Whistleblower Eleni Kyriacou feels “vindicated” by the report into the abusive culture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, but wants the institution to offer victims compensation, she says in this exclusive interview.
“I feel vindicated,” designer and activist Kyriacou told Dezeen after the report was published last week.
“[I’m] pleased more people are coming forward, that more people are finding out for the first time about what’s going on and feeling vindicated and sending me messages saying thank you.”
Kyriacou is a fashion designer who studied at the Bartlett in London from 1998 to 2002. Her best-known work includes costume design for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.
She began a correspondence with the Bartlett about the behaviour of its staff in May 2020 after receiving an alumni newsletter, which led her to follow up on a complaint she had made 20 years earlier.
“It started almost accidentally really, in the pandemic,” Kyriacou explained.
“I found myself automatically responding to this bulletin and saying ‘I reported something really serious 20 years ago and I was ignored, can somebody now listen to me?'”
Bartlett “very reluctant” to investigate
The initial complaint, which she said was ignored, was made about a member of staff who had been sexist towards her as a student.
In an exchange of emails, Kyriacou had asked for the staff member to finally be investigated. However, she felt that the Bartlett was “very reluctant”, prompting her to take matters into her own hands.
“It gave me a very, very bad feeling about what kind of covering up is going on in this place and how long it’s been going on for, and that motivated me to start investigating,” she said.
The dossier was reported in the press in 2021, eventually prompting UCL to appoint external agency Howlett Brown to investigate the allegations. Their report was published in a report on 9 June 2022. More than 300 staff and students from Bartlett were interviewed for the investigation.
Since the damning 120-page report was published last week, UCL has announced it has suspended staff from student-facing duties.
It was also revealed that Bob Sheil had stepped down from his role as Bartlett director before the report was published, though he is still employed as a professor at the school.
Sheil’s term was due to come to an end in September when professor Amy Kulper will take over the role. Professor Jacqui Glass has been appointed as interim director.
Removal of staff “extremely overdue”
Kyriacou has welcomed the removal of staff but believes compensation is also needed.
“I am delighted to see that staff members have been finally suspended,” Kyriacou said. “Although it was extremely overdue, it is still better late than never.”
“I really only see that as the first phase of reform,” she added.
The designer believes that UCL must now offer students who were “unfairly failed in any way relating to gender or otherwise” a chance to gain their RIBA Part 1 qualification.
“This is very important,” Kyriacou explained. “They should be offered the chance to get their Part 1 so that they can still do a masters and become an architect.”
Students who were affected by the toxic culture at the school must also be offered compensation, Kyriacou added.
Kyriacou said these aims broadly align with the goals of Bartlett United and Times Up Bartlett – two groups of former and current Bartlett students that are campaigning for public accountability at the school.
She suggested that this should take the form of a default amount of money given to each person, with the option for them to claim additional funds on a case-by-case basis.
Additional costs could include fees for therapy or medicine as a result of a student’s experience at the Bartlett, through to compensation for a lifetime loss of earnings by those who unfairly received a lower grade and in turn got “a worse job than they should have done”, she suggested.
“Real reform is now happening”
Since the Howlett Brown report was released, Kyriacou has reached out to former students who shared testimonials with her and who interviewed for the investigation.
“They’re glad real reform is now happening in the school and that future students aren’t going to hopefully have to inherit this ugly, abusive culture that we inherited,” she said.
Some victims also feel encouraged to contact UCL about their experiences again after they had been overlooked while studying, Kyriacou said.
“Some of them want to go back to UCL and resubmit their complaints again, now that they feel they’re going to be listened to,” the designer explained.
“They’re emboldened to go back to UCL and talk to them again. They’re very, very happy the school’s reforming, that it’s exposed.”
“They must never have the ability to bury grading”
To ensure transparency at the school Kyriacou wants the university to publish grades annually so that signs of discrimination can be identified.
“Moving forward, I’m going to now tell UCL that they must be transparent with their grading separated by gender by race, disability and so on,” Kyriacou said.
“It should be published every year and it should be transparent so people can have an informed choice when going to the school if they’re BAME or if they’re female,” she continued.
“They must never have the ability to bury grading separated by gender or race and complaints ever again.”
When the scandal first came to light, Kyriacou contacted Bartlett in search of details about grades and dropout rates sorted by gender, to which the school refused to respond.
At the time, UCL claimed that the Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from Kyriacou placed “a significant burden on UCL” and caused “undue distress to staff”.
“No surprises” in report
Since the toxic culture of Bartlett was exposed, many industry figures have taken to social media to share their thoughts on the news.
Among them were Invisible Studio founder Piers Taylor, a former Bartlett student who said there were “no surprises” in the report.
Others suggested that the issues identified at the Bartlett are widespread in UK architecture education.
“These issues are not unique to the Bartlett – the findings of this report apply to so many architecture schools,” reflected architecture and design critic Olly Wainwright.
The Royal Institute of British Architects said it “recognises our own role in upholding standards” and that it is considering a code of conduct for academic institutions.
Meanwhile, the Architects Registration Board described the report’s findings as “deeply concerning” and claimed it will now assess if its requirements have been violated by the school.
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