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Sexual harassment at Goldsmiths

Statement on Sexual Harassment in Higher Education (SHHE) at Goldsmiths

As organisers of the Sexual Harassment in Higher Education conference (SHHE) held at Goldsmiths last December, we offer this response to the statement on sexual harassment published by Goldsmiths on June 3rd 2016.

In its statement, Goldsmiths claimed that our event is evidence of the university’s commitment to addressing sexual harassment on campus. We want to clarify that we independently organised the conference. We object to Goldsmiths using our labour as evidence that it is taking action on this issue.

Our event, held on 2 December 2015, was a UK-wide conference on sexual harassment in higher education, with a focus on the sexual harassment and bullying of students by academic staff. It was a daylong event organised around keynote speakers and workshops. It worked simultaneously as an academic conference and as a practical training session. For instance, we provided training to the student union on how to handle disclosures of sexual violence.

The conference relied primarily on voluntary labour, as we are three current and former Goldsmiths PhD students. We wanted to hold it at Goldsmiths due to what we see as an acute need for these types of public conversations. We wanted to make sexual harassment visible where it had previously been invisible and to start conversations on what needs to happen to combat it.

The university in its 3 June statement has taken credit for the work we did and has not acknowledged the hundred of hours of labour of its current and former students, and the work of the Centre for Feminist Research. This work remains unseen, just as sexual harassment remains unseen. As we leave Goldsmiths, we are deeply concerned that this history will be erased, in part precisely by this appropriation of our labour, and the unwillingness of the university to acknowledge the scope of the problem. We would like to see all higher education institutions, in the UK and internationally, begin to take seriously and address the sexual misconduct and sexual harassment of students that is endemic in the sector.

History

There is a long history to the sexual harassment conference at Goldsmiths. There have been, as Deputy Warden of Goldsmiths Jane Powell put it, ‘cases’ at Goldsmiths. This is the first official, public acknowledgement that we have seen of this fact.

To live inside of an environment in which there are ‘cases’ is wearing. Not to have public recognition of this environment is doubly wearing. Certain members of faculty and staff, including Professor Sara Ahmed, as well as many students who remain unnamed, have therefore had to contribute the labour needed to fix this pervasive problem. There were moments of this process during which Goldsmiths administration dedicated substantial labour to these cases. However, this moment of labour on the part of Goldsmiths administration was only part of a much longer history.

For students to study in a space where cases of sexual misconduct and harassment are numerous with no public acknowledgement of this fact means they live through these experiences in institutional silence. This silence works as a form of denial: if no one says that these things are happening, it can feel as if no one is recognising that they are happening. In practical terms, harassers are emboldened, and their victims are marginalised. This silence is also effective. For example, many people, including some academic staff at Goldsmiths, are unaware of the background to the conference that we organised.

It was against this institutional silence that occurs across higher education in the UK that we decided to organise our event. We first requested that the university run an event on sexual harassment. We also approached a department to request that it be run by them, in recognition of what students had experienced within that department. The response in both cases was to the effect of: there is no need. Even if there have been cases of misconduct, there is no longer a problem at Goldsmiths.

Now, we are told again in Goldsmiths’ statement, that ‘there is no problem at Goldsmiths.’

It was because no one was else was willing to organise an event on sexual harassment that we took it upon ourselves. This has been a recurring theme during our time at Goldsmiths: the reliance on the labour and energy of students, rather than a concerted effort by the institution, to address sexual misconduct and harassment by Goldsmiths academic staff. This is a point on which we want to be clear: those who were in a position to be harassed by staff were those upon whom the event relied. Without them, the event for which Goldsmiths now takes credit would never have taken place.

Attendance

On the day itself, very few Goldsmiths faculty and staff members attended. Most who did were affiliated with the Centre for Feminist Research. One member of the senior management team attended a session at the end of the day. While some University and College Union members attended, the current President of the UCU at Goldsmiths did not. We see this as a significant issue. We want to see UCU act as a leader on the issue of sexual harassment and it has so far failed to do this.

