Weitian Liu

PhD Scholar,
Goldsmiths, University of London

During the strike at Goldsmiths this past spring term, a small tea room near campus was turned into a week-long project space with a loosely planned programme. A lot of things took place there over the week: an English-Chinese translating and edit-a-thon workshop about the UCU strike at Goldsmiths and across the country, a panel discussion about whether Chinese students should support this strike, a ‘feel tank’ session inspired by the Public Feelings project in Chicago, printmaking, food sharing, reading, chatting, studying and whatnot.


The context of this project was the second round of the UCU strikes I have experienced since I began my PhD at Goldsmiths last September. I had seen strike action before when I was studying in Scotland, but the institutional problem facing the faculty members and students here is far more serious. As a PhD student, I have mixed feelings towards the strike. On one hand, I share the strikers’ disappointment and anger towards the college management's ‘recovery plan’, which involves staff redundancies and curriculum restructuring for all undergraduate students. On the other, I sympathise with the complaints of students who are left with truncated teaching and little support throughout their limited time at university.

“For the translating workshop, we gathered a list of terms which we then translated into Chinese” – Weitian Liu. Image courtesy Weitian Liu.

These two standpoints are not opposed to each other, yet a lack of understanding often sets students against striking staff. Understandably, it can be challenging for international students who are unfamiliar with how industrial action works in the specific context of UK higher education to make the effort to engage with the strike. But I think it’s worth that students know and familiarise themselves with the conditions under which study unfolds in the university and in which they themselves are implicated. I’m thinking in particular of the soaring number of Chinese students at UK universities over the past few years and the commercialisation of UK higher education in a global context.

Poster of Gourd Canteen’s first series of events. Image courtesy Weitian Liu.


At the beginning of my studies, I joined the newly formed initiative Gourd Canteen, which engages the Sinophone art community in the UK and beyond through a mix of curatorial discussions, events and workshops. The thoughts I had led me to organise, as part of Gourd Canteen, a series of teach-outs during last year’s strike at Goldsmiths. These teach-outs included an online screening and two roundtable discussions where Chinese-speaking students and staff gathered together to discuss their thoughts about the strike. Towards the end of the strike, I also took part in a panel discussion with several professors and students to discuss ‘our stakes in the university’. Aside from these activities, I spent a lot of time on the picket line in front of the college’s main building, talking with people from different programmes and departments whom I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I learned much more on the picket line than from reading books in the library.

Poster of the panel discussion ‘Our Stakes in the University’, designed by Qiming Ding. Image courtesy of Weitian Liu.


My engagement with the strike has become less frontal lately. The week-long project I co-organised in the tea room marks a shift inspired by American Scholars Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s formulation of ‘black study’ as well as Lauren Berlant’s writing about ‘lateral agency’. What transpired in that space cannot be adequately captured by the description I give at the beginning of this journal. What we did there most of the time, after all, was as simple as having a good time together. Nevertheless, the affective relation enacted through this situated form of being with one another gestures toward a different way of striking, of studying, and, as my supervisor often puts it, of ‘inhabiting the problem’.

“This is us in the sun-lit tea room on Lewisham Way. Despite being located next to Goldsmiths in New Cross, we had people joining us from different universities all across London.” – Weitian Liu. Image courtesy Weitian Liu.

“Lola Olufemi’s ‘A Fly Girl’s Guide to University’ is one of the books we brought to the tea room to read.” – Weitian Liu. Image courtesy Weitian Liu.