TW: This article makes reference to sexual violence.
This week, without consultation with students or staff, Goldsmiths University suddenly cut funding to the Against Sexual Violence Project that has been facilitated by the Students Union for the past three years. The program delivers active bystander training to hundreds of students every year, teaching them how to intervene in instances of sexual violence and educating them on how to create a safer culture within Goldsmiths. It also supports survivors, provides resources and is involved in sexual violence and harassment advocacy. The sudden loss of funding not only ends support for survivors and training for students, it also risks the loss of jobs and is yet another example of eroding support for students and victims of sexual violence not only at Goldsmiths, but across Higher Education institutions.
The Against Sexual Violence Project was created to address the systemic issue of sexual violence within Goldsmiths. Staff, students and the SU spent years campaigning for this to be addressed but it took a national scandal and the resignation of Dr Sara Ahmed to prompt any college action. In a blog post related to her resignation, Dr Ahmed referenced multiple enquires into sexual harassment perpetrated by staff and suggested that a culture and normalisation of sexual harassment existed not only at Goldsmiths, but across academia. The lack of substantive action and the unknowable scale of the problem lead to her resignation and an ensuring media storm that left the College with little choice but to respond. Senior management laid out a ten-point plan to address the issue and promised a minimum of three years of funding for the Against Sexual Violence project which was to be a collaboration between the SU and the college. Goldsmiths were lauded for their approach in the national press and were held up as an example of an institution who had got their response right.
Even before funding was pulled, there have been consistent issues and failures on the part of the University. In their statement the SU described the College’s involvement in the project as ‘not existing in any meaningful way’ and cited several examples of its disregard for the work of the project. They allege that the College have not provided an institution lead person for the past two years, have cancelled and rescheduled the Against Sexual Violence Board meetings more than four times and have repeatedly not confirmed funding until the last minute, meaning ASV staff are on fixed term contracts and there is high turnover. The lack of commitment to the project has caused instability and made its operation challenging for staff and students who facilitate active bystander training.
The project has been incredibly valuable to students since it began, but when considered in the context of the pandemic, the removal of funding is particularly distressing. Sexual violence clearly does not stop during times of crisis, in fact existing abuse often intensifies. Lockdown and social distancing have further isolated victims of sexual harassment and sexual and domestic violence, and local and national support services have been overwhelmed at a time when many are having to operate at limited capacity. Paring back this program could contribute to further isolation of victims and survivors and sends a clear message that Goldsmiths does not take survivors seriously.
The editors of Smiths Magazine stand firmly in support of survivors of sexual harassment and violence and wholeheartedly endorse the SU’s statement and demands to immediately guarantee funding for the project this year and to #TakeSurvivorsSeriously. You can support the campaign by signing the SU’s statement, emailing your thoughts to the warden and by attending the 16 days against sexual violence events. Sexual violence is an issue everyone should care about and is something that deserves full funding and institutional support. Creating a safe and welcoming culture on campus benefits all of us and asking the University to take sexual violence seriously is a justified request.
Words, Tahera Bundhun