Guildhall drama school report exposes ‘structural racism’ endured by Black students

Guildhall drama school report exposes ‘structural racism’ endured by Black students

A new report has exposed what has been described as “structural racism” at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, revealing various incidents of discriminatory comments and actions from tutors that contributed to an “unwelcoming” culture.

The prestigious London drama school was established in 1880, and boasts a starry list of alumni including Damien Lewis, Daniel Craig, Hayley Atwell, Orlando Bloom, Lily James and Joseph Fiennes.

Actors Michaela Coel and Paapa Essiedu were also Guildhall students, and have drawn attention to the negative experiences they had there as young Black actors.

After the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction in 2020, the school commissioned an independent review into discrimination experienced by students on its reputable acting course.

In a newly published report, detailing the findings of a 28-page document created by Freshwaters Consultancy in 2021, entertainment news publication Deadline has shared insight into students’ experiences while at the school.

The investigation found that graduates were “consistent and explicit” in their accounts of experiencing or witnessing racism at the institution, including “various incidents” in which the N-word was allegedly used during teaching exercises.

Contributors to the report described the teaching practices at the school as “hostile”, with others describing the culture at large as “unwelcoming”.

“Incidents of personal racism were alleged to have been perpetrated by a small number of named individuals who had been in leadership positions within the acting programme for many years,” the report, written by academic Maureen Salmon, said.

“Their behaviours appeared to have been enabled and empowered through structural racism in the school’s systems.”

Paapa Essiedu and Michaela Coel (Getty)
Paapa Essiedu and Michaela Coel (Getty)

According to the report, the environment in the school was one in which white students refused to work with their Black peers. One incident details an acting exercise in which a white student allegedly spat in the face of a Black classmate. The tutor deemed that it was dramatically justified, despite the Black student disagreeing.

While noting that Black students received the worst forms of racism while at Guildhall, the report states that teachers also made antisemitic comments and were derogatory towards Asian students.

In a statement to Deadline, Guildhall School of Music and Drama said it had apologised to all alumni affected by the findings. The school added that Freshwaters Consultancy’s recommendations had been implemented, including anti-racism training and the launch of a more diverse curriculum.

Speaking to The Independent in 2020, Essiedu recalled an incident when a teacher launched a racial slur at him during a class that also included his future I May Destroy You co-star, Coel.

“We were all playing prisoners and she was the officer,” he said of the tutor. “She shouted the N-word and, as the only two black people in the group, me and Michaela looked at each other in horror. It was under the guise of, ‘Oh, it’s an improvisation, I was in character.’

“But she wasn’t even in the play, you know, so... That school was definitely not a safe place for black and brown people.”

Last year, the institution apologised to Esseidu for the “appalling and unacceptable” experiences he faced.