"The end goal of Decolonising the Curriculum isn’t simply the removal of statues, or the renaming of buildings; it’s destabilising the narratives and knowledge systems that prop up these physical structures. It’s recognising that white, Eurocentric “knowledge” dominates our university curricula as a legacy of colonialism and that this historical dominance has been at the expense of other sources of knowledge from groups that are underrepresented..." - Cara Chittenden, SU President Exeter
Decolonising the Curriculum as a movement gained international momentum in South Africa in 2015, where students led the “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to demand the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes (a Victorian Imperialist) at the University of Cape Town. Similar campaigns have since been led at UK universities, many with a renewed focus in 2020. For example, Oriel College at Oxford University has also been targeted by a Rhodes Must Fall campaign due to its own statue of Cecil Rhodes. Meanwhile, UCL Students’ Union has campaigned to change the names of several university buildings dedicated to eugenicists.
The end goal of Decolonising the Curriculum isn’t simply the removal of statues, or the renaming of buildings; it’s destabilising the narratives and knowledge systems that prop up these physical structures. It’s recognising that white, Eurocentric “knowledge” dominates our university curricula as a legacy of colonialism and that this historical dominance has been at the expense of other sources of knowledge from groups that are underrepresented. In order to be truly learning and pushing the boundaries of knowledge, we must be recognising as many perspectives, theories, discoveries, inventions and academic achievements as possible. This includes those from outside Europe, those not written in English, those written from within different cultures, those written by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) scholars and, in some cases, knowledge that isn’t written down at all but is conveyed by other means. Decolonising the curriculum isn’t a negative process, concerned with deleting white, male, Eurocentric voices from the curriculum. Instead, it’s a positive process, concerned with adding more voices into the curriculum, to sit alongside and challenge the white, male, Eurocentric ones.
The University of Exeter suffers many side effects of a colonised curriculum. Like many UK universities we struggle with a BME attainment gap. We’re not hitting our targets on state school, BAME and international student intake. We have a bad reputation for elitism and racism scandals. Since entering my role as President Exeter I’ve been impressed by the amount of behind-the-scenes work going on to tackle these problems and change the culture of the university, from the Exeter Decolonising Network, to the Success for All strategy being implemented by senior staff, to the work going on within individual departments. However, I haven’t seen a collective effort to decolonise the curriculum across the Cornwall campuses, that draws in student feedback reflecting the lived experience of studying here.
Therefore, I wanted to use my privileged position to help push this collective movement, simply starting with a survey of our students. This is intended to serve as an initial touchpoint with Exeter students studying in Cornwall to know what you think about your curriculum and what needs to be done to change it. It’s open to all students to respond to, regardless of ethnicity. Taking the results from this survey I intend to work with the University and individual departments to push for tangible action plans when it comes to decolonising the curriculum, which should include focus groups to gather more in-depth feedback from BAME students, specifically.
COMPLETE THE SURVEY HERE.
The survey begins by asking students to identify themselves in several ways e.g., course and ethnicity (but not by name). Your responses will be confidential - this is simply to help us analyse the data from the survey more effectively. For example, are a larger number of students in a particular college having the same experiences? The survey is then split into six sections: white privilege; voices in the classroom; curriculum material, methods of learning and assessment; the Students’ Union; and a conclusion.
The first section on “white privilege” seeks to get white respondents to reflect on their own privilege as a result of the colour of their skin. These are uncomfortable but incredibly necessary conversations to be having with ourselves. BAME respondents can, in this section, reflect on their experiences and encounters with white privilege.
The second section on “voices in the classroom” seeks to gather feedback on whether certain groups of people dominate learning spaces, both in the form of the teaching staff and the students contributing to classroom discussion. Decolonising the curriculum includes decolonising the voices contributing in our learning spaces, as well as the people writing the texts we read.
Nonetheless, the third section on “curriculum material” asks for feedback on the texts you use to learn: reading lists, film screenings, textbooks etc. Do they favour certain narratives or knowledge systems over others? This is often considered the key focus of decolonising the curriculum, although there is more to it, as shown by the next section of the survey.
The fourth section on “methods of learning and assessment” seeks feedback on whether the ways in which you learn (lectures, seminars, research and laboratory work etc.), and the ways in which you are assessed (coursework, exams, presentations etc.) are inclusive and provide equal opportunities to excel for all students.
Finally, the fifth section on “the Students’ Union” asks for feedback on the Falmouth and Exeter Students’ Union. Are we inclusive, diverse and representative of all students? How can we improve? This is followed by a short section with some concluding questions.
If you would like to read more about decolonising the curriculum before you complete the survey, please consider reading the following articles:
Additionally, an excellent Decolonising the Curriculum Departmental Review was conducted over the summer by four students from the Penryn Politics department. This is the kind of work (informed by student feedback) that it would be great to see being facilitated in all departments.
P.S. I’ve put much thought into the use of the term BAME in this blog and throughout the survey, as I know that it is disliked by some as it assimilates the experiences of people from very different ethnic backgrounds. After reading and seeking various opinions on it I decided that it was the most suitable and least controversial term to use in this context. I’d like to reassure BAME students that the use of this term is in no way trying to assimilate different ethnic groups, cultures, backgrounds and experiences and that our analysis of this feedback will attempt to draw out and recognise alternative experiences based on different identifiers, aided by the identification section at the beginning. I hope that these unique experiences will be reflected in the work that this feedback informs.
Thank you to everyone that scrutinised the drafts of this survey, provided feedback and helped me to write it, including Christian Carungcong, Akira Allman, Dr Shubranshu Mishra, and members of my Decolonising Education Steering Committee.
Participants in the survey will be in for a chance of winning an exclusive Exeter merchandise bundle, through entering into a prize draw.*
The prizes are:
- 1 x Hoodie
- 1 x Steel Water Bottle
- 1 x T Shirt
- 1 x Beanie
The winner will be able to select their preferred size and colour of each item subject to availability.
* This is an opt-in element which is not compulsory!
If participating in this survey has inspired you to join the movement, or educate yourself on decolonisation, NUS have a brilliant and informative range of resources at the NUS Decolonisation Campaign Mixed Media Library. We encourage you to check them out!
If you would like to be further involved in the Decolonising the Curriculum campaign please email firstname.lastname@example.org