Hundreds of students have signed an open letter condemning Carnegie Mellon University for publicly throwing professor Uju Anya under the bus after tweeting that she wished the late Queen Elizabeth II “excruciating pain” in death for serving as the head of a “thieving raping genocidal empire.” Coincidentally, Carnegie Mellon actions came after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos expressed his displeasure at Anya’s tweet. The e-commerce giant is a major donor at the university.
In their letter, which began circulating on Twitter over the weekend, the students said they believed firmly in Anya’s right to free speech and safety. According to the students, the university’s statement on Anya’s tweets—which it called “offensive and objectionable” and not representative of “the values of the institution”—provides her with no institutional protection from violence and places her in a precarious position.
“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 students wrote.
Besides rejecting the institution’s response, the students are asking Carnegie Mellon to protect Anya’s position at the university.
As of the time of publication of this article, nearly 350 Carnegie Mellon students and alumni had signed the letter, which was still open for signatures. Support for Anya has also come from people outside of Carnegie Mellon, with students and alumni from universities across the world signing the letter.
Gizmodo reached out to Carnegie Mellon for comment multiple times on Monday but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
On Thursday, the day of Queen Elizabeth’s death, social media was abuzz with speculation and anticipation. Anya, a Black woman who teaches in the field of critical applied linguistics, added her thoughts to the conversation.
“I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying,” Anya said in a tweet, which was subsequently deleted by Twitter for what it claimed was a violation of its rules on abusive behavior. “May her pain be excruciating.”
Anya’s tweet quickly began to drum up controversy and pushback, with some people stating she could have “benefitted from the civilizational goals and benefits of colonialism” and others saying that she was from a “lineage of losers.” Yet, the professor’s tweet also received many messages of support from people who echoed her opinions and thanked her for speaking up.
The professor’s tweet also caught the attention of Bezos. Amazon is one of Carnegie Mellon’s donors and in 2021 gifted the university $2 million for its Computer Science Academy, a program that provides a free, online computer science curriculum to middle and high school students.
“This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow,” Bezos tweeted, citing Anya’s tweet.
After Bezos weighed in, Anya, who was born in Nigeria after the country’s civil war in the late 1960s, addressed the subject once more on Twitter. The United Kingdom supported the government of Nigeria in the war, supplying it with weapons in its battle against Biafra, the former Eastern region of the country that had declared its independence.
“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.
Although Queen Elizabeth II acknowledged the UK’s dark colonial past during her lifetime, she never apologized for what was done.
In response to Anya’s tweets, Carnegie Mellon disavowed her statements with its own message on Twitter.
“We do not condone the offensive and objectionable messages posted by Uju Anya today on her personal social media account,” the university said on Thursday. “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.”
Anya spoke about the experience she’s had since her tweet about Queen Elizabeth II in an interview with The Cut on Friday. The professor shared that she’s been getting hate emails calling her the N-word, bitch, and genetically inferior, among other horrible things. On the subject of getting singled out by Bezos, Anya said that the billionaire’s comments have incited violence against her.
She’s not surprised, though, and has a theory on why Bezos tweeted about her. In August, Anya met and took a photo with Chris Smalls, a former Black Amazon warehouse worker who helped organize the first labor union at the company in Staten Island, New York. She tweeted out her photo and called Smalls an “extraordinary, brilliant, and talented young man.”
“We all know Bezos is a small and petty man,” Anya told the outlet.
In the interview, the professor underscored that the term “colonizer” is not an abstract one for her. Her parents and siblings survived the genocide that occurred during Nigeria’s civil war. Anya herself was born in Nigeria in 1976 and lived there for 10 years where “there was always this specter of what was lost.” Half of her family was slaughtered.
Anya is not sorry for what she said about the late Queen Elizabeth II.
“‘Colonizer’ is not an abstract term for me. It’s not just something I read about in history books or a word I throw around. It’s something that has directly affected my life and continues to through this day,” she said. “It is deeply offensive for anyone to presume to tell me that I have to cry over the death of somebody who killed my people, or I have to be respectful in their passing. For what? Who are they to me except a violent oppressor?”