We had extended an invitation to the national press to attend the event. The Goldsmiths press office did help us with this. A journalist from Times Higher Education attended part of the day, and this partial event description was subsequently published.

The conference was funded partly through the Goldsmiths Students Union, partly by the Centre for Feminist Research, partly by the Centre for Cultural Studies, and partly through funding from the college’s existing equality and diversity budget. Because the money we were allocated came from the equality and diversity budget line, it meant that the overall budget for this area was reduced for the rest of the year. This in itself raises new issues. We assume that it is this financial contribution that Goldsmiths is referencing in their statement.

As we have said, we organised the event precisely in order to press Goldsmiths to recognise the extent of sexual harassment on campus and the need to reduce it. In this we feel we failed. The institution gave minimal support and paid minimal attention to the event.

One of the other ways in which we felt the day fell short was the failure, for legal reasons, to specifically name histories and events at Goldsmiths. This is recognition that is still lacking, and a failure that we continue to feel acutely.

Now we have discovered that we have failed in a new way: our event is being used to claim that there is no need at Goldsmiths for events like ours.

Feminist connections

To the best of our knowledge, our event was the first conference in the UK to address harassment of students by academic staff. In organising it, we sought external expertise and found quickly that there is little organising and research being done on this area within higher education in the UK. Those we approached could speak about student-to-student sexual harassment, but not staff-to-student sexual harassment.

Research and development of policies and best practice in this area urgently needs to be formulated. Recent research from the US suggests that one in six female graduate students (17.7%) experience sexual harassment from an advisor or teacher. There is no research on this issue in the UK. In January we independently, along with other students and staff, wrote and submitted a paper from Goldsmiths’ Centre for Feminist Research to the Universities UK violence against women, harassment and hate crime taskforce on staff-to-student sexual harassment. We hope the taskforce will soon recommend action on this issue. There is a critical need in the UK to work on addressing sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by academic staff.

We note that Goldsmiths states in recent communications that it wants its staff and students, working together, to lead the sector in tackling harassment in all its forms and wishes to establish opportunities for further open discussion. But our experience in organising the conference on sexual harassment, after waiting for Goldsmiths to take lead, is that the university was not open to discussing this publicly or to taking the lead. Instead the work continues to fall predominantly on students and a few academic staff members.

As current and former students of Goldsmiths we want the institution to address publicly sexual harassment and sexual misconduct that has occurred, to develop detailed procedures and policy, and recognise and address the impact that harassment has on its students. There are feminist academics at Goldsmiths who continue to do amazing and courageous work in addressing these issues and they need to be supported.

In solidarity,

Anna Bull

Tiffany Page

Leila Whitley

Sexual Harassment at Yale: Thomas Pogge

A number of recent complaints describe the way “Pogge uses his fame and influence to manipulate much younger women in his field into sexual relationships. One former student said she was punished professionally after resisting his advances.”

Here is the article.

Female staff subjected to misogyny

I work as an administrative assistant/project coordinator in a science department that consists of 18 male faculty – 4 of whom are non-white (2 Hispanic, 1 Asian, 1 Black) – and 1 white female professor who is thought of as a bitch by everyone because she isn’t warm and fuzzy. All of the Facilities staff are men, all of the administrative staff are women (all white save 1 Black female admin staff).

There is no acknowledgement of the female staff in any way in our department: not in the annual 12-page self-congratulatory department newsletter, there are no staff meetings, there are no flowers on Admin Asst Day. I just had a 10 year anniversary in the same job and received nothing from anyone, including my very misogynist boss.

Most of the female grad students are treated worse than the males; more often than not they are reduced to tears by their advisors and they are not encouraged as women to reach higher.

I work tirelessly to get the faculty to acknowledge that we exist and actually do most of the work but it falls on deaf ears and I am known as the troublemaker in the department simply because I am asking to be treated equally.

