Learning to decolonize + a faculty panel and workshop 

With increasing focus on systemic racist injustice in recent weeks, and in response to the call by a group of Black colleagues to “rebuild an academic space that is rooted in anti-racist ideology,” (Beatty et al., personal communication, June 4, 2020) many faculty have expressed a desire to “decolonize” their courses and curricula. We applaud your determination to practice liberatory pedagogy and to diversify curricula. We’re here to support you in this important work—whether individually, at the faculty panel and workshop described below, or in teams or departmental groups.

For faculty interested in working individually, the “Keele Manifesto for Decolonising the Curriculum” is a good place to start. “Decolonization,” as defined by Keele University’s Race Equality Charter, “involves identifying colonial systems, structures and relationships, and working to challenge those systems. It is not ‘integration’ or simply the token inclusion of the intellectual achievements of non-white cultures. Rather, it involves a paradigm shift from a culture of exclusion and denial to the making of space for other political philosophies and knowledge systems. It’s a culture shift to think more widely about why common knowledge is what it is, and in so doing adjusting cultural perceptions and power relations in real and significant ways.”

The manifesto is a list of eleven principles, all equally powerful and important; quoted below are a few that may most immediately affect our classroom practice.

  • Decolonising is thinking about how students experience the university differently. Race, gender, disability and class all demonstrably impact student attainment and experiences of exclusion from the university environment. These are linked to the university’s historic identity and mission, as well as wider structural inequalities within society.
  • Decolonising the curriculum is to recognize that knowledge is inevitably marked by power relations.  Our universities exist in a global economy of knowledge, with a definite hegemonic centre, reflecting hierarchies of race, class and gender. At the top of this hierarchy sit the knowledge institutions of the global North, databanks and research centres supported by the wealth of European and North American powers. This hegemonic position is not just a matter of the wealth of the global North. Our world is still shaped by a long colonial history in which white upper-class men are at the top of social hierarchy, most disciplines give disproportionate significance to the experiences, histories and achievements of this one group.
  • Decolonising is about rethinking, reframing and reconstructing the current curriculum in order to make it better, and more inclusive. It is about expanding our notions of good literature so it doesn’t always elevate one voice, one experience, and one way of being in the world. It is about considering how different frameworks, traditions and knowledge projects can inform each other, how multiple voices can be heard, and how new perspectives emerge from mutual learning.
  • Decolonising requires the courage to admit that any knowledge could and should be open to challenge and question; regardless of its original power relations. This is the only way to avoid the mere ‘displacement’ of one curriculum colonizer by another.

Regardless of discipline, from mathematics to art, we can work to make our courses and our classrooms more just and inclusive. Resources abound. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has assembled a “Decolonising Science Reading List.” The University of Minnesota Libraries host a list of resources from across disciplines to help faculty diversify their syllabi.

CAT can assist you to make practical use of these principles. For inspiration from extraordinary faculty already doing anti-racist and decolonizing work, please join us for a faculty panel on July 21, at 2:00. Drs. Antonio Cuyler and Kristin Dowell will share examples from their own courses and curricula. The follow-up workshop, on July 28, from 2:00-4:00, will help you get started or refine your plans. Register here.