19 March 2021
Dear Professor Corner and Ms Dinah Caine,
Cc: Kate Burrell
Re: Outcome of the investigation into racism within the Art Department
On 5 February 2021 it was reported in Staff News that the independent investigation into racism in the Art Department, resulting from Evan Ifekoya’s withdrawal of labour in June 2020, had been completed. We, as members of the GUCU Executive, are deeply troubled about the outcome of this investigation. We have four main concerns:
- To date, the Art Department has made no public statement in response to Evan Ifekoya’s statement ‘Withdrawing my labour’ released on 15 June 2020. The Department is yet to take accountability for the issues mentioned in Evan’s statement and has, thus, not provided conditions for their safe return to work.
- Evan Ifekoya, their colleagues in the Art Department, and GUCU Representatives and Equalities Officers have not been given access to the report of the investigation.
- The outcomes and recommendations of the report include measures such as ‘mandatory unconscious bias training’ and ‘conversational integrity training’. These have proven to be ineffective in tackling structural racism and have widely been disregarded as tokenistic initiatives that obfuscate, palliate, and even intensify inequalities. A number of GUCU members in Art and other departments have pointed out the inadequacy of these measures in addressing issues in the Department and College. Failure by Goldsmiths to address the feedback on this inadequacy suggests a failure in its duty to protect staff.
- Evan’s case is not alone and reflects a pattern of ineffective response to outstanding complaints of racist discrimination in other Departments and a feeling amongst our members that such complaints are not taken seriously.
- Any process of anti-racist transformation in the Department must be led by a joint committee comprising of 1) a representative group within the Department, 2) those working on anti-racism initiatives outside of the Department. This is essential if the goal is to bring about structural change with regards to racism and instil a sense of trust in an environment where trust has clearly been broken. Making such arrangements is a significant act of natural justice and due process.
GUCU, thus, demands:
- The report of the investigation be made available to staff and GUCU reps before any decisions are finalised about the implementation of its recommendations.
- Concrete measures to address structural racism in the Department must be detailed and implemented rather than the current recommended measures that are widely understood as inadequate, tokenistic, and ineffective. Failure to act on staff objections to any inadequate measures, as described above, will be understood by GUCU to constitute a failure in Goldsmiths’ duty to protect.
- The implementation of these concrete measures should be overseen by a joint committee formed in ways that are cognizant of the power structures and departmental dynamics, particularly around racism and precarity. This joint committee should also include those from outside of the Department.
- The Art Department must make a public statement addressing Evan Ifekoya’s concerns and taking accountability for the issues mentioned in their June 2020 statement.
- Advice from the newly constituted Racial Justice Strategy Board, GARA, SU Sabbatical Officers, GUCU Equalities officers, GREG, and the cross-departmental group of anti-racism leads should inform the revised measures and outcomes and set precedent for the effective handling of reporting and complaints of racism by HR and Departments across the college moving forward.
In our June 2020 statement in support of Evan Ifekoya, GUCU wrote:
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.
Months later, we still strongly feel that the College and the Art Department have failed to take meaningful steps to address institutional racism and the reasons for Evan Ifekoya’s public complaint and withdrawal of labour. This failure of the College to protect has broader implications for anti-racist work happening across the institution and for the integrity of the university’s commitment to anti-racism.
Our membership has expressed real concern that the College’s current approach and the outcomes in this case, in addition to its response to recent reports of racism in other departments, will only deter other Black and PoC staff from speaking out about racism at Goldsmiths and maintain, and even intensify, the hostile and exhausting racist work environment for many. With the intensification of these issues globally over the past year, organisations are looking at making concrete and more effective efforts in anti-racist work and we would want Goldsmiths to align with these, rather than being out-of-step. In December 2020, UCU published an action plan on community accountability and racial justice, which contains many helpful action points to protect staff and students (see community accountability and racial justice – UCU). We, therefore, ask that you address our concerns and respond to our demands with urgency.