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Central principal Gavin Henderson faces calls to resign over diversity quotas remarks

About 250 students and staff walked out of Central during the protest About 250 students and staff walked out of Central in protest on May 11
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Royal Central School of Speech and Drama principal Gavin Henderson is facing calls to resign over his controversial views on diversity quotas.

The calls were made at a protest event last week, when about 250 students and staff walked out of the school.

The protest followed the event Dear White Central at the London drama school in April, at which Henderson suggested that introducing quotas to boost numbers of black, Asian and ethnic minority students might reduce the quality of the student intake.

Central School principal: ‘Quotas would reduce the quality of our student intake’

Students marched out of their lessons at 3.15pm on May 11, chanting “Central for change” during the protest, which was organised by MA students Kayla Votapek and Matthew Frener.

Speaking at the event, founder of the Diversity School Initiative and Dear White Central organiser Steven Kavuma slammed the institution as “racist” due to a lack of representation of black students.

“I want Gavin to be here… I want to look him in the eye and for him to know that he is part of the problem and he cannot be principal of this school,” Kavuma said, addressing the crowd.

He added: “It’s beyond disgraceful, and it’s painful. It carries on year after year after year. In 10 years, we will still be talking about the same thing, and there will still be one black person in a class that is entirely white.”

The aim of the event was to press for systematic change within the institution, with some arguing that this should be kickstarted by Henderson stepping down and others calling for the school to introduce quotas.

During a speech introducing the event, Frener said: “While Dear White Central was the catalyst for creating this event, we want to show our institution our solidarity and push them into facilitating more change to create a fairer, more inclusive environment.”

Votapek said she was “hurt and quite frankly disgusted” by Henderson’s recent remarks, and called on the principal for a “sincere public apology”.

“If he’s not willing to admit [that there’s a problem], then what do we do? That’s where he needs to be held accountable by either leaving or something else,” she said.

“The board, which is above him, should be holding him accountable for what he has said,” she added.

Master’s student Ally Poole echoed these comments, adding: “I think you can’t have a leader of an institution who doesn’t reflect the student body, who doesn’t meet the same standards in the way that we all as students and staff see ourselves.

“It doesn’t just stop at the principal, it’s about the board and all the people beneath him. It starts at making sure there are staff who represent an inclusive community. And it doesn’t end with Gavin – that’s just the beginning.”

Teaching staff also joined the debate, including Drama, Applied Theatre Education teacher Sylvan Baker.

He said: “We will take different positions about how we need to make change, what change needs to be made, and whose responsibility it is to make the change, but one of the things we do agree on is that change needs to happen. We need to look at how we can do things differently. How we teach, what we teach, what you ask for and what you tell us from your diverse positions.”

A spokeswoman for Central said that following a review into diversity and inclusion at the school, which took place last autumn, a new committee with representation from all areas of the school has been established to address these issues.

She said: “The governing body of Central has been scheduled for some time to meet and the outcome of this review forms part of the agenda for the meeting. Following on from the events of the previous weeks, points raised by staff and students around the Dear White Central and Central for Change campaigns will form part of this discussion.

“The board will issue a further statement following a board meeting (on May 14), which will include agreed next steps for working alongside the wider school community to address issues and concerns which have arisen as a result of ongoing discussions.”

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