The BME (Black and Minority Ethnic)-led student occupation of Deptford Town Hall, part of Goldsmiths College, came to an end last Friday after a length campaign lasting more than four months.
Pic: Twitter @GoldsmithsAntiRacism
The occupation organisers said in a statement:”Having won extensive demands to combat institutional racism at the university we got a signed commitment from SMT to not pursue legal action against GARA activists and allies.”
The Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action group (GARA) had occupied the Grade II listed space since 12 March 2019.
The group had been campaigning against what it identified as institutionally racist and colonialist regulations and practices enforced by the University. It also looked to reform existing systems in order to include BME needs.
The protests were triggered following an incident during the University’s Students’ Union elections.
A GARA spokesperson explained: “A candidate in the Students’ Union elections, had their posters and banner ripped apart, with racist graffiti mocking their accent smeared across them. While the incident against the student has undoubtedly fuelled this occupation, we are also thinking of international and racialised students who are isolated and neglected.”
The group garnered support quickly, with the Goldsmiths Students Union (SU), University College Union (UCU) and Justice for Cleaners all backing the occupation.
The four-month-long protest against Goldsmiths College culminated in the College pursuing legal action against GARA, which was vehemently contested by many who had been following the occupation, including local MP for Lewisham Vicky Foxcroft.
More than 300 members of staff at the University also spoke out in support of the GARA protestors.
The court order from the University was received on 24 July by GARA and was addressed to ‘Persons Unknown’. The legal action called for the eviction of the protestors.
GARA supporters took to social media and engaged in written communication with acting warden Professor Elisabeth Hill and the rest of the College’s senior management team (SMT), urging them to revoke the claims of trespassing made against GARA protestors.
Right now, as I type this, at 10.55am on the 25th July 2019, members of @GoldsmithsUoL Senior Management Team are providing evidence in court against @GoldAntiRacism – a anti-racist BME-led student group.
— Joe Leam (@joeleam) July 26, 2019
Pic: Twitter @joeleam
Despite this, the College persisted with court proceedings to evict the occupant protesters, thought to be the first time Goldsmiths College had proceeded with legal action against its own students following a student protest.
In its first week of occupation, the group were in lockdown in the building, with security limiting access in and out of the building.
In the final days of the occupation, East London Lines spoke to protesters.
Nishat Seema, a core member of GARA, told East London Lines: “With previous white-led Goldsmiths occupations, the students have always had open access to the space without a heavy security presence. So it is very telling that the college decided to initiate and proceed with legal action against a mainly BME occupation.”
Amal Bider, also one of the group’s core members, said:” They (Goldsmiths’ SMT) know it is BME students occupying the space and they also know the relationship BMEs have with the policing system. It is concerning that they continue to push for legal action.”
Bider continued: “All we ask is that SMT signs our list of 12 demands. At this point, they aren’t even demands, they are basic necessities.”
Many of the students deferred exams and other university commitments to continue their fight for the cause.
Seema explained that her mental health and her financial situation had been negatively affected by the stress caused by the threat of legal action and being in occupation.
The first-year Sociology student said: “You end up neglecting work commitments, friendships, and family commitments. There is a lot at stake and there is a lot that people have had to sacrifice people.
“Often people forget, from the outside anyway, that for us this isn’t a choice. It’s something that is a duty to your comrades. This occupation was not taken on lightly, all other avenues were explored but still, there was no action taken by the university.”
Additionally the physical and emotional stress they put BME students under. Placing them in lock-down inside the building, having external security assault them and taking them to court threatening them with very real possibility of violent Bailiffs and police. @GoldAntiRacism
— bobbymcbobface | Day133 of #Goldoccupy (@bobbymcbobface5) July 29, 2019
Pic: Twitter @bobbymcbobface
One of the group’s main goals was to have Deptford Town Hall function for its purpose as a community building.
Whilst in occupation, the group hosted many events open to students and the public.
Day 135 of Occupation:
Photos from our 'Don't Attack Iran' Public Meeting hosted by Stop the War Coalition and Campaign Against Sanctions & Military Intervention in Iran
Also we are not leaving until they sign the contract!!!#GoldOccupy #MyRacistCampus #OneGoldsmiths pic.twitter.com/JwEojdIjc4
— GARA | DAY 137 IN OCCUPATION (@GoldAntiRacism) July 24, 2019
Pic: Twitter @GoldsmithsAntiRacism
East London Lines approached SMT for comment in the wake of the court action.
In a statement Professor Hill said: “There is no doubt that the last four months have been a challenging time on campus. For those students and staff whose study or work was displaced by the occupation, I would like to thank you all for your understanding.
“I would also like to acknowledge the passion and commitment of GARA. While SMT cannot condone some of their means of protest, they have provided us with a wake-up call to take action by sharing their experience and insight”.
Core GARA member Sara Abass took to Twitter in response.
The same academics that are congratulating us @GoldAntiRacism are the same academics that reinforce and reproduce racist structures. SMT took legal action against us, but white academics, organisations and white liberals silence allowed SMT to take legal action! https://t.co/c6VzykNEf5
— Sara (@Sara_Abassss) July 28, 2019
Pic: Twitter @sara_Abassss
Pic: Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action
Read GARA’s public statement here: