In this post, Rayya Ghul introduces the ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ Hub. Rayya is a Lecturer in University Learning and Teaching, in the Institute for Academic Development. This post part of the L&T Enhancement Theme: Examples of positive practices in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).
Decolonising is like the elephant in a completely dark room being examined by scholars, scientists and the general public. It is such a vast topic that one person can only analyse part of it, and we need to communicate and collaborate to construct a picture that is continuously coming into focus and may never be complete. For some, it’s about atoning for past wrongs, while for others it’s about unwelcome revision of history. The part which each individual or group engages with can produce a huge variety of responses; understanding, disbelief, anger, relief, recognition, sadness, and hope, to name a few. Those responses are relational. We are relational beings, as Ken Gergen reminds us. What happens isn’t ‘inside’ us or ‘out there’ but in the in-between. We all have a relationship with colonisation, either as a heritage of the formerly colonised or a heritage of former colonisers, sometime both. And, in the UK, those heritages continue to affect us all albeit in different ways.
I had my own complicated relationship with colonisation as the child of two displaced people: Silesian and Palestinian. For many years, I chose to embrace my ‘British’ identity as a way of denying my heritage and forging something new. It worked for me for a while, but, attuned as I was to displacement and injustice, I couldn’t stay silent in the face of those still suffering. From the 70s onwards, I participated in various anti-racist, social justice activism such as anti-Apartheid, the Anti-Nazi League, Palestinian solidarity, and so on. I bemoaned New Labour’s shift to ‘celebrating diversity’ and away from anti-racism, which allowed racism to bubble away beneath the surface until Brexit gave it a new confident voice – at least it did in South East England, where I was living at the time.
Coming to academia late in life after a career in the NHS, I had the opportunity to think more deeply about what might be going on to make the eradication of racism so difficult. Dehumanisation and infrahumanisation are certainly needed as foundations of such beliefs of others based on ‘race’ or ‘ethnic features’ – largely made up in the rush for categorisation and cataloguing that characterised the 19th century. The idea that this was linked to colonialism was made for me by my former colleague and friend, Harshad Keval (his blog, harshwordage, is great reading, by the way). He bumped into me in the university café and showed me a book he was excited about, Decolonising the University. I bought it and read it, and started my own journey with decolonising the curriculum.
In 2020, I saw an email inviting me to the inaugural meeting of the Scottish Enhancement Theme collaborative cluster: Decolonising the Curriculum (in the time of the pandemic), and decided to join. I was excited to be part of something happening across different universities that involved exploring and learning together in a collaborative way. I volunteered to represent The University of Edinburgh, and help with organising the events that subsequently took place. None of us were (or are!) experts in decolonising the curriculum, rather we are educating ourselves through inviting experts to speak to us and working with student interns who are creating extraordinary resources. We then take our learning back to our respective institutions as well as bringing in expertise from them to share. At the end of the collaborative cluster, we hope to have some resources that the whole sector can share.
The idea of the Decolonising the Curriculum (DTC) Hub came to me when I was thinking about these two purposes. On the one hand, The University of Edinburgh has many real experts in decolonisation and, on the other hand, in my central role in the Institute of Academic Development, I was getting requests to help ‘get started’ from teaching colleagues across the University. As the requests increased beyond my capacity to help, I thought it would be great if there was a central place where people could go for inspiration and practical help, as well as a place for others to share their good practice. Inspired by the Curriculum Transformation Hub, I decided to try and build something on Sharepoint (surprisingly intuitive!) and, with some initial help from Ranald Swanson, who built the Curriculum Transformation Hub, I made a start.
Initially, I searched the University pages for existing resources and pulled them in to one page. Then, I searched for resources in other universities and academic sources that I gathered as ‘external resources’. I created an introduction and space for case studies to be showcased and, finally, a ‘Making a start with decolonising the curriculum’ page with some practical suggestions for those at the beginning of their decolonising journey.
Although I created the DTC Hub, it isn’t ‘mine’ and I really want everyone to feel they can shape and contribute to it – students as well as staff. My focus at the moment is on gathering case studies from across the University and, if you’d like to contribute one, please download the case study template: DTC case study template. Once completed, please send it to me (email@example.com).
Don’t worry if it’s a bit rough, I will transfer it into the Hub format and, once you’re happy with the edit, it’ll join the others and we can begin to build a real learning community.
I reflected a lot on the ‘Making a Start’ page because I didn’t want it to be purely practical ‘how to…’. As I said at the beginning of this blog, we are all to some extent groping in the dark, trying to make sense of the process of decolonising, and uncertainty and transformation are always emotional as well as cognitive or practical processes. I therefore want to finish by quoting the ‘note of caution’ on the page:
We all have a relationship with colonisation. If asked, most of us would like to play a part in creating a fairer and more just world. However, being asked to consider issues, such as whether you are involuntarily complicit in injustice and the perpetuation of coloniality, or to consider the effects of it directly on your lived experience as a person with a colonised heritage, can be uncomfortable and even distressing. Common responses can include anxiety, ambivalence, avoidance or rejection.
Your greatest tool in beginning engagement with decolonisation is kindness; towards yourself and towards others. We all have a part to play, but what we (can) do will vary according to our relationship with colonisation. There is no tried and tested way to decolonise the curriculum. We will make mistakes. This is an opportunity to develop a learning community about decolonising our curriculum.
Rayya is a National Teaching Fellow and lecturer in University Learning and Teaching. She is based in the Institute for Academic Development where she is the University Lead for the Edinburgh Teaching Award and convenes the course on Accessible and Inclusive Learning. Rayya runs Practical Strategies sessions on embedding access and inclusion into the curriculum and also ways to apply a solution focused approach to supporting students in a variety of roles.