I know that female students also are treated badly by the department as many come by to talk to me about it, but there seems to be nothing that will change this chest-pounding atmosphere.

We are ignored.

The consequences of resisting

I have my own story to tell. You might call it a story of blurred lines, perhaps, but the lines weren’t blurry to me. I was terrified that I would be kicked out of my graduate program because a professor wanted a sexual relationship with me and I turned him down. After I turned him down, after his wife found out he was after me, after rumors started in the department that I was trying to seduce him—I thought for sure that my career was over.

from The Consequences of Resisting a Professor’s Advances

Sexual Harassment in Higher Education (SHHE) Conference

Wednesday 2nd December 2015, Richard Hoggart Small Cinema, 12.00-6.15pm, Goldsmiths, University of London

Please visit the website for more details and to register: https://shhegoldsmiths.wordpress.com/

Organised by Anna Bull, Leila Whitley, and Tiffany Page

Sexual harassment of students by academic staff is prevalent in higher education but this issue has received little scrutiny. This one day, workshop-based conference aims to investigate the way sexual harassment in higher education between staff and students unfolds institutionally and how it intersects with other embodied experiences of power. Key questions include:

  • How does the problem of sexual harassment (fail to) appear in institutional space? What mechanisms work to hide it?
  • How can sexual harassment be discussed in its complicated relation to power, including the hierarchical power of the university and the other forms of power bound up with experiences of sexual harassment?
  • Specifically, how do race, class, gender, sexuality or cis privilege play out in experiences of sexual violence in universities?

The workshop will be organised around two keynote presentations and breakout group sessions that will enable participants to address specific issues in smaller groups. Confirmed speakers include Dr. Alison Phipps (University of Sussex), Prof. Heidi Mirza (Goldsmiths) and Prof. Sara Ahmed (Goldsmiths).

We would like to encourage students and academic and professional services staff from throughout the UK to attend, and particularly postgraduate students, as well as HR staff at academic institutions, students’ unions, and any other groups that deal with sexual harassment in higher education. There will be time during the day for attendees to build inter-institutional links and share knowledge with others.

Everyone is welcome.

The man who attempted to rape me a few months ago received a teaching fellowship from the Gender Studies program at my university. When I filed my complaint this spring, he was literally teaching undergrads about feminism and gender theory. And he was paid extra for it.

Double edged sword

I get the double edged sword – I’m non-white and a woman. Invisible – I’m non existent in this place. They always see right through me – I say things and then some claim them or articulate better and as the ‘face fits’ mine doesn’t it looks better from them. I get talked down to, talked over, and the vibes of ‘what you doing here’ – and then they harp on about equality and diversity. When attending a meeting with a male colleague I was seen as ‘admin’ and  then not even hardly looked in the ‘eye’ in conversations. Everyday can be a battle coming into a place like this, I have no purpose here, I’m just there. ‘Just’ is important to me here in this sense as it shrugs off importance, value.

Your teacher and you

This excerpt is taken from a student publication (c.2012) and discusses the relationship between that student and their teacher. The essay is titled Your Teacher and You . The author describes feeling that the professor’s interest in students is only based on interest in their bodies. The excerpt also points to the institutional structures of hierarchy which inform the professor student relationship as well as the physical interest.

The text reads: Professors have to read a great deal and have very good opinions. Because of this, it is very hard for them to listen to you. They moved beyond your opinions a long time ago. You are naive, ill informed, in poor taste. They want to listen, but you are boring, mildly irritating at best. Although your flesh is young and firm, interesting to them. ‘How very fucking interesting! You must come to one of my dinner parties. Here, have some more wine.’

your teacher and you

Statement in support of Bahar Mustafa

We would like to share with you the following statement from the Feminist Postgraduate Forum at Goldsmiths, University of London that addresses racism and sexism on campus:

We, the Goldsmiths Feminist Postgraduate Forum, want to express our full support for Bahar Mustafa. Mustafa is the Goldsmiths Student Union’s Welfare and Diversity Officer who is currently facing targeted racist and sexist attack in the press, online and at the university.

