Ruth Wetters, BA Chinese (Modern & Classical)
“The struggle of Goldsmiths University is a universal struggle”
After a long-running anti-racism campaign at Goldsmiths, University of London, a report released by Goldsmiths University has revealed widespread experiences of racism among students of colour.
Roughly 45% of Goldsmiths students are from minority backgrounds. Within this group, 26% of students surveyed reported experiencing racism from students or staff. A further 43% experienced racialised microaggressions, and 37% of students felt excluded from university life due to racial discrimination. The 57-page report was commissioned by Goldsmiths’ students’ union and is the first investigation by a higher education institution into racism.
However, the report is facing criticism by members of Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA), who claim that a foreword written by a student was pulled last-minute for being ‘too political’. Mona Mounir, Welfare and Liberation Officer at Goldsmiths Students’ Union, also claimed that the report ‘toned down and covered up’ experiences reported by students in order to save face.
A spokesperson for Goldsmiths said: ‘The college offered to support this important research when it became clear that otherwise it would not be completed or published and the voices of the BAME students who took part would not be heard. The students’ union were offered the opportunity to contribute a foreword along with an additional 12-pages of responses from individuals and groups about their experiences.
‘When offering to support the completion of the report the college understood it to be a joint publication with the students’ union. The students’ union asked for their logo to be removed from the report shortly before publication.’
As well as highlighting racist attitudes, the report also revealed the impact of institutional racism. It highlighted a staggering attainment gap of up to 25% between white students and students of colour, a lack of BME representation among academic staff with only 5% of students believing it is ‘diverse’, and a Eurocentric curriculum which only 27% of students said they felt represented by. Students also reported feeling the need to change aspects of their identity to avoid harassment, and seeing racist language go unchecked in classrooms from staff and students.
The experience of Goldsmith’s students in encountering racist attitudes is far from a standalone case. In December 2018, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched an inquiry into racism in higher education following a series of incidents on campuses around the UK. Following the Rhodes Must Fall campaign in 2015, some awareness has been raised of the impact of Eurocentric curricula which focus on white academics and authors. And the attainment gap at Goldsmiths is unfortunately consistent with national trends: between 2007 and 2017, 81% of white students achieved a 2:1 or higher, compared with only 57% of black students.
GARA began organising in March 2019 in response to racist attacks on a candidate in the students’ union elections. This proved a lightning rod for students to share experiences of racism on campus, and on the 12th March, GARA occupied Deptford Town Hall in protest over the failure of senior management to demonstrate a meaningful commitment to tackling racism on campus.
GARA remained in occupation until July, when a series of talks finally culminated in commitments by senior management, which include mandatory race awareness training for staff, local access to Deptford Town Hall, the creation of a number of new staff appointments, and an audit into racism as a first step towards decolonising the curriculum.