Project Myopia: diversifying the canon and university curricula

iStock bubaone
iStock bubaone

Project Myopia is an academic resource designed to diversify arts curricula, funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Innovation Initiative Grant fund. We publish students’ reviews of works of art and culture, specifically those made by people from marginalized groups, whose voices have been traditionally excluded from educational platforms. We want to see more works created by women, non-binary people, LGBTQ, differently abled people, and people of colour in university courses. Alongside our students’ essays, we display commissioned artwork, aiming to use the platform to offer students the opportunity to write, design, edit, and cry out about that which they are most passionate. Our mission is essentially to offer educators possible objects of study, which could be phased into university curricula, and to get students interested in challenging the rigid definition of the canon in their own departments.

My friend Rianna and I set up the project in late 2016, when we were starting our Masters degrees, both of us planning to study research areas close to our hearts. We had enjoyed our undergraduate English degrees at Edinburgh, whilst feeling that the programme had been weighted towards literature written by straight, white, upper-class men. We both rarely found that the literature we read reflected our experiences or those of many of our colleagues in the department. Looking back at our first years in Edinburgh, we both could have used Project Myopia to get access to objects of study that we would not be able to encounter in our normal curricula until the occasional option course at the end of the undergraduate degree; we have now built the resource we needed.

From a teaching perspective, the site is fairly simple: going through the page, an educator can see examples of what students are yearning to see reflected in their curricula. One can search or group essays together by tag/topic, and read with a particular curriculum in mind. Whether someone uses examples mentioned on the site, or takes inspiration from the essays to research how they could diversify what they teach is up to them. We want to provide some balance to existing programmes of study, and better reflect the diverse student demographics currently in higher education. We have had some great feedback from tutors and professors so far, and we’re excited to see how the project can be involved or prove useful for curricula design for upcoming academic sessions.

Indeed, the project has, in these first months, been a success. We have been part of a burgeoning and significant conversation on campus regarding diversifying the canon and university curricula; these are discussions happening across the globe, a recent diversity success being the introduction of Black British History module at the University of Leeds in response to student pressure, in particular from groups such as Why Is My Curriculum White? Project Myopia has published essays by students across four continents, on topics as diverse as Filipino-American identity in television to First Nations visual art. We have had wonderful feedback on the essays that we have already published online – including from some of the artists, writers, and actors on whom our writers focussed their essays. We have been nominated for a EUSA Impact Award, and came second in the sparqs 2017 Student Engagement Awards for our commitment to diversity in Scotland – but positive responses from students and staff have been the most rewarding. Whether it’s an email from a professor telling us that ours ‘is a GREAT project!’, or dozens of our students at our launch party cheering the birth of a project, it’s the university community that we’re fuelled by, and that we’re keen to give back to.

Check out www.projectmyopia.com, and find us on social media @projectmyopia on Facebook and Twitter, and @themyopiaproject on Instagram. Get in touch with us at projectmyopia@gmail.com if you would like to get involved.

Toby Sharpe

Toby Sharpe is a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, with a research interest in queer lives and literatures. He undertook his undergraduate degree in Edinburgh, briefly studying abroad at McGill University in Montréal. He is the co-founder of Project Myopia.

Rianna Walcott

Rianna Walcott is a postgraduate researcher at The University of Edinburgh, studying fiction from the black diaspora. Her research focuses on how black people respond to marginalisation in predominantly white spaces, and Project Myopia was a natural progression, to help marginalised people in academic spaces.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *