Academic ‘ridiculed’ students by taking on a non-binary alter ego for years as a research project

Vic Parsons November 8, 2019
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Dawn Mellor. (Goldsmiths University)

A lecturer at the university of Goldsmiths in London has come under fire for allegedly pretending to be non-binary as part of a research project.

Dawn Mellor, a lecturer in Fine Arts, adopted a non-binary persona called ‘Tippy Rampage’ both online, on various social-media accounts, and while teaching students at the university.

Goldsmiths student union has called Mellor’s project “unethical and insensitive”, adding that students feel “exploited and ridiculed”.

It also pointed out that trans and/or non-binary students had “explicitly sought out” Mellor, as they trusted her “to be someone who would understand their lived experiences and who they could talk about these experiences to”.

Mellor, a painter, has previously exhibited work at the Tate, including in Tate Britain’s 2019 exhibition of art by women, Sixty Years.

The 2016 project for which ‘Tippy Rampage’ was invented, ‘Sirens’, exhibited in New York in 2017. It was a series of paintings of actresses dressed as members of the police.

As part of the project, a book of the same name is due to be published later this year, according to The Tab. The book focuses on “identity and politically related concerns”, according to a previous interview given by Mellor.

In the 2018 interview with Studio International magazine, Mellor spoke about how Tippy Rampage was an “Instagram performance”: “Dawn Mellor was the echo-chamber character that emerged, who started as one person, then ‘transformed’ to Tippy Rampage.”

And, she added, that “if the book comes from anything, it is the brilliance of some of my students and peers.

“There are a handful of students performing a certain type of politicised self. Some of the shifts in prose in the book come from those experiences, as well as both sarcastically performed and sincere accounts of how I invent and perform while making my own work.”

It is unclear whether any of the students Mellor interacted with while in character as Tippy Rampage were aware that this was a fiction, but at the beginning of Mellor’s project, a senior lecturer in Goldsmiths’ art department sent round an email to students alerting them that Mellor had changed her name to Tippy Rampage and would like to be referred to with they/them pronouns.

In emails seen by The Tab, Mellor reportedly says, “The book was initially proposed several years ago in my job application form, for my role as lecturer in studio practice for the Fine Art BA and contains in full the presentation I gave for the job interview.

“The character Tippy Rampage, performed mostly onsite at Goldsmiths and on social media accounts, has contributed to some parts of the research.”

Goldsmiths SU said that while “it’s unclear whether this member of staff is non-binary or not” they were aware that “certain posts online have implied that a non-binary identity was being performed for academic purposes alone, as satire, and rightfully, people feel hurt and outraged by that”.

A spokesperson for Goldsmiths, University of London said: “Goldsmiths values its diverse and inclusive community and we take our duty of care to our students and staff very seriously. We are fully committed to academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law.”

Goldsmiths refused to say whether students were aware “Tippy” was a persona for a project.



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