The campaign against Mustafa first received national and international attention when Mustafa hosted an organising meeting for BME (Black/Minority Ethnic) women and non-binary people. The invitation to this meeting included the request that white men not attend. As a group, we want to express our support for BME, women, people with disabilities, LGBT*QI and non-binary people only organising meetings. We see these spaces as politically necessary and we understand and support the need for minority groups to meet as students at the university, in all workplaces and without. There is a long history of the existence of such spaces within social movements. We reject the notion that it is racist to exclude white people or men from organising meetings about racism and sexism, as this entirely ignores the hegemonic power structures that make such meetings necessary. Universities are institutionally white spaces, in which non-white students and staff routinely face racism. They are also institutionally sexist spaces, which privilege men in numerous ways. Spaces to reflect and organise for those who face these forms of structural disadvantage allow those directly affected to address their experiences with and strategise their negotiation of such structures.

The attack on Mustafa and on the use of safe spaces in political organising demonstrates the need for such spaces. It exposes the overwhelming ignorance about racism and what racism is that is all too common in our society. It also highlights the way that, too often, political energy has to be directed toward explaining racism and sexism and other forms of discrimination to those who do not experience it and do not understand it. This is tiring work, and places a significant burden upon those who not only encounter racism, sexism and discrimination daily, but are also tasked with explaining it to those who are invested in denying its existence. Safe spaces provide a temporary reprieve from this work of confrontation and explanation. This allows room for… actual organising!

In organising a BME women and non-binary only meeting Mustafa was doing her job. She is the Welfare and Diversity officer at Goldsmiths, elected on a manifesto that promised to proactively fight for students and promote the needs of the most marginalized in society.

In attempting to defame Mustafa, the right wing press has dug up tweets using the hashtag #killallwhitemen. Again, the response to these tweets demonstrates incredible ignorance about racism, the social structures of power we live within, as well as about history more generally. We understand the use of this hashtag as pointing to the many structures of power which protect white lives and male lives over all other lives. We also understand it as a satirical take on popular ideas of the ‘angry feminist’ and ‘angry black woman’ etc. Finally, we support the right of minorities to be angry at structural racialised violence, and to express this anger through shared language and humour.

We call for the university to support Mustafa, who has been a victim of extreme racist and sexist abuse. A statement in support of Mustafa should be issued immediately, as well as a retraction of any statement that implies that BME only organising in any way contributes to racism, as opposed to being a direct response to the experience of racism.

We also call on the university to actively support safe spaces for minority groups to meet. The vitriolic response to Bahar has absolutely underlined the need for spaces without white men present – the need to have safe space to think, discuss, create communities and organise without being attacked and shouted down.

Finally, Goldsmiths must invest in teaching race theory/critical race studies, in building awareness of racism and in dismantling white supremacy. The response to Mustafa has demonstrated the incredible ignorance which exists around these issues. We need to support better understanding racism, and the responsibility for this cannot rest on BME women and nonbinary folk alone.

Signed,

The Feminist Postgraduate Forum:

Linda Stupart, Leila Whitley, Tiffany Page, Mijke Van Der Drift, Heidi Hasbrouck, Chandra Frank, Ella Fegitz, Rosario Fernandez Ossandon, Alice Corble, Lieta Vivaldi, Lee MacKinnon, Sarah Burton, Louise Rondel, Morgane Conti, Phil Thomas, Linnete Manrique-Robles, Marlene Haring, Rose Delcour-Min

Surrounded

I went for drinks after a conference with one of my lecturers and some of the PhD students. At some point in the night one of the male PhD students started stroking my leg under the table and at about the same time the lecturer put his hand on my thigh. I felt quite scared, but also frozen. I was in public surrounded by other people, and yet I didn’t feel like I could tell both of them to stop touching me. Why didn’t anyone else react? I was surrounded by people who taught me and people with whom I studied. Did they think this was ok?