“If you go against one, you are dealing with a whole system.” In conversation with Camilla Goecke and Marieke Helmke

Trigger warning: The sound work and podcast contain quotes and explicit descriptions of sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence. 

“Since summer 2019 we have been working on a sound work about sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence at the Universität der Künste (UdK). Students are particularly affected by this and in our opinion the topic is not addressed openly enough. As a result boundary crossing behaviour is increasingly produced, and those affected are not sufficiently protected. By making this topic visible, we see our work as a contribution to the counteracting of sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence at the UdK. We primarily address those affected, and moreover anyone who is studying, working at or visiting the UdK. 

In nine interviews, students and alumni talk about their experiences of sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence, especially perpetrated by lecturers, but also by students or other people who work at or visit the UdK. The interviews focus on subjective experiences and not theoretical knowledge. The interviewees have placed great trust in us and shared very personal content. Due to the sensitivity of the interview content, we have decided not to publish the work online.

The interviews are varying in content, but show similarities upon evaluation, which reveal a structure regarding sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence at UdK:
1 The university space is dominated by the (cis) male (white) body. This means that especially (cis-)male lecturers and students claim the space for themselves.
2 Most of the interviewees state that (cis-)male professors and lecturers use sexist and homophobic language. Sexist Statement are often wrapped up in „jokes“ or teaching content.
3 Many of the interviewees are/have been prevented from working in the arts and learning within university for a longer period of time due to sexual discrimination, harassment and violence.
4 Some of the interviewees report that they were denied access to prizes, exhibition opportunities or scholarships if they did not respond to or did actively resist the discriminatory behaviour
5 Many of the interviewees deliberately avoid teaching rooms and spaces within the UdK in order not to encounter certain persons.
6 Many of the interviewees consciously chose a female prof* when selecting their class or switched to classes with female prof* after discriminatory experiences.
7 Many of the interviewees state that there is/was little support between students inside and outside the classes. Either because students do not understand sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence, because they did not know how to help or because some students approved of discriminatory behaviour by lecturer. (e.g. through consent, laughter in discriminatory situations).
Many of the interviewees stated that they did not feel sufficiently supported by the UdK.

“(…) I haven’t had an interview yet where nothing came of it. It was always an interesting aspect that has not been told yet. It’s also interesting when the contents are repeated, because that shows a structural pattern. It often happens (…) that people say very similar things. That’s the thing: that they’re not isolated cases.” (from an interview)

9 People I, Camilla Goecke, approached did not want to do an interview because of strong shame and/or fear of consequences. Due to these feelings often no internal complaints are filed or police reports are made.
10 It was only through the description and summary of the work that students turned to us, as they became aware that something similar had happened to them.
11 Students or other persons to whom those affected have turned for help cannot always provide them with sufficient support, as they have also been unable to classify sexual discrimination, harassment and violence and/or are overburdened.
The interviews and further discussions we have had with students show, with the exception of the act of rape, that every form of sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence occur at the UdK!

We consider sound as a suitable medium for our artistic work. On the one hand it is a medium dominated by cis men, on the other hand we feel that active listening is an important strategy to draw attention to this topic. Through active listening, marginalized voices with regard to sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence are made audible at the UdK. It also involves reflecting on one’s own position: How do I listen? Which voices do I pay attention to? Which voices are drowned out, possibly also by my own? Through which “filter” do I listen? Does my voice find space and resonance? 

At this point we would like to point out that our work shows only a small section of the UdK. However, as the contents show clear structural discrimination, we are in favour of a university- wide study and an annual survey of students. In addition, we believe that there is a need for more information and sensitization work by all those working at the UdK, as well as the establishment of “safe” rooms and low-threshold counseling for and by those affected within the university. We would also like to encourage students in particular to confront sexual discrimination, harassment and violence (at the UdK). Even though this can be very stressful and emotional, the examination of this topic has “empowered” us; we have found a clearer language for this topic, we can clearly name and classify forms of sexualised discrimination, harassment and violence and have been able to support some of those affected.”

Camilla Goecke & Marieke Helmke (July 2020) 

Marieke Helmke (left) and Camilla Goecke (right) during their reading performance at the exhibition “Animation Of Dead Material” at Kunstraum Kreuzberg, 30.08.2020.

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The General Equal Treatment Act (AGG) is the uniform central body of regulations in Germany for the implementation of four European anti-discrimination directives. For the first time, a law was created in Germany that comprehensively regulates protection against discrimination.

