Author: wewanttruthgoldsmiths

Recent Guardian articles on sexual harassment in higher education

When we started the blog in July 2016, sparked by the books we discovered in Goldsmiths library, our investigation has led us to many horrifying individual stories and evidence of attempts by Goldsmiths to cover-up disgraceful past events of sexual harassment and assault at the university. Although we had several individuals who came forward with stories of sexual harassment, we ultimately decided it inadvisable to publish these.

Thanks to the work of journalists, particularly at the Guardian, a huge amount more has been uncovered than we had ever expected. A recent article describes sexual harassment at universities as at an “epidemic level.” We are deeply grateful for the thoughtful work which Guardian journalists have put in. It has led to the harrowing unearthing of the inacceptable levels of sexual harassment at universities across the UK. As part of their reporting, figures on recorded cases of staff-on-student and staff-on-staff harassment in the UK, as well as whether universities have a policy on staff-student relationships can be found here. The Guardian’s call out to readers to share their experiences of sexual harassment in universities reveals many stories similar to accounts we received to the blog. These stories illuminate why students or staff members often do not come forward and make official complaints to their institutions. As a result of the Guardian’s education journalism, we have learned a great deal about the situation nationally, which articles such as this one highlight. We very much applaud the  actions of  Professor Carole Mundell, reported by the Guardian, who was a whistleblower in the case of her colleague sexually harassing one of her students.

Although the purpose of this blog was an investigation into events at our own institution, we were aware that this was never a simple case of one “bad egg.”We wholeheartedly welcome the attention this issue has received at a national level. This has largely only become possible through the public pressure created through the press coverage.

We have learned via the Guardian that as a result of their coverage sparking conversations on social media, new allegations dating back to the late 1980s and early 1990s have been brought to the university. We very much hope that these will be dealt with appropriately – that the survivors of sexual harassment at our institution will find justice and that the university will deal with both its past, as well its present procedures for dealing with sexual harassment in a way which genuinely protects the victims.

 

 

 

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Sexual harassment awareness at Goldsmiths

We have been heartened by the activities of fellow students who have taken action to raise awareness about sexual harassment at Goldsmiths. We as a group who started this blog do not know the organizers of this campaign personally, but see their work as a gesture of solidarity in the fight towards greater accountability by Goldsmiths and are deeply moved and grateful that this campaign has taken place.

The campaign from 17th November 2016 took the form of collective Valentine’s Day cards. Over 350 cards were signed by students and delivered to the Warden of Goldsmiths and Heads of Departments. The details and results of this campaign – including a response from a member of senior management – can be found via the Facebook event here.

Joining the dots

Since starting this blog, we have been in contact with various people who have been able to tell us more about what has happened at Goldsmiths, largely in years before we joined the college as students. Much of this has shocked us and as a group we have discussed long and hard how to best proceed.

We have received messages to the blog which detail allegations. We remain open to people who wish to come forward with their stories or other information about sexual harassment at Goldsmiths. Currently, we have been advised not to publish these stories but we are persisting in pursuing the most just outcomes for those who feel wronged by what happened. Additionally, we would like to express how grateful we are for the widespread support our blog has received from many parties.

Goldsmiths’ statements

In the course of our investigations, we have talked to a number staff at Goldsmiths in some detail. These staff members come from a variety of positions including some in management, who have confirmed the following:

“Students at the Centre for Cultural Studies (CCS) lodged concerns with the Graduate School in 2012-13. There was an informal inquiry led by a senior female professor which gave students and staff the opportunity to raise concerns. There were a number of formal investigations about the behaviours and cultures in CCS. Whether related to those investigations or not, two staff members left CCS, including John Hutnyk. The management and culture of CCS have changed since then. A senior member of staff has confirmed to their knowledge, nobody who is currently employed at Goldsmiths, has been the subject of complaints of sexual harassment.”

In addition to this statement, in the even more recent Guardian article, Goldsmiths says more directly, that, “We have confirmed that there has been inappropriate behaviour at the university in the past. Any allegations of sexual harassment are thoroughly investigated with action taken against those found responsible.”

This statement has been carefully worded to not provide any detail. However, what does become clear with this statement, is as we have previously mentioned, Goldsmiths’ recent admission that there were “cases” of certain behaviours. For many of us, the skirting around which both statements perform, strengthens the implication of the two statements; namely, that these cases contained sexual harassment or misconduct at the university. This is certainly clearer now for all to see than it was several months ago.

Evidently, there were other staff members aside from Hutnyk involved in these allegations for which we currently have no further information.

Furthermore, despite Goldsmiths’ claims that these cases were properly dealt with at the time and all problems of these kind remain firmly in the past, we remain sceptical of their statement – it does not assure us that fundamental changes in how sexual harassment is dealt with at the institution have been implemented.

