Goldsmiths administration have come under fire recently for their treatment towards Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff in the art department.
A letter signed by 92 members of staff that detailed micro aggressions and acts of racism faced by members of staff within the institution was sent to Goldsmiths University at the beginning of June. The letter details the lack of support they have received from the university administration.
The open letter described the precarious contracts on which staff were working at the time.
It said: “Five out of six members of BAME staff on the flagship BA Fine Art programme are on fixed term contracts. These contracts will be cut if the College policy to not renew [fixed term contracts] goes ahead.”
This letter was written in response to Goldsmiths’ letter to the American Ambassador, Robert Wood Johnson, regarding the murder of George Floyd.
At this time, Lauren Corelli, Goldsmiths SU President said that 472 staff members across the whole university were at risk and 75% of those were BAME lecturers. Since then, the five BAME staff members whose jobs were at risk in the art department have not had their contracts renewed. The university cited financial troubles as the reason for the sacking but went on to offer former Tory MP Dominic Grieve a job in the Law Department, not a month later.
Evan Ikefoya, the only black member of staff with a permanent contract in a department of 85 academics, made a statement on Instagram about withdrawing their labour from the college after Warden Frances Corner did not respond to the letter. They referred to the reaction of their colleges to the letter as a major reason for their withdrawal and declared that they will not be returning until the demands put forward by the open letter have been met. It has been 139 days and Evan Ikefoya has not been received a statement from the University.
In their statement, Ikefoya said: “[The response] reveals a lot about what my co-workers think it might mean to centre the needs of people of colour. These complaints came mostly from senior staff members and, as of today, their comments remain unchallenged.”
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: “We are committed to investigating any specific reports of racist behaviour made to the College as a priority and taking appropriate action.”
“We fully recognise that simply stating we are committed to tackling racial injustice in all its forms is not enough. Our Warden, Professor Frances Corner, has made a personal pledge to drive forward our work to combat the scourge of racism at Goldsmiths and to meet the standards our community rightly demands.”
The spokesperson also emphasised that the Department of Art has been introducinga range of initiatives to combat racism, including fundraising for scholarships for People of Colour (POC) students joining art undergraduate programmes, and establishing anti-racist learning resources for staff and students alongside a staff anti-racist reading group.
Visual Cultures lecturer, Dr. Ramon Amaro, who taught the undergraduate Art History module The Fact of Blackness and Black Poetics, resigned this summer in favour of taking a position at University College London. While not citing institutional racism as his reason for leaving, he said on twitter that it was a largely contributing factor, and that he stood in solidarity with Ikefoya and the other BAME staff members.
In response to Ikefoya’s withdrawal letter, Amaro addressed Corner and said: “I ask that you consider this loss of another faculty of colour and open an investigation into this behaviour within the Art Department.”
Corner has yet to personally address Ikefoya, Amaro and their colleagues.
You can donate to the hardship fund for staff who have lost their jobs this summer here.