Royal College of Art drops white male diversity chief amid accusations of ‘insidious systemic racism’

More than 800 members of staff at the institution wrote a letter condeming Mark Harrison's appointment

Ellie Harrison
Wednesday 08 July 2020 22:19
RCA Dyson Building in Battersea, London
RCA Dyson Building in Battersea, London

The Royal College of Art has withdrawn its job offer to Mark Harrison, a white man who was hired in a top diversity role.

Harrison was dropped as Head of Inclusion after more than 800 members of staff at the institution wrote a letter, saying the appointment showed a “hideous culture of overt and insidious systemic racism”.

Tutors also called for a vote of no confidence in the RCA’s vice-chancellor Paul Thompson, who gave the job to Harrison.

“We know, thanks to the testimonies of staff and students of African, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Asian, First Nations and Indigenous heritage, that the Royal College of Art has for generations fostered a hideous culture of overt and insidious systemic racism,” said the letter. “This systemic racism has been normalised, reproduced and experienced by students and staff at every level of the institution, in a myriad of ways.

“This toxic culture of systemic racism continues and is upheld by the Vice-Chancellor’s Office under the leadership of Paul Thompson, through actions such as this latest ‘Head of Inclusion’ appointment.

“Thus, this toxicity continues to trickle down and be reinforced throughout the institution.”

The letter condemned Harrison’s appointment “at a time of mass protest around the violent marginalisation of black people from society”.

As well as staff, the letter was also signed by all four winners of this year’s Turner prize, Tai Shani, Oscar Murillo, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Helen Cammock.

After news of the letter emerged, the RCA announced it had withdrawn the offer and would change the job specifications and title.

“We will reopen the search for a head of equality and diversity in the new academic year,” a spokesperson told The Times.

They added: “Transformational progress on [eradicating racism] is vital to the development of the entire RCA.”

The college, which was founded in 1896, counts Henry Moore, Tracey Emin and David Hockney among its alumni.

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