A white University of New Hampshire chemistry professor is accused of impersonating an immigrant of color on Twitter to make racist and sexist comments and attack users who supported racial justice and other progressive causes.
The university did not name the professor it said was under investigation related to the social media allegations. A spokesperson said the person “is on leave and not in class.”
“We are deeply disturbed by what we have learned so far and have immediately launched an investigation,” university spokeswoman Erika Mantz said.
The chair of the university’s chemistry department, Glen Miller, declined to discuss the matter.
But in an email to the department that was shared with The Associated Press by a department source who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal, Miller acknowledged that the professor created a fake Twitter account and posted tweets ranging from “unfortunate to hurtful to deeply offensive”.
Several people who reviewed the account before it was taken down last week said there were regular posts containing racist, sexist and transphobic comments and images over the past year.
Toby Santamaria, a plant biology graduate student at Michigan State who identifies with the gender-neutral term Latinx, has been attacked online by followers of the Twitter account.
“I’m disgusted but not really surprised,” Santamaria said.
The person behind the account also opened up about how they fought back against efforts by their unnamed department to speak out against racial injustice following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. They have also regularly brought up their fake background to criticize users who push for more diversity in science, math, engineering and technology or STEM fields.
“He just wanted to silence dissent,” Santamaria said, recalling that the user often suggested that trans people don’t exist and that sexism and racism in STEM aren’t an issue.
“Any time people would criticize the account and say we know racism exists in STEM and we know sexism is a problem, it would say I’m a woman of color, so that’s not it. a problem.”
Susanna Harris, who runs a business that supports graduate students and clashed with the person behind the account, agreed that the goal of posting as a person of color was to discredit diversity efforts.
“It gives validity to the thoughts of people, in my opinion, who are pushing this racist narrative that these efforts are unnecessary,” she said.
More troubling, Santamaria and Harris said, was the account user’s habit of primarily attacking women of color who disagreed with him and encouraging his followers to do the same. The two women were attacked after demanding that the account be ignored or standing up for those who had been attacked.
The account accused Harris of trying to prevent the debate because she was white. In the days that followed, the person also blamed Harris for the suicide of a North Carolina professor, who had recently retired after a backlash over comments he made on social media.
“It was scary,” Harris said of the trade. “Sometimes the internet cuts through real life. A lot of my work goes through social media and science communication. Defaming my persona online affects my ability to do these things, but there’s also the very real threat that people can find my personal position.
The case comes at a sensitive time for the university. He has worked for several years to fight racism on campus and diversify the student body. Last week he hosted a virtual town hall on racism, diversity, equity and inclusion.
For this reason, many people familiar with the case argue that the university must take a hard line against the professor. Some have called for him to be fired while others have argued that he should be placed on extended leave and be required to undergo extensive racial sensitivity training.
Miller, in his email, said he was “deeply offended” by “the professor’s words and tactics, but I’m not letting him down.” “I want to give him the opportunity to repair the damage and move on, however difficult it may be,” he added.