Today’s post welcomes student Diva Mukherji, the University’s Black and Minority Ethnic Officer, explaining how LiberatED aims to diversify the curriculum…
LiberatEd is an initiative which aims to create an intersectional, inclusive and empowering curriculum at the University of Edinburgh, and is led by the Students’ Association, and its Liberation Campaigns. It also highlights the lack of diversity at various stages of University and offers ways to improve teaching and learning conditions.
Creating an intersectional curriculum is essential, and needed now more than ever, as it has a variety of positive impacts on students, staff and the university as a whole. Currently, students from underrepresented backgrounds experience a host of circumstances which negatively impact their time at University. For BME students, it often accumulates into the BME attainment gap, which measures the difference in number of 2:1 or 1st degrees awarded to white students and BME students, based on factors other than just academic attainment, analysing why this difference exists. The gap is attributed to various other factors, including feelings of alienation from University life, underrepresentation of BME people in curriculum and University body (in both the staff and student populations) and microaggressions; this has been confirmed by various consultations run by the BME group at University of Edinburgh.
Diversifying the curriculum, and the academy as a whole, is becoming essential at a time where people from underrepresented backgrounds are facing increasingly hostile political conditions. Universities are spaces of knowledge validation, and can have a significant impact on constructing social norms and values. A curriculum which highlights and prioritizes underrepresented voices is integral because we need to be able to understand varied perspectives in order to criticize the dominant power structures that exist in our society. When diversifying the curriculum, it is important to highlight that it is not simply about adding academics from underrepresented backgrounds on a reading list. Rather, it involves a critical reassessment of the way in which an educational institution can develop understandings of other perspectives while resisting an educational system that is steeped in elitism, forms of bigotry and colonial amnesia. The process of decolonizing the academy goes beyond working on the curriculum, and must be supported by wider institutional strategies to improve access and support for marginalized students and staff.
Before considering which steps should be undertaken to create a more diverse and decolonized curriculum, an open acknowledgment must be made that the “core reading list” is created by institutions which prioritized (and continue to do so) the work of elite, straight, cis-gendered, white men. The dominance of works within academia by said group become enshrined as the ‘classics’. LiberatEd, and similar movements, are not asking for the immediate removal of these texts, but rather an open discussion of how the “classics” gain this status. When discussing sensitive topics, such as colonialism or slavery, it is imperative to ensure that the reading list, essential or additional, prioritizes works from people affected by those situations. It also includes creating a safe space for students in tutorials or lectures, and acknowledging that for students from marginalized backgrounds, an “offhand” or “misguided” comment is never just that, but instead a reminder that they are the “Other” in University spaces.
LiberatEd is a project which looks beyond diversifying the curriculum – at its core, it hopes to increase the visibility of voices of people from marginalized communities at University, and transforming the University into one which is inclusive and diverse. It aspires to promote a conversation about how University, and academia as a whole, was created and who it prioritizes. Our curriculum, and University, needs to be fundamentally anti-bigotry, rather than remaining silent, and therefore complicit in the perpetuation of ideas which attack the humanity of marginalized groups.