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“We need a decolonised university”

BME discussion event creates public space trying to tackle institutional racism

On the 26th January a 3-hour ‘long table’ event was held in Bancroft 1.15. It’s aim: to give the BME student voice a platform to be heard and inform institutional change within QMUL.

Organised by a collaboration of students, academic staff and QMUL’s Engagement, Retention and Success department, and attended by students and staff alike, the event essentially comprised of a discussion surrounding issues particular to the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) experience.

Despite Queen Mary being one of the most diverse universities within the Russell Group, many Black and Minority Ethnic students often feel overlooked and excluded during their experience studying. This ‘long table’ event created a space in which students and staff could express their frustration, anger and concern, and work towards creating solutions to make the university more inclusive and accessible to all.

Prominent organiser and Drama student, Dushant Patel, believes that “we need to apply constant pressure on the uni to decolonise its curriculum, its student and staff bodies, its outreach activity. We need a decolonised university that teaches (and learns) a range of worldviews and respects women of colour, migrants, refugees, queer people, working class, disabled people etc. as full and multifaceted human beings”.

The discussion, which took place around a literal long table, soon became passionate, with students and staff feeling comfortable to express their pent up frustrations.

A major complaint across subject areas was the lack of diversity within the taught curriculum. Students named Comparative Literature and Drama as being particularly Euro-centric, with concerns being raised about a 24-week English module on South African Literature only containing 8 weeks focusing on works by black writers.

Attention was also drawn to the notable lack of diversity in the academic teaching staff. This is a national problem, with only 50 out of 14,000 British professors being black, and only 17 of these women. Whilst admitting that this is not a problem simply solved, one History student said that it felt like white lecturers were “always apologising” when teaching subjects such as slavery, which she thought was patronising. With no black lecturers in the History department, it seems like this is an issue that needs to be highlighted before it can be institutionally addressed.

The anger expressed at what is being taught and who is it taught by was extended to the micro-aggressions many students said they faced in the classroom. Politics student Nadia said that racist and Islamophobic comments are often passed off as personal opinion, with teachers failing to challenge them, whilst another student claimed that racism is often a taboo subject which makes it hard to tackle these comments straight on.

The evening ended with small group discussions aimed at creating concrete solutions to the institutional problem of exclusion. The suggestions included: putting policies in place to actively attract BME academic staff particularly in the humanities, intentionally creating safe spaces in seminars, encouraging lecturers to justify their curriculum content, and making students aware of how they can actively implement change.

“The event went better than I ever expected it to”, said co-organiser Nadia Hafedh, “the conversation and issues that were brought up were enlightening for all. This conversation was long overdue and I hope it will encourage more discussion on the issue and help current and future students”.

Dushant Patel was also happy with the overall event, but most importantly wants to “make damn sure it’s not a one-off”. Hopefully this event was the first step in achieving a truly decolonised university.

Image: QMSU

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