Decolonising our curricula is closely tied to issues of access

Jane Elinor O Connor 2 February 2018

If we value increasing and diversifying access to Cambridge, decolonising the curriculum needs to be a priority. Although in recent years, there has been an attempt by universities to increase diversity quotas and run access schemes, the Social Market Foundation argues that less consideration is being given to the range of factors that make black students 1.5 times more likely to drop out of university than their white counterparts.

Curricula seem to be one area where the problem lies. An underlying emphasis on European intellectual superiority is a form of racially based exclusion, and may be part of the reason why although three-quarters of white students achieve a 2:1 degree or higher, only 60% of ethnic minority students manage it, in spite of the fact ethnic minorities are often performing to an equal ability at schools and sixth forms.

As a visible Muslim, I inwardly cringed my way through my first few International Relations lectures, whose sole focus was the impact of 9/11 on the West. Before long though, we evaluated it as an event that shook the entire world. We read about the experience of Iraqi women and their passionate fight against Taliban control. We grappled with meanings of the word ‘terrorist’ throughout history. I was more engaged than I ever had been uncomfortable, but there is still a long way to go.

Knowledge has always been a product of shared ideas and the intermingling of narratives. So, it only follows that our education should provide us with an understanding of the full range of experiences and perspectives that have contributed to world history.

Learning about the world and our place within in requires representation, especially for people not usually reflected in the canon of Western knowledge, whether that be people of colour, women, the LGBT community or religious minorities. These groups have as much right as white men to understand what their own role has been in forging history To make our degrees worthwhile we need to understand that Plato, Kant, Marx and Milton didn’t write in a bubble, locked away from the world around them. Their lives and writings were shaped by a global context and this global perspective is what needs to be appreciated.

The campaign to decolonise the curriculum has been misinterpreted and smeared, with certain newspapers turning an open letter about decolonising the English Faculty into an all-out war against Lola Olufemi. The way I see it though, the Daily Telegraph can rage all it wants about the perceived slight against white authors; because on a real university campus, in the real world, the only aim of the movement I see is to enhance our curricula and expand our horizons.