People love to talk about diversity in general. How can we get representation from as many backgrounds as possible? Is the University proportionate in how many black students we have in comparison to elsewhere?
What we don’t look at enough is how we can be as inclusive as possible. Nearly a quarter of Birmingham students are from Black, Asian or Minority ethnic backgrounds. Yet black students are 15% less likely to get a 1st class or 2:1 degree than white students, and Black students as a whole tell us they have a poorer student experience.
Reducing these gaps is a long-term goal of the University – and has been an issue on The Guild’s agenda for a number of years. To find out more about this I would encourage reading the Guild’s Black Voices Manifesto and the further links and resources. This post will give a brief overview of the issues we know exist, based on the work of Black Voices and our wider consultation, and what you can do to create a more inclusive environment.
What do we mean by decolonising University?
You might have already heard of the term ‘decolonising the curriculum’. One facet of the issue is the lack of material on courses from non-western backgrounds. In other words, reading lists that consist of white straight European male authors and not much else – despite the huge contributions to academic work from a huge variety of different people. But the issue goes much deeper than this.
Experts often focus efforts of ‘fixing’ minority attainment and around a tokenistic approach. For example, some departments might create modules that look at non-western contexts and authors as a method of decolonising the curriculum. This certainly would make the curriculum more ‘diverse’. However, ensuring that core modules have a balance of texts would be far more impactful, and ensure that everyone graduates with an understanding of the wider context of their subject.
When we look at the diversity of University staff, the statistics are poor. Around 3% of staff in UK Higher Education are Black and only 2% of them are academics 1.
Universities (and Students’ Unions) can easily fall into the habit of assuming they know what needs to be done, but decolonising University is about listening to the needs of black students and empowering them to lead that change where we can.
What can students do to help?
The issues I’ve just outlined are an extremely brief outline of the issues that exist, so first and foremost I would encourage wider reading into the experiences of black students and decolonisation.
If you are on the committee for a student group or regularly host events or activities in some capacity, I would encourage looking into how you can diversify what you put on to be more inclusive towards Black Students.
If you’re a Student Rep, consider how you could ensure that Black Students, and students from other minority ethnicities, are heard on your course. If you’re struggling with this, ask the Student Reps team for support.
Finally, we are running training as part of our activist network events to create meaningful change on the issues you care about which I’d encourage you to take a look
1 HESA- https://www.hesa.ac.uk/collection/c20025