Campus Comment Comment

Less tweeting and more decolonising our curriculum

Here's what we can all do to tackle racial injustices in our education here at York.

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Image Credit: Robin Stevens

We all know what happened to George Floyd. You can read more about it all over the news. I am also sure that you can see many of your friends, regardless of whether they are black or non-black posting on their social media platforms to call for action.

To speak up. To make space for the black community. To take things further.

I have one simple recommendation. This recommendation can make your actions go further. Let’s decolonise and diversify your curriculum. I recognise that the inequalities that the tragedy of George’s death has shone a light on are complex and systematic. As we all think about what we can do, I passionately believe that a decolonised and diversified curriculum, as well as the overall academic experience at York, would make a massive difference to the student community at our university.

Our University of York, our Russell Group, top 20 University UK curriculum and pedagogy is dominated by white, Western, male, and straight authors (and possibly Anglicanism, abled and wealthy). There is a huge lack of diversity among staff and students. I have mentioned this before in my social media post and ‘Sabbs in Short’ that the latest figure for York reveals that 72% of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) students (not including international fee students), compared to 83.1% of white students, achieved a 2:1 and above. More BAME students from our university drop out than our white counterparts.

Liberating and diversifying our curriculum and our own academic experience is necessary if we want further social justice for the Black community, and for victims of racism like George Floyd.

I encourage you to take ownership and help make this change. Have you thought critically about your curriculum and experience at York? - the further you perpetuate this curriculum that is systematically racist, and to accept the education you are having, the worse our future is going to be. Have you sought out non-black authors to read, to learn, and to challenge ourselves? We are further embedding this falsified picture of history - about who has privilege, and who doesn’t.

Please remember, #intersectionality: our curriculum is not only white, but also dominated by a very narrow range of professionals. Many of our friends and fellow York students might not only be part of a single oppressed group, but they might be suffering different intersectional oppression and discrimination simultaneously.

Hence, as your Academic Officer, I want to ask everyone, regardless of your year, or mode of study, at the University of York to:

Firstly, choose the modules that look at non-Western knowledge or the modules that are taught by the non-white, non-Western, female and non-binary, disabled, LGBTQ+ and other lecturers from oppressed demographics. If you are coming to your final year, choose a dissertation topic that matters to non-white, non-Western, female and non-binary, disabled, LGBTQ+ and other oppressed communities.

A couple of years ago, the Philosophy department used to have an East Asian/Asia philosophy module, but because of a lack of students choosing the module, that module had to be cancelled. Don’t. Perpetuate. This.

Secondly, it is great if you would want to take modules that are Western in focus, eg. on Brexit, the Cold War, Western literature works, or any wars that the Western hemisphere has ever fought.The world needs scholars who have insight into those topics. But please do challenge the narrative, challenge the people who generate the narrative, and ask yourself where other oppressed communities and regions are in this narrative. Challenge your lecturers. Challenge your fellow students. If they do not have lived experience, they might not understand what it really feels like to experience oppression and discrimination.

Thirdly, it is important to understand who is behind the texts, or the discoveries, or who is delivering your teaching and tutorials. It is simple to think that what you study, whether because of your academic practice, that you do not normally know the identities and demographics of the authors. Please think again. For example, the discovery of DNA; how many of us know that there is a female scientist named Rosalind Franklin that played an important role as well? Furthermore, when you start to research the interdisciplinary angle that involves looking at socioeconomics and political perspectives, it is no longer objective. Have you asked yourself what difference will it make if most of your lecturers and small group teachers do not come from a homogeneous background?

Fourth, when you are graduating, please continue to speak up, to fight and to not perpetuate the systemic racism in your workplace, your community and your lifestyle.

Finally, If you are going to teach, please teach anything that gives a fair representation of the oppressed non-white, non-Western, female and non-binary, disabled, LGBTQ+ and other oppressed demographics. Go an extra mile to see what is beyond and outside what you have learnt from your previous white, Western, male and straight authors. Join in and support the relevant University projects such as Inclusive, Teaching, Learning and Assessment and e-Accessibility. Build a liberating, diversifying and inclusive academic working group in your departments.

Empower your students to break the systematic oppression and discrimination.

The Union has also produced a range of resources for anyone wanting to profess on being actively anti-racist, which you can find more on this link here: http://bit.ly/BLMDoc

To conclude, I have been reflecting on my own role as your Academic Officer, and in my journey of being an activist for an inclusive, diversified, decolonised and liberated York. There has been amazing work done by the National Union of Students and other Unions across the country. I also hope you can take this opportunity to set out some thoughts and challenges on what we can do together at York and in our own lives.

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