May 24, 2019

Forget About Decolonizing the Curriculum

“The campaign by left-wing student protestors and some faculty to force Western universities to “decolonize the curriculum” has been surprisingly successful. A movement that started at the University of Cape Town in 2015, with the demand that the city’s university remove its statue of Cecil Rhodes—“Rhodes Must Fall”—quickly made its way to the U.K., with student activists calling for his statue at Oriel College, Oxford to be taken down. At its heart, the movement seeks to challenge what it characterizes as the dominance of the Western canon in the humanities and social sciences, as well as the under-representation of women and minorities in academia. It also, like many movements inspired by critical theory, maintains that a person’s beliefs and worldview are largely determined by their skin color, sexual orientation and gender.

In a society “still shaped by a long colonial history in which straight white upper-class men are at the top of the social order,” argues Priyamvada Gopal, a Cambridge University lecturer, “most disciplines give disproportionate prominence to the experiences, concerns and achievements of this one group.” In one of the keys texts of the movement, “students, activists and scholars” are warned about “the pitfalls of doing decolonial work in the home of the coloniser, in the heart of the establishment.” Rallying activists and academics, the movement seeks to subvert “curricula” and enforce “diversity” while “destroying old boundaries.” In short, it is a “radical call for a new era of education. Offering resources for students and academics to challenge and resist coloniality inside and outside the classroom.”

In a bizarre turn of events, this movement now enjoys the endorsement of the British Royal Family. In February 2019, on a visit to a London University, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, lent her weight to the movement, having had her eyes opened by a presentation about the relatively small number of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff within the U.K. higher education sector. According to the Times, the Duchess visited City University in London in her capacity as the patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) and responded to the presentation by announcing that Britain’s universities need to “open up that conversation so we are talking about it as opposed to continuing with that daily rote . . . sometimes that approach can be really antiquated and needs an update.” When presented with evidence about the lack of black and female professors in British universities she reportedly exclaimed, “Oh my God!” One of the organizers, Meera Sabaratnam, said it was “wonderful to see the Duchess standing up for female equality” as many “of the issues around racial equality are similar and it is great to see her embrace this. Change is long overdue.””

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