As you will already know, this October we have been proudly celebrating Black History Month. Led by Vice President Welfare and Diversity, Katie Heard, we have seen loads of events and showcases from student societies and groups, with a particular emphasis on recognising the incredible students and staff here at Exeter and their contributions to the community.
But as well as being a month of celebration, this has also been one in which we recognise and raise awareness of ongoing issues that exist not only on a wider societal level but specifically within University culture. On Wednesday, students, staff and external speakers got together to discuss the very serious and problematic topic that needs to be addressed across Higher Education; Why is our University curriculum so white? Or rather, why is there such a glaringly obvious absence of non-white academics within the Higher Education curriculum and importantly, what can be done to change this?
With a range of keynote speakers from a variety of academic and political backgrounds, the talk had a great turnout with some fantastic feedback. Speakers included Exeposé Deputy Editor, Neha Shaji, who commented afterwards:
"It was a well-chaired and insightful event, and it was eye opening to get the views of the other panellists who were in different academic positions than myself. Decolonisation is a pressing and continuous topic and I am happy the Guild are pursuing it as a campaign. I hope Exeter as an institution will keep this momentum up and not let the issue slide."
The discussion covered topics including experiences of university as a non-white student, teaching as a non-white academic, discrimination faced within the university environment, histories of colonialism, its ultimate impact on HE curricula and the institutional racism that is entrenched within subsequent teachings. The talk was refreshing, honest and while highlighting the many serious issues that currently exist, challenged us and gave real insight into how Higher Education can make drastic changes that will ultimately have a much wider and lasting impact.
It goes without saying that academia has a long road ahead when it comes to addressing such imbalances, with some radical changes being required along the way. What is clear, however, is that here at Exeter we are beginning to truly face up to the sober reality of our white curriculum and just how limiting it is, and we must continue to move towards making real, measurable changes to the face of an antiquated, institutional issue.
One of the most common questions that came from the talk was 'What can I do?' - the panellists answered this by saying that it starts with individual actions. Student feedback is the most powerful tool and if students are not happy with their lecturer proposing a white academic reading list then speak up. It needs to be an ongoing conversation and it doesn't just stop with the curricula, we need to decolonise the whole institution.
To see the full stream of the discussion please go to VP Welfare and Diversity, Katie Heard’s, Facebook page, and find out more about our Black History Month events on the Guild website.