Imagination of a gender system that consists of only two categories, male and female. Assignment beyond which is only allowed, if at all, only as a deviation from the norm – hides the following: gender, sex, desire, performance.

Differences in values, attitudes, cultural perspective, beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, knowledge and life experiences of each individual in each group of people should be considered and overcome within the university.

The concept according to Birgit Rommelspacher assumes that there is a system of hierarchies, rule and power in which the various racist, sexist and other forms of government intertwine. In this interconnectedness, a dominant group has the power, which is socially negotiated again and again.

the personal idea of one‘s own gender and one‘s own gender role. Within society, gender is the concept according to which we classify various ideas such as social status, gender presentation, role in society, life planning and sexuality into the gender categories.

Discrimination based on the organisational actions of institutions. Institutional discrimination is not present in society as a whole.

Inter * are persons born with physical characteristics that are medically considered to be „sexually ambiguous“. The generic term Inter * has evolved from the community, and refers to the diversity of intersex realities and physicalities as an emancipatory and identitarian umbrella term.

In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of discrimination, its individual forms of discrimination must not be considered independently of each other, as they are interrelated.

Discrimination based on the value of economically and educationally unequally strong classes. This is related to discrimination and stigmatisation based on actual or assumed educational status and social inclusion. Thus, the inferior classes in the hierarchy are problematised and stereotyped.

Culturally argued racism is directed against people who, regardless of whether they actually practice one culture or religion (e.g. Islam, Judaism) and how religious they are. (e.g. anti-Muslim racism (AMR) and anti-Semitism)

Describes a displacement of minorities to the social fringe. As a rule, marginalised groups do not correspond to the norm-oriented majority of society and are severely restricted in their ability to act.

Describes the basic assumption that thinking and brain structures function individually. A medical norm and the disease mongering of everything supposedly divergent is called into question.

Racism is an ideology that devalues people or groups based on their appearance, name, (perceived) culture, origin, or religion. People who experience racism are attributed physical/social/cultural/biological characteristics. These attributions are contrived stereotypes that have become entrenched in thoughts, structures, and systems. Racist stereotypes are pejorative, exoticizing, or exclusionary. People affected by racism are marked as “different” or not belonging in a white majority society and suffer everyday, structural and/or systematic discrimination and violence.

The conceptual distinction between gender as a biological fact (sex) on the one hand and as a product of cultural and social processes (gender) .

Any form of discrimination against people on the basis of their (attributed or supposed) sex and the ideology underlying these phenomena.

A person‘s sexual orientation describes which sex a person feels emotionally, physically and/or sexually attracted to.

System of socio-cultural values and norms into which one is born (environments and classes), e.g. Educational biography, social inclusion. Values are constructed.

System of socio-cultural values and norms into which one is born (milieus and classes). e.g. Educational status and social inclusion. Values are constructed.

Discrimination of social subgroups based on the nature of the structure of society as a whole.

„Trans“ is a Latin prefix, meaning beyond and refers to people who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. The self-designation is not an identity feature that automatically indicates whether this person identifies with a different gender, gender or multiple genders. Thus, there are several trans identities.

This term is not a self-designation, but a description of a reality of people who do not experience racism. white is written in small italics and reveals privileges, which are often not named as such. So the term is not about skin shades, but about the visualisation of different access to social resources.

Negative assessment of body and mind due to abilities and skills. An evaluation pattern based on a supposed biological (physical and / or mental) norm.

Discrimination e.g. in everyday life and law based on unequal power relationships between adults, children, adolescents and young people.

Skills and abilities are questioned and rated due to ones age.

Cis or cis-gender refers to people who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. If this were not named, trans * would always be marked as the deviation of a given norm.

This term focuses on how people observe, (re-)produce and make gender relevant in everyday life.

Is a self-designation to unite people affected by racism and to fight together against power relations such as racism.

In English, ‚queer‘ was used as an insult for a long time. In the meantime, however, the term is usually used positively as a self-designation and describes the breaking out of the two-gender order as well as heteronormative concepts of life.

Reciprocal interactions as a multi-dimensional approach between the university and the non-university environment, which also includes the cultural, social and political dimensions on an equal footing.

A superficial gesture to include minority members. It is intended to create an appearance of inclusion and to divert allegations of discrimination by requiring a person to be representative of a minority.