GUCU stands in full solidarity with Evan Ifekoya’s decision to withdraw their labour from the Department of Art at Goldsmiths.
Evan’s statement ‘Withdrawing my labour’ that was publicly shared on 15 June 2020 describes how the department ‘houses unreflective and combative racism.’ A letter that noted that five out of six BAME members of staff on the BA Fine Art programme were on fixed term contracts (FTC) and was defending the jobs of these precarious BAME teaching staff was responded to with active and targeted hostility. The responses highlight and confirm the everyday racism that pervades these institutional spaces. They reveal the everyday racism that pervades the experience of being a Black academic staff member (and the only Black academic staff member on a permanent contract in the Department of Art) in a majority white department. We condemn, without reservation, the racism that Evan and other BAME members of staff have encountered in the Department of Art. These conditions of work are entirely unacceptable.
Evan’s letter also reveals how institutional racism pervades Goldsmiths and continues to make the lives and working conditions of BAME members of staff unbearable. It resonates with many Black and PoC staff across campus and echoes their experiences. The actions of Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) and their 138-day occupation of Deptford Town Hall in 2019 brought racism to the forefront in the university. Yet, the college and departments have clearly still failed to take meaningful steps to address institutional racism.
We demand an immediate response from the college to the events described by Evan Ifekoya and an urgent formal investigation into this particular case. We also demand that the university immediately addresses the many long-running issues that intersect with the issues raised by Evan’s statement: namely, the concurrent underrepresentation of BAME teaching staff in permanent positions across the university alongside the overrepresentation of BAME teaching staff within the recent and ongoing redundancies of casualised teaching staff initiated by senior managers during the Covid-19 lockdown. Structural racial biases are being exacerbated in the university to the detriment of all staff and students. BAME students, who already face institutional racism at Goldsmiths, stand to suffer significantly due to these decisions and due to the violence faced by BAME academic and teaching staff.
Evan’s announcement to withdraw their labour comes on the same day a group of fixed term workers join the marking boycott initiated by ALs/GTTs against a wave of redundancies facing casual teaching staff. These are redundancies on a huge scale: they will leave hundreds of academics unemployed during a recession and a pandemic, significantly increase workload for remaining staff (particularly BAME staff in permanent positions) and threaten the viability of undergraduate and postgraduate courses across the university. Furthermore, figures we have collected suggest that around 75% of those being laid off are from a Black and Minority Ethnic background: if these job cuts go ahead, Goldsmiths will lose a large proportion of its BAME teaching staff, leaving students with fewer non-white role models and a significantly narrower curriculum. GUCU has brought the equalities issues of these redundancies to the attention of the SMT and has sought clarity on how these layoffs will impact the diversity of staff. But management seems unphased by demands to address the disproportionate number of BAME staff on casual contracts while claiming to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder with Black students and staff’ in their recent statement in support of BLM.
As the only permanently employed Black member of staff in the department we are outraged that it has fallen on Evan to take this action in response to the racism prevalent in the Department of Art. We are outraged that Evan’s mental health has suffered greatly because of these events. As Evan has made clear in their statement, it should not be the burden of Black and POC staff to carry out anti-racist work in our institution while at the same time facing extreme hostility and everyday racism. Yet, this is the case across the institution. This has detrimental mental health consequences for BAME staff and the story that Evan has presented is familiar to many BAME staff and students at Goldsmiths.
This racism pervades all institutional spaces, including unions. It is absolutely incumbent on white members of staff, including union members, to step up to their responsibilities as allies in the struggle against racism in our institution. This means acknowledging the fact that we live a deeply racist society and that we work in an institution that bears the marks of this social reality. It means also that white staff and union members must actively call out racism and undertake anti-racist work wherever racial injustice presents itself: whether it does so explicitly in the case where an anti-racist initiative is argued down on the basis of white solidarity, or more subtly through microagressions and gaslighting, and structural factors like the race (gender) pay gap and contractual inequalities. At every level we must tackle these injustices as a matter of urgency. We must also use this moment as cause for introspection – we must ask ourselves how we can do better as a branch to tackle racism? How can we do better to prevent members feeling unable to carry out their jobs because of everyday racism? How can we establish more robust means to address racism in our own union? We are ready to do this work and address these questions.
GUCU stands in solidarity with Evan Ifekoya. We understand and support their decision to withdraw their labour from the Department of Art in Goldsmiths. We demand that the institution, SMT, and the Department of Art immediately respond to the events described by Evan and initiate an urgent formal investigation into this case. We demand that the university take seriously the fact that it is failing its BAME staff and students and its commitment to tackling institutional racism.