EDI and decolonising initiatives in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures

Image credit: Original artwork by James Haynes, an Architecture student at The University of Edinburgh

In this post, Dr Benjamin Bateman, outlines recent work in advancing EDI initiatives in the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC). Benjamin is Lecturer in Post-1900 British Literature, and Director of People and Equalities for the School. This post is part of the L&T Enhancement Theme: Examples of positive practices in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

The School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures (LLC) has made some important strides of late in advancing equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) as well as decolonising initiatives. It is my pleasure and privilege to describe a few of these in this space. Before doing so, I should say that enhancing EDI and pursuing decolonisation are recursive and iterative activities, meaning the work never finishes and must remain receptive to new ideas and directions. We have much reflection still to do, but we are also proud of what we have accomplished thus far.

With the support of a small grant from the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme, the Board of Studies in LLC conducted a pilot study aimed at amplifying student voice on matters of EDI and decolonisation. We hired four students with impressive qualifications on these topics, provided them a training session, and then left them to work independently at identifying strengths and areas for possible improvement in our curriculum. In December, the pilot concluded with the students sharing their findings, and the members of Board of Studies had the opportunity to respond to their feedback and to request additional clarification. The session was illuminating, and we will now carry forward the students’ insights as we launch our new course and programme proposal forms, which, for the first time, invite members of staff to account for how they have considered EDI in crafting their curriculum and pedagogy.

Assisting us in our endeavours have been some fantastic workshops that we have run with an external partner organisation, Project Myopia. Project Myopia got its start from an Innovation Initiative Grant by The University of Edinburgh Development Trust, and, today, it focuses on education reform in a number of ways, including hosting a website where scholars from around the world can share resources and strategies that centre the voices and experiences of people of colour, people who are differently abled, and people who identify as LGBT+.

For LLC, Project Myopia has offered workshops on inclusive pedagogy and decolonising the curriculum, and, in these workshops, participants have the opportunity to contribute ideas, ask questions, and analyse particular and challenging scenarios that can arise in the classroom. Staff participation has been robust and enthusiastic, and our lively conversations are a reminder that EDI and decolonising initiatives can be the occasion of interdepartmental and interdisciplinary collaboration.

In November, we partnered with Project Myopia to offer a workshop specifically for guaranteed hours tutors, who deal with unique EDI challenges in teaching on courses that they did not design. We aim to continue these workshops and to arrange others based on staff input, and we are particularly keen to think more about how decolonisation can change the way we think about professional and student services within the school.

A focus on inclusive pedagogy means considering how course content can be made accessible for all students. In response to student feedback about sensitive content, the school EDI committee collaborated with the Learning and Teaching committee and used the findings of a previous working group on trauma-informed pedagogy to generate common language around distressing topics. Our approach emphasises compassion and concrete advice, making clear to students the resources that exist both within and outwith the school for times when they are experiencing distress. The pandemic has no doubt heightened feelings of anxiety and loneliness, and so it is vital as we return to more normal operations that we cultivate supportive learning communities anchored in trust, intellectual curiosity, and open communication.

Those learning communities extend beyond the boundaries of LLC. We are keen to work more closely with our colleagues from across the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, as well as with colleagues from other units across the university.

Collaboration, solidarity, and common cause are critical at a time when doing the work of EDI and decolonisation can make people the targets of media and political scrutiny. We are fortunate within CAHSS to have a strong EDI committee representative of all schools—and a new EDI Dean, Jenny Hoy—and several of us on the committee recently launched a working group on decolonising the curriculum intended to share and to highlight school-level initiatives and accomplishments. As we collectively respond to and implement the university’s Curriculum Transformation Project, it will remain imperative that we continue to centre EDI and decolonisation in our practice and pedagogy.

photograph of the authorBenjamin Bateman

Benjamin is Lecturer in Post-1900 British Literature, and Director of People and Equalities for the School of Literatures, Languages, and Cultures.

photograph of the authorJames Haynes

James is currently a third-year architecture student at The University of Edinburgh with a keen interest in illustration and social impact causes. Outside of his studies, James is involved with community focused architecture practice, a number of arts organisations and third-sector consultancy.

Website: jameshaynes.co.uk

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