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A postdoctoral fellow of neuroscience at Northwestern University in Illinois who was accused of posting racist and anti-semitic comments on social media was found dead on Tuesday.

After recently admitting to operating a Twitter account under the name “BartVanCaveman” that was responsible for a string of racist posts, Bart Van Alphen, 43, was found dead on a jogging path in Elliot Park, Evanston. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a suicide.

Van Alphen specialized in sleep research and the power of sleep to clear waste from the brains of fruit flies. In a message to the university, provost Kathleen M. Hagerty expressed her grief at his demise and extended her support to his family.

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Van Alphen’s social media identity was not a secret among students and peers at Northwestern. For months, students had complained to the university’s Office of Equity about the researcher’s inappropriate social media posts but received a lukewarm response.

Van Alphen had repeatedly used the N-word on Twitter as well as referring to Black people as “gibsmedat,” a racist term used for people who require social welfare programs. He once called former President Donald Trump “Trumpenfuhrer,” expressing hope for “Generation Zyklon,” a term used by right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis. 

Although the account had only a few hundred followers, things escalated when Val Alphen posted a photo of protesters on a street and captioned it as, “Small BLM protest in Evanston, apparently to get the police out of northwestern.”

This incident infuriated more Northwesterners and prompted over 100 of them to circulate a letter calling on the university to take steps to protect the student community. The letter requested the university authorities “investigate the credible allegations that had been levied” on the researcher and take immediate steps against his abhorrent, bigoted social media posts.

As the furore clearly had been taking a toll, the university received an email by Van Alphen just a day before his death where he confessed to tweeting “offensive” content and participating in a culture that “traffics in dark, cynical humor and deliberate attempts to be as offensive as possible.”


Are you in urgent need of mental health support? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.