Students who occupied a university building for 137 days this year have warned vice-chancellors that they could face similar protests if they do not take action to improve racial equality on campus.
Campaigners ended their occupation of Deptford town hall at Goldsmiths, University of London at the end of July – they had been there since March – when the institution agreed to introduce mandatory race awareness training for staff, to review its anti-discrimination and harassment policies, and to direct extra energy towards closing the attainment gap between white and ethnic minority students.
Myriam Kane, a member of Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action, said that the occupation had been “just the start”, explaining that students would “make sure the institution changes”.
“We will be watching what the university does, how they implement the commitments,” she told Times Higher Education.
Ms Kane said that action was already being taken. For example, a task force reviewing how the university handles complaints of racism and other discriminatory behaviour has met several times and an initial report is expected before Christmas.
Racial equality is a particularly sensitive issue at Goldsmiths: black and ethnic minority students represent about 40 per cent of enrolment at the university, which is located in a highly diverse area of London.
In 2016-17, 29 per cent of white students at Goldsmiths graduated with a first, compared with only 12 per cent of Asian students and 10 per cent of black students.
However, Ms Kane said that the issues at stake went far wider than Goldsmiths.
“I think it should be a lesson for other universities around the country: listen to your marginalised students,” she said. “The sad thing about this is the fact that Goldsmiths portrays itself as being this liberal institution, this politically ‘woke’ institution, but then was not listening to the issue and to the problems of BME students and staff. That is problematic and disheartening from a management team that is all white.”
There were lessons for students elsewhere as well, Ms Kane continued.
“It wasn’t easy but I hope we inspire students at other universities that if you stand your ground, and don’t listen to those who say settle for less – you are paying £9,000 for something which should be free – you should get what you deserve and need,” she said.
Goldsmiths was granted a possession order over Deptford town hall by a judge on the same day that the parties eventually reached an agreement. Other changes will see improved community access to the building, which the university bought in 2000, a move to bring security staff in-house, and the reinstatement of lost contact hours.
A Goldsmiths spokesman said that “we are pleased we have been able to ensure that the building’s vital teaching space is ready for the start of the new academic term”.
“We have listened to the issues raised by the protesters and committed an additional £500,000 as part of a comprehensive action plan addressing issues of racial justice and will be working hard to improve the experiences of our BME students and staff,” he said.
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