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June 17, 2020

Goldsmiths Staffer Quits in Response to Art Department's "Combative Racism"

 

Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, University of London. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

LONDON, ENGLAND—Artist Evan Ifekoya—the only permanently employed black staffer in the art department of Goldsmiths at the University of London—resigned on Monday in protest of the “unreflective and combative racism” they experienced at the prestigious art school.

“I refuse to carry the burden of being the only permanently employed Black member of academic staff within the Art Department at Goldsmiths,” Ifekoya wrote in a public letter, titled “Withdrawing my labor,” that has circulated widely on social media. “To be so within a team of 70+ people—a tiny fraction of whom are people of color—in 2020 is not acceptable.”

Remarking on their decision to depart, the artist cited their coworkers’ response to a letter that was shared internally on June 10 and which urged staffers to stand in solidarity with the university’s black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) colleagues whose jobs are threatened since Goldsmiths is not planning on renewing any fixed-term contract workers—five out of six of the art department’s BAME staffers have fixed-term contracts.

According to Ifekoya, the document was criticized and opposed by those who argued the letter was “coercive.” “Following the letter’s circulation, I saw my inbox fill with CC’ed emails from colleagues who angrily rejected the open letter,” wrote Ifekoya. “Some responded by arguing that all staff matter, as if the mere mention of BAME workers takes attention away from white people. . . . This language reveals a lot about what my coworkers think it might mean to center the needs of people of color. These complaints came mostly from senior staff members and, as of today, their comments remain unchallenged.”

Ifekoya continued: “I refuse to work as a racialized individual who is perceived by default to shoulder antiracist work because of the color of my skin. I refuse to continue to absorb racism experienced on an interpersonal, institutional, structural, and economic level. I refuse to let my mental health deteriorate as a consequence of the violence I experience in my workplace. I refuse to allow work to continue as normal.”

Last October, Goldsmiths was accused of watering down a report on how BAME students have experienced racism at the institution, by editing out a foreword written by a student activist organization on the grounds that it was “too political,” reports The Guardian. Originally commissioned by the student’s union, the report was taken over by the university due to a lack of funds, with the understanding that the union would have the final edit and the ability to include a foreword. The report found that 26 percent of students had experienced racism from peers and staff, and that they did not trust the school to handle complaints.

In response to Ifekoya’s decision to withdraw their labor, a Goldsmiths spokesperson told Artnews: “We fully recognize that simply stating we are committed to tackling racial injustice in all its forms is not enough and will be discussing with students and colleagues what more we need to do if we are to eliminate the scourge of racism from our community.” The school’s website also outlines a list of six “key priorities” that it will focus on over the course of the next year to “advance race equality,” including anti-racism training and the development of an overall “racial justice strategy.”

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