Diversifying Our Curriculum (Goldsmiths)
Dear Pat Loughery,
When students are graduating still believing that Europe introduced civilisation to the rest of the world, we begin to question why this is even a reality we need to face.
Universities, a place of progress and modernity, have largely been shaped by colonialism, and here the problem lies: while Europe explored enlightenment within their universities, for the rest of the world, 'knowledge' was built into the colonial encounter.
However, the Fathers of Liberalism had very clear ideas on the people they encountered in their colonies. Through the colonial project, hierarchies of people and knowledge were born. Alongside the colonialists came the scientists and anthropologists, to study the 'third world savages' and deem them subhuman. This is how the exploitation of both people and their resources became acceptable.
Fast forward past 1833, where British Parliament passes the Slavery Abolition Act, though there were still exceptions, colonialism was eventually seen for what it was: an awful act of greed. However, colonialism has manifested itself in today's society in different forms. It is not enough that people had to suffer 4-500 years of oppression, we must face the racism and xenophobia in the form of foreign policy, poor schooling, racial profiling, lack of connections, underemployment, gentrification, and general unfair discrimination. The world may not view people of colour (POC) as slaves any longer, but we are still viewed through the negative lens of the West.
The legacy of colonialism has meant that at universities we see Eurocentric writers placed above others without much concern. POC still cannot see and write for themselves in academic writing, and we notice that non-European knowledge is not considered 'knowledge'. Students are not taught that Western ideologies come with their own subjectivity - Western knowledge, just because it can tap into the scientific method and seems the most rational, is not the only knowledge.
When POC enter the academic world, we rarely see ourselves reflected in what we study and who teaches us, and when we do look outside of Europe it is done in a tokenistic way and we tend to look through a Eurocentric lens. Studying places other than Europe as previous colonies and underdeveloped only reinforces the belief that non-Europeans are inferior. From primary school, we have been made to feel ashamed of our weak and barbaric backgrounds, not knowing that this way of thinking was due to historical bias.
When this historical bias is not even acknowledged in our university lectures and classes, a space that is meant to an educational bubble, how are we to escape this feeling of being othered? When we see a small minority of writers being hero worshipped by our teachers, simply because they are the most referenced, how are to feel secure in voicing our opinions? When we study these Western ideologies and are told to apply them to everything we read, how are we supposed to challenge the Eurocentric perspective we face every day?
A Eurocentric curriculum is not only referring to European writers, but all texts that perpetuate negative stereotypes and ideologies about the 'global south'. We do not want to be the 'alternative' way of looking at the world, and do not understand how our tutors cannot see how damaging it is to all students to constantly hear this way of thinking.
We want to see scholars from all over the world, but we fear this will be tackled in a tokenistic way. This is not a departmental, or even a university issue, but a systematic, institutional problem around the world, where Western knowledge is given more value. However, if Goldsmiths wants to be at the forefront on topics like racism, nationalism, and imperialism, then we should be the first to acknowledge this problem and work towards bettering the university curricula.
The sprinkling of a few 'non-Western' modules does not solve the problem. We should not have to go to the periphery of the institution to study what we're interested in. Even though Britain colonised so many nations who now speak English, we still do not have many non-European writers in our core reading. Every single thing we learn at university should give a holistic view. The non-Eurocentric should not not be framed as the alternative, part be a part of the mainstream in our studies.
By not only acknowledging the problem as a wider issue, but at Goldsmiths specifically when considering Goldsmith's' history and the figures it currently commemorates at the front of DTH - only then can we truly solve the problem. All students need to be able to discuss and challenge in the bubble of university; if not, then what hope is there for students to be able to do outside of it. It is crucial to inspire and retain those most marginalised in society, otherwise what other hope is there for them to have any influence in the academic world.
Goldsmiths may not be able to take down the figures of Sir Francis Drake and his colonialist friends, so the least we can begin to do is educate our students on these figures and the long lasting harm they have caused. The weathervane on top of DTH may remind of the colonial legacy we face continuously, but we need not connect that to our university experience. What we learn here will guide us for the rest of our lives, and it should be the most holistic way of thinking or we continue with the disillusion that hierarchies of people and knowledge exist.
We ask that Goldsmiths considers all this and commits to taking our criticisms seriously through whatever means can be used.