London university professor quits over 'sexual harassment of female students by staff'

Professor Sara Ahmed said sexual harassment had become 'normalised and generalised' at Goldsmiths, University of London

Rachael Pells
Thursday 09 June 2016 10:20
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Professor Ahmed has worked at Goldsmiths University for more than a decade
Professor Ahmed has worked at Goldsmiths University for more than a decade

A professor of feminist studies has resigned from her university post in protest over the alleged sexual harassment of students by staff.

Sara Ahmed, director of the centre for feminist research at Goldsmiths, University of London, said there had been six inquiries into four members of staff at the institution but no public acknowledgment of the extend of the problem.

Separate sources told The Independent and The Times that students had become pregnant by academics and later offered money in return for signing confidentiality agreements.

In a blog post announcing her decision, Professor Ahmed wrote: “I have resigned in protest against the failure to address the problem of sexual harassment. I have resigned because the costs of doing this work have been too high."

“When I talk about the problem of sexual harassment I am not talking about one rogue individual, or two, nor even a rogue unit, nor even a rogue institution. We are talking about how sexual harassment becomes normalised and generalised — as part of academic culture.”

According to university sources, similar accusations about inappropriate staff behaviour were first made almost 20 years ago, but ignored by university officials.

Complaints made included claims that academics had “forced themselves” on students while drunk, groped students and made sexual comments during classes.

More than one academic allegedly had several relationships with students, with staff said to have targeted the most vulnerable students for liasons.

More than one student became pregnant or ended up living with academics, the source claimed. Although this is not illegal most institutions discourage staff from forming relationships with students and expect them to inform management if it does happen so that classes can be rearranged.

Professor Ahmed, who runs an MA programme, wrote on her blog: “It was the students who alerted us to the scale of the problem of sexual harassment. Since then there have been four inquiries. Before then there had been two inquiries. That is six inquiries relating to four members of staff: at least that I know of.”

She said that the inquiries had not led to a robust or meaningful investigation of alleged problems at the institution. She is on sabbatical for the rest of the year, when she will leave her post.

Jane Powell, deputy warden of Goldsmiths, said: “We do not tolerate any form of sexual harassment and all complaints are fully investigated. We take the strongest action against those found to be committing it."

“Sexual harassment is sadly pervasive across society and like any other organisation we are not immune from the issue. We actively encourage people to report incidents but often there is a reluctance to speak up. That’s why we deal with these matters confidentially.

“We are keen to lead the sector in tackling this issue and we seek input from staff and students to ensure we are doing all we can to do this.”

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