Deptford Town Hall was re-opened on Monday afternoon after a three-day closure ordered by senior management at Goldsmiths, University of London amid protests against “racism” by students who have been occupying the building since last Tuesday.
Between seven and eight protesters remained in the building over the weekend despite the order to leave by the university’s senior managers.
The protests by students at the university erupted after Hamna Imran, a candidate for Student Union Education Officer, complained that she faced discrimination and abuse of racist nature during the election.
Protesters, who have rallied behind the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action, were prevented from entering or leaving the Town Hall after the university’s Senior Management Team deemed it “unfeasible to continue teaching within the building” without putting staff and students at risk.
The protesters who chose to remain in the building were threatened with legal and disciplinary actions.
Grace Gortadello, a speaker for the movement, said: “[There were] high levels of emotional, physical and psychological stress; we are talking about three days where you either stayed in or you left and the whole cause would fall.”
“The lock down was an intimidating strategy.
“The moment people are occupying a space that is put on lockdown and they choose to leave, there is no going back,” says Gortadello.
“Leaving the occupation meant dropping the cause we’ve all been fighting for.
“It is typical of Goldsmiths to prefer to lock in students rather than acknowledge that there is an occupation going on. Some students were even told that the building was being re-developed.”
The SMT has assured the building would remain open as long as protesters complied with a series of conditions including that protesters evacuate the Council Chambers and move to an assigned room, classes and lectures remain undisturbed, the fabric of the building is left undamaged, and occupiers sign in and out of the building.
In a statement, the Senior Management Team said that failure to comply will result in “the immediate closure of the building.”
“We must be clear that these proposals are offered as a compromise – they do not constitute permission to remain within the building, and continued occupation does remain unauthorised.”
“The re-opening of the Town Hall was no victory”, says Gortadello.
“But now that we have the freedom to breathe, go home and shower, we will be working to have our demands met.”
A Goldsmiths spokesperson has affirmed that steps would be undertaken to building on an existing support for the 40% of the university’s students who identify as black, Asian or ethnic minority as well as developing “a mandatory training package” for all student-facing staff on issues of diversity and race awareness, and “major additional investment in student wellbeing services”.
Goldsmiths has yet to respond to the rest of the protesters’ demands that include the removal of four statues of “known colonisers and the slave ship”, in-housing of its cleaning and security staff, a reinstatement of the scholarships for Palestinian students, as well as an “institution-wide strategic plan on how the university plans to tackle racism and the realities of life as a BME student at Goldsmiths” to be launched before June 2019.