Art Department “houses combative racism,” Goldsmiths told

Artist Evan Ifekoya has withdrawn their labour from Goldsmiths, highlighting “unreflective and combative racism” within the College’s Art Department.

Ifekoya, who is the only permanently employed black member of Art Department staff, explained that they are required to “absorb racism experienced on an interpersonal, institutional, structural, and economic level” at the College. In a letter to colleagues on Monday, which was also published on Twitter, Ifekoya concluded: “I refuse to allow work to continue as normal.”

The letter explains that, on Wednesday June 10, 2020, staff at the Goldsmiths Department of Art were invited to sign a statement of solidarity with precarious BAME workers. The statement pointed out that five out of the six members of BAME staff on the College’s BA Fine Art programme are on fixed-term contracts.

Ifekoya noted that these five workers are set to lose their jobs if Goldsmiths proceeds with its policy not to renew these contracts.

Ifekoya wrote: “Following the [statement of solidarity’s] circulation, I saw my inbox fill with CC’ed emails from colleagues who angrily rejected [it]. Some responded by arguing that all staff matter, as if the mere mention of BAME workers takes attention away from white people… These complaints came mostly from senior staff members and, as of today, their comments remain unchallenged.”

Ifekoya explained that they would withdraw their labour as they “refuse to carry the burden of being the only permanently employed black member of academic staff within the Art Department at Goldsmiths.” They added: “I refuse to receive emails … that centre whiteness and play out a rhetoric of ‘all lives matter’ in my inbox… I refuse to work as a racialised individual who is perceived by default to shoulder anti-racist work because of the colour of my skin.”

Artist Evan Ifekoya has withdrawn their labour from Goldsmiths, highlighting "reflective and combative racism" within the College's Art Department.
Between March and July 2019, students occupied Deptford Town Hall in an “Anti-Racism Occupation.”

This is not the first time that the university has been accused of a lack of action in tackling racism. In March 2019, Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) occupied Deptford Town Hall, demanding that the College introduces mandatory anti-racism training for all staff, reinstates two scholarships for Palestinian students, and plans to bring support staff such as security and receptionists in house. Goldsmiths agreed to the demands in July 2019, ending the 137-day occupation.

College and unions respond

In response to Ifekoya’s withdrawal of labour, Goldsmiths told ARTnews: “We fully recognise 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.

“We would always investigate any specific reports of racist behaviour made to the College as a priority and take appropriate action.”

Goldsmiths UCU released a statement: “Institutional racism pervades Goldsmiths and continues to make the lives and working conditions of BAME members of staff unbearable… The College and departments have clearly still failed to take meaningful steps to address institutional racism.”

The UCU branch demands that Goldsmiths formally investigates Ifekoya’s case. Amid further demands, the branch called on the College to “immediately address … 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.”

Goldsmiths Students’ Union has also affirmed its “full solidarity with Evan.” The Union’s sabbatical officers told the College that “it must change concretely the working conditions of precarious staff. As Evan’s letter shows clearly, working conditions and racism are not separate issues.”

Their statement continues: “In an overwhelmingly white Art Department, it is the responsibility of white staff, those in power, those who have secure job contracts, to tangibly support precarious Black and POC colleagues and not create hostile environments for those who are.”

Will is London Student's Features Editor. He has recently completed a BA History at SOAS, and you might find him hiding in a library around Bloomsbury.

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