The issue of consent

Even though the blog has mainly focused on one individual and one institution, we know this problem is much bigger. There has been a recent surge in university sexual harassment scandals uncovered in the media. For example, from “Beth”’s story from the Guardian which details the power-games of being in the “in circle” amidst an informal culture based in situations of alcohol consumption in pubs, to stares at her chest and touches at the waist; to the Buzzfeed article on Yale professor Thomas Pogge which details the story of Fernanda Lopez Aguilar, a young student to whom he offered career-related privileges, in effect resulting in a situation of him touching and groping her without her consent; to the bravery of Nicole Hemenway at UC Berkeley who has spoken out against repeated unwanted sexual advances by her professor Blake Wentworth, who has since begun the process of suing his (former) students. In relation to a previous blogpost, the chilling recent case of Allison Smith a former student at the University of Sussex whose lecturer partner Lee Salter physically assaulted her but who continued to teach at the university until the independent outed the case, also highlights the unjust processes which favour the already powerful.

Features occur and re-occur when one reads these stories, not only of universities who continue to protect their employees over their students’ wellbeing, but the power dynamics of lecturer/professor-student relationships are crystallised which make the discussion around “consent” extremely problematic: the breaking down of formalities by the lecturer, the gradual romantic or sexual advances, the granting of privileges in terms of promises of connections, jobs, opportunities attractive to students, in most of these cases, the final rejection of sexual advances by the student followed a complaint and the denial of sexual harassment by the lecturer/professor. Often in the complexities of these interactions, abusive behaviour is not recognised as such at the time it happens.

The issue of “consent” within student-lecturer relationships is a divisive one and one which even within our group, not everyone is wholly in agreement upon. However, what our group has agreed upon is that the systematic abuse of power through mechanisms of bullying (be it through the timely granting or revoking of favours according to the behaviour of a student), witnessed across several cases of repeated sexual relations or harassment between students and lecturers, is a clear wrongdoing. In many of these cases, there is evidence that the perpetrators are repeat offenders. In a relationship which is so clearly marked by authority as that of a student to a lecturer, a transgression of boundaries initiated by the person in a position of power cannot serially be explained away as merely a series of consensual relationships. This, to us, simply does not add up.

We would like to make the following clear: of course, people who act in abusive and inappropriate ways in some relationships might not be that way in all their relationships. So, those who are accused of harassment or misconduct won’t necessarily have harassed everyone – they may well have had entirely respectful and consensual relationships, with students or with other individuals. We do not seek to speak for those who do not feel they have been subjected to inappropriate behaviour, only those who do. However, we would like to point out, that the existence of consensual relationships does not disprove any other allegations of harassment.

Our investigation continues…

While Goldsmiths seems to think that this is no longer a problem, we remain concerned that the processes of dealing with student complaints about harassment and sexual misconduct are still not satisfactory. Apart from Goldsmiths’ own assurances that allegations of sexual harassment are “thoroughly investigated with action taken against those responsible”, since starting our investigation we are not left convinced that apart from ridding the university of some of its problematic staff, that there are appropriate measures in place which sufficiently protect students against such issues presently or in the future. We have seen in examples from other institutions how endemic both continued support for the perpetrator and victim-blaming is in these situations and we are not convinced that these processes have been sufficiently overhauled.

As one of the leading lawyers for sexual harassment in the UK and US points out in the Guardian article, “There are very few penalties for academics who sexually harass their students; until penalties are established and made known, the problem will continue.” We will continue our investigation to uncover what other staff members have been involved in sexual harassment scandals at Goldsmiths. We will continue to act in solidarity with victims and survivors of sexual harassment at Goldsmiths and at other institutions.

Guardian article on sexual harassment at Goldsmiths

Last week the Guardian published an article on sexual harassment at universities and Goldsmiths in particular. It included a mention of our blog and our aims as well as a reference to the photographs of book covers with handwritten allegations which – along with Sara Ahmed’s resignation –  prompted us to start this blog. The article focuses on the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases at universities, which as Sara Ahmed is quoted as saying, “… are not necessarily used intentionally to silence students who have been harassed by staff or the staff who support them. But that is the effect. If no one speaks about the cases then no one speaks about what the cases revealed.” Although we were not aware of it at the time, we started this blog as a result of the invisibility caused by such agreements at our institution.

The story of “Beth” in the Guardian article resonates strongly with reports we have gathered from ex-students of Goldsmiths. We have learned of inacceptable behaviour at our institution and have been disgusted by it. As one quote by Alison Phipps in the article states, “Non-disclosure agreements are about protecting the institution and particular individuals. That’s so dangerous because if that person is serially sexually harassing students that is a public interest issue. We need to know if there are people who are serial sexual harassers in our universities.” Our campaign, initially triggered by a curiosity at our discovery of the books, is one which is motivated by a public interest in naming serial sexual harassers in positions of power whilst being educators.

Sara Ahmed’s recent blogpost “Resignation is a feminist issue” gives us much insight into the institutional failings our blog is placed within. We will touch upon this in a later post. We join Sara Ahmed in supporting the newly-formed 1752 Group, an organisation which seeks to end sexual exploitation in higher education by researching, consulting and training in order to develop suitable ways of responding to harassment and misconduct in universities.

We are thankful to the students, staff, academics and journalists who made the Guardian article possible. We hope this work addressing the wider harassment of students at universities will continue. Our investigation will continue into Goldsmiths’ past and present problems. We are grateful to those who have written to us in support of our campaign and to those supporting us by drawing attention to the blog via social media. This is hugely valuable to us. We stand in solidarity with all victims and survivors of sexual harassment at universities and act in solidarity with past, present and potential victims of the systemic failings which have allowed this problem to become as pervasive as it is.