Black Lives Matter: Principal of Central School of Speech and Drama resigns and admits racist comments after students and alumni slammed ‘overt racism’
PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 June 2020 | UPDATED: 13:07 13 June 2020
The principal of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (RCSSD) has resigned after students raised concerns about racist behaviour and a culture of “systemic racism” at the prestigious Swiss Cottage college.
Professor Gavin Henderson apologised “unreservedly” after much-criticised comments made at a 2018 event called “Dear White Central” which he said undermined the school’s credibility.
He had claimed that to introduce diversity quotas would risk damaging the school’s “standards”.
In response to a message in support of the Black Lives Matter movement from the RCSSD, current and former students of colour signed an open letter republished by the BBC saying: “Words and actions of open and overt racism - primarily by staff towards students - have taken place on a consistent and regular basis without respite or consequence.”
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Former Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies and Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah were among the signatories.
Professor Henderson said: “I apologise unreservedly for the lived experiences of students of colour during my time as principal of Central. “Our systems failed and I must take ultimate responsibility for that. The comments I made at the Dear White Central event in 2018 have undermined the credibility of Central and the action plan made after that event, and caused lasting pain and damage to the community. I accept that they were racist, and this I will regret forever. I do not expect forgiveness or understanding but I apologise from the bottom of my heart.”
Prof Henderson’s interim replacements, Debbie Scully and Professor Ross Brown said the school had been “complicit” in institutional racism, with a lack of effective change.
The RCSSD’s governing body has announced measures to enact “transformational change” and the “decolonising” of its curriculum. It said it will improve the representation of people of colour in its hierarchy, amplify Black and minority voices, and revamp its complaints system.
Ms Scully and Prof Brown also said: “Central will now urgently investigate every complaint we have received, including those in recent days. We will undertake this swiftly and take the strongest possible action where necessary.”
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