Black History Month Special

Decolonising the curriculum

Whether in Comment, News or Features, Concrete has repeatedly returned to the discussion of decolonising the curriculum. As Black History Month reignites the conversation once more, despite being in agreement that things should change, it’s questionable whether anything actually has. We can maintain thoughtful, intelligent conversation, but how long will it remain just that: just a conversation with no causation.

African-Caribbean Society’s Events Officer Koshesai Fundira thinks ‘awareness of the issue is more prevalent than it has been before,’ and these conversations have brought it to the attention of academics and universities.

Though despite recognising the issue, she suggests that decolonising the curriculum isn’t ‘something many of us have actively seen in our curriculums’ at UEA. As a community, UEA is for the changes and certainly vocal about it but ‘there still is a lot of progress to be made.’

This is a sentiment shared by Ryan Jordan, SU Ethnic Minorities Officer, who insists these changes are ‘essential.’ He hopes that a ‘shift will come sooner than later’, but from discussions with his lecturers, he has found change to be a slow and stubborn process.

UEA is making efforts to work towards change. During Black History Month, the campus has seen a wide range of discussion panels and events to bring attention to the issue. Professor Tessa McWatt, Professor Alan Finlayson, Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod, Dr Claire Hynes and guest panellist, Professor Robert Beckford of Canterbury Christchurch University, hosted a panel titled ‘Decolonising the curriculum: how should British universities respond’.

Jeremy Noel-Tod, Head of Literature, said: ‘It was really heartening to see such a strong turn-out for the Decolonising the Curriculum event: the 80-seat lecture theatre was standing room only. Many points of view were shared, but there was a consensus that British universities need to think critically about whiteness as a history and an identity that structures assumptions about academic life, from research to teaching.’

He added: ‘We began to have this conversation seriously in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing last year in response to students asking ‘why is my curriculum white?’. What really struck me about the audience discussion was how many students from different UEA schools — both humanities and sciences — came and took part. The event officially ended at 7pm, but students remained in the room talking until nearly 9pm. That gives me hope that the conversation will continue, and that the call for change will be heard across the university.’

It seems awareness is at an all-time high, with everyone from academics to students actively assessing how we can make real, tangible changes to the curriculum outside of the white male box that we are accustomed to. Though it’s hard not to be disheartened that these are still discussions that need to be had. It’s hard not to be frustrated that a year later, we are all in agreement, but within our restricted curriculum.

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