Update on GARA occupation of Deptford Town Hall, 22 July 2019
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I last wrote to you at the beginning of June regarding the student protest at Deptford Town Hall. Since then, we have been sharing regular updates through Staff News but I wanted to write directly to you today to set out what the College has been doing to seek to address the protestors’ demands, the response we have received, and the difficult situation we now face.
As you will be aware, the Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action (GARA) occupation began in mid-March and since then, we have listened carefully to their powerful case for change.
At the end of June – despite GARA’s refusal to engage in professional mediation – we agreed to over 10 hours of talks with the protestors, building on extensive correspondence between us where the Senior Management Team (SMT) had already committed to a range of work to address GARA’s concerns. SMT has now agreed to the majority of the protestors’ list of demands, and we have already begun progressing many of them. You can read a summary of these commitments on the College website. More than £500,000 is now budgeted to be spent on this work over the next year alone.
Two weeks ago, after offering even more commitments such as the reinstatement of Palestinian Scholarships, College management put its final position to GARA. We reiterated everything we had done to try and meet GARA’s extensive demands, while making clear which could not be met. We asked GARA to clarify its position.
To date, representatives of GARA have continued to make clear that the College’s position does not, in their view, enable them to end their occupation.
This leaves SMT, led by me, in a very difficult position. With more than 3,500 hours of teaching a year taking place in Deptford Town Hall – which as you will appreciate cannot be accommodated elsewhere on campus – we face a pressing need to bring the building back into use ahead of the new academic year.
In this context, last week we formally demanded that GARA end their occupation by this morning (Monday 22 July), giving them five full days’ notice to leave. We had hoped they would reflect upon their considerable achievements and decide that they could end their occupation, while being confident that their legitimate protest can continue in other contexts.
However, GARA have failed to leave Deptford Town Hall. We have therefore reluctantly concluded that the only responsible course of action remaining is to take proportionate legal steps to regain possession of the building, while continuing to progress all of the commitments previously made in response to the protest.
It is my sincere hope, and that of the whole Senior Management Team, that it does not prove necessary to enforce any court order in this matter and that we can move forward, acknowledging the labours of a determined and articulate group of Goldsmiths students keen to make real change – but a group who must also realise when they have exhausted their right to disrupt College life in pursuit of their cause.
I will keep you updated on any significant developments.
Professor Elisabeth Hill