to improve the efficiency of the library.

This is one of the many incidents where the BoT in its incompetence has acted against the wishes of the university and its student body and staff. SOAS has a long history of mismanagement of resources, structural inequalities, structural racism, deliberate efforts to not listen to students and staff, partnerships with violent organizations, supremacist groups and individuals, such as Gunnar Beck, a German neo-Nazi party (AFD) EU represenative, who is a lecturer at SOAS. Habib’s employment and behaviour is the university’s new low.

This incident is being investigated by Judy Clements OBE, someone with a background and connection to the Met Police and the Home Office, she is part of the incarceration system that particularly targets and affects Black people at a disproportionately higher rate compared to the rest of the population. This person’s proximity to institutional power and policing means that they cannot be trusted to empathise with students from vulnerable backgrounds.

The BoT has more than once endangered their own staff and students by using the power of the State to control and subjugate, as seen in their collaboration with the UK Home Office against cleaners; nine of whom were deported, and their partnership with Prevent; which targets students of certain backgrounds.

The BoT does not differ much from Habib in this regard, as Habib has used state violence on South African students by inviting the police in South Africa to occupy Wits University campus and Habib’s police guests continued to shoot and injure students and bystanders indiscriminately. We refuse to have state apparatus in learning environments. Could the Board not find a more reputable anti-racism organisation?

Furthermore, the current process of investigation that SOAS management has commissioned has been without any input or consultation from the Students’ Union, anti-racism officers, or SOAS societies that centre and advocate for Black students such as the African & Caribbean Society, SOAS Somali Society and ourselves Art and the African Mind. We find this process dismissive, insulting and untrustworthy. This investigation will not only serve to keep Habib as director, but will also gaslight and erase our efforts towards fighting systemic and structural oppression at SOAS. We need to be heard and we continue to demand the removal of Adam Habib as director.

We the Black student body at SOAS say, No to Racism. We say, No to Misogyny. We say, No to any form of violence on students and staff. We say, No to Adam Habib! We say, No to the Board of Trustees and their ignorance of the gravity of racism on campus. We say, No to policing and efforts to solve the problem of Habib by bringing an individual with a background similar to the individuals Habib brought to Wits University to silence South African students. Enough is enough. Habib must go!

We acknowledge and appreciate the solidarity of:

- SOAS Palestine Society - BDS.

- SOAS Justice for workers.

- SOAS Preventing Prevent.

- SOAS Fractionals For Fair Play.

- SOAS Students’ Union.

- SOAS Syria Society.

- SOAS Iran Society.

- Trans* Dignity at SOAS.

- SOAS Disabled Students Society.

- SOAS MENA Society.

- SOAS Bangla Society.

- SOAS Dead Philosophers Society.


- SOAS Anthropology students and Fractional Staff.

- SOAS Detainee Support.

- South African & Wits University’s students.

- Economic Freedom Fighters party.

- South African Natives Forum.

- Tribe Named Athari, London.

Adam Habib must leave



#2 We, Art and African Mind (AAM), a Black student body at SOAS are extremely hurt and disappointed by the statement released by Marie Staunton, the Chair of SOAS’ Board of Trustees (BoT).

We find the Board’s statement cynical, alarming, disempowering and disingenuous, especially since the Board has not found the time since the racial abuse on the 11th March to reach out to the student; to provide mental health or any sort of healing. Instead, the Board is centering the victimizer and providing him the humanity he stripped off the Black student by negating his Africanness and his identity.

Habib calls himself African and says the student is not African. For Habib, an upper class South African of (South) Asian descent, who has lived through Apartheid, to re-classify a Black person with a logic that echoes Apartheid South Africa’s racist re-defininition non-white folk is not only cynical, it is also violently colonial. We shall not be erased from ourselves this way.

Currently, the Black student of Somali descent, whose identity was re-classified, whose existence was erased by Habib, is deferring his BA in African Studies and losing a whole year of his studies.

Adam Habib, who has lived for over half a century and has participated in many Higher Learning platforms, on the African continent; has not bothered or taken the minimum initiative to educate himself on the plight of Black people due to White supremacy. Instead, he has taken all the opportunities to re-emphasise and rationalise his use of the N-Word, which he continued in a string of 17 tweets the next day.

For these reasons and others, we have been explicit in our initial demand that Adam Habib be removed from office. It is egregious for the BoT and senior managers at SOAS to accept the dishonest apology from Habib, on behalf of Black students, when Habib’s first action was to defend himself by saying South Africans use this word, and to unashamedly continue using this racialised language on Twitter to further harm Black students and Black folk.

We do not need or want Habib’s apology, whether it is directly from him, the BoT or the 17 tweets he decided to type to justify use of a racial slur and simply reduce it to identity politics. We do not care whether he has chosen to ‘educate himself’ now or whether he will commit to this ‘education’ at all when he has disrupted a Black student’s Education. The behaviour he exhibits is offensive, deplorable and inexcusable.

We would like to know how the BoT concluded that Habib's actions and subsequent apology would suffice. Do the BoT decide how Black students, staff and members of the Black community should feel and do they decide what should or should not hurt and offend us? The response to this incident from the Board implies that they believe they determine how and what Black people at SOAS, and outside SOAS, should be offended by. Is the Board deciding on behalf of Black people that his apology is enough to remedy the hurt caused to Black people, even despite the Board possibly not understanding the depth of the hurt.

How can we trust SOAS management with our pain and trauma from racism when the very same management has received our complaints as a society representing the Black Student Body over the past three years?

- When some of the students in these three years have graduated, left SOAS with the hurt and the assaults they have borne the brunt of.

- When there have been complaints against staff in departments such as the Africa Section, Politics and International Relations that have not been processed.

- When some of these staff members have resigned from SOAS without ever being held accountable.

- When staff members who have racially abused Black students, instead of being disciplined as we have asked, have then turned around to harass and revictimise Black students and a few Black lecturers and lecturers of colour who have shown Solidarity with Black students.

We, the student body representatives from AAM are further appalled that we have to initiate and request a meeting with Marie Staunton. In the meantime a predominantly liberal middle-class group of individuals are deciding on how to deal with the issue of racism and anti-Blackness without even consulting those affected.

How can we trust SOAS management, when they assume to understand our plight, pain and trauma when they continue to act as they have been, shielding the aggressor and making an apology on his behalf, in our name? How does SOAS management and Board know the Black experience? How is the Board of Trustees our representative when they have not tried to reach out to Black Students?

We, more than anyone, know how crucial it is to tackle structural racism and anti-Blackness within the institution and have for years been asking for this with almost no institutional support. We cannot trust the process that is being implemented by the School committed to keeping Habib, without even a slap on the wrist.

We have no confidence in Habib’s ability or willingness to meaningfully reflect on his actions. More importantly, we do not want to engage with him. He has shown no remorse, and by forcing this individual to interact with Black students the School is actively exposing more students to harm. Clarification: We have had enough workshops, we want him fired. Gone. Immediately.

Just because you are not white does not mean you are not a White supremacist. The BoT’s action, by telling us, Black students, to disregard our own safety and retraumatize ourselves in ‘dialogue’, all for the sake of Habib’s ego and the university’s pseudo-decolonising image, is a heinous failure.

The suggestion to keep this man as the director, confirms the BoTs’ refusal to address the anti-Blackness that numerous students of African heritage constantly face. There is nothing to be taken ‘in context’ when a non-Black person says the N-word. It is intellectually dishonest to say South Africans use the N-word. It is shocking for a “confirmed African” to not understand the conditions that have placed Black people in the West. To dispossess them of their identity is insidious and panders to a racist logic.

We strongly urge the BoT to reconsider their current position. In his short time as the Director, Adam Habib has failed to show leadership, he has so far demonstrated; his willingness to attack and harm individuals he has a duty of care towards, anti-Blackness, and most importantly he has an undeniable history and reputation of doing so.

Adam Habib must leave.



Fill in this form as a sign of solidarity & support of our demands.



Adam Habib used the N word on March 11th publicly, in an all-student meeting and when a Black student of Somali descent appealed to him to the fact that he could not use that word, Adam Habib dispossessed the Black student of his Blackness and then informed the student that he Adam Habib is African and the student is not.

This is violent and emblematic of the experience that Black students go through at SOAS: In class, in public spaces and in their learning environment. This attitude has been shown by academic staff, security and fellow students. SOAS’s historical failure to deal with these problems, after many attempts by Black students through the Art and the African Mind Society to address, discipline, and request management to rectify or address these disparities is very symbolic of the structural racism embedded within SOAS.

The BAME attainment gap particularly pertaining to Black students, stems primarily from this kind of treatment, erasure, disregard, silencing and removal from equal participation the minds and the bodies of black students. Black students already find it difficult to speak, show up and be in academic spaces due to such disregard.

SOAS has systematically failed to address Black students’ concerns and grievances that have been brought up in front of them in the past three years through academic management and the directorship. Therefore, Adam Habib’s behaviour and the lack of action and silence from the board of trustees who were present (and therefore the condoning of Habib’s abuse) brutal attack on the Black student is very characteristic of the kind of values that Black students now understand SOAS to be representative of.

We are calling for the removal, resignation and/or dismissal of Adam Habib within the next 31 days.

As a Black student body we find it infuriatingly insulting and hurtful, we do not care for or want an apology, we are calling for Adam Habib’s dismissal by Monday 12th April 2021. For us as a Black student body, we shall not accept leadership from a director who is racist and does not understand the African condition, African History and why there are Black Africans in the diaspora.

We are deeply horrified by an act by this man to discredit, devalue, dispossess, strip off completely the humanity of a Black and African person inside a university that has Africa in its name. Adam Habib’s distorted idea of Africanness does not represent us as Black and African students.

This is an insult to the entire Black community. We have been defined, spoken over, described, labeled, renamed by this colonial and racist mentality. We are saying we have had enough and we ask SOAS to make a stand to show that WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH!