Online Features Editor discusses her experience at an Exeter Decolonising Network event, and discusses a vision for the future.
On Wednesday 25th, the University of Exeter hosted their first staff-student online public event hosted by Exeter Decolonising Network and the Education Incubator Student Fellows. The event had a strong focus on what the term ‘decolonising’ means and how this translates within our institution, amongst our students and staff and within some particular local organisations.
The agenda for the afternoon was organised through a provocation, reflection format. Guest speakers included Christelle Pellecuer, the Cultural Heritage Manager for the Black South West Network (BSWN), speakers from North Devon Sunrise, Caitlin Knight, a University of Exeter alumni, as well as two student speakers who have found space within the University student cohort to spearhead some new projects including a Black Lives Matter Day of Action and Creative Switch, a community that spotlights BIPOC creatives, their work, and their experiences at University.
The event encouraged a safe space for students, staff and guests to talk, destress and try and answer some reasonable, yet still relatively tabooed subjects in relation to Britain’s colonial history. Speaking together, students and staff discussed what their definitions of ‘decolonise’ and ‘antiracism’ have become, whilst learning from and sharing their own experiences in their own networks.
Confronting the reality that the University can be a space that reinforces racist prejudices and that the campus is not always a safe space for BIPOC students to engage with these topics within was a harrowing realisation, but one that with enough exposure, the university community will be able to tackle.
There was an overwhelming sense of anxiety within departments with staff admitting that they just don’t yet have the knowledge to formulate an anti- racist curriculum.
Some staff, who shall remain anonymous for privacy reasons, involved within the afternoon’s discussions surrounding the decolonisation of the curriculum felt inspired by the event to promote this safe space to discuss their own feelings. There was an overwhelming sense of anxiety within departments with staff admitting that they just don’t yet have the knowledge, or feel that they do not have the correct authority to decide what formulates an anti- racist curriculum.
There was also the question of wider engagement. How do we now extend this message to others who are not actively opting into and engaging with events such as this, or other events run by the Exeter Decolonising Network?
On a general University level, staff at Exeter have seen a strong top down push and have agreed that it has been really important when organising a movement around decolonising. As part of the process of having new modules approved, lecturers are now asked to confirm that they have considered representation and diversity in their reading lists and module design. This method has been developed for this year, and serves as vital in our decolonising ambition. Mainstreaming these conversations is integral.
Exeposé are creating a new mini- series within the Features section which focuses on interviews with different departments across campus, having these conversations, documenting and sharing each department’s goals with the larger student body. If you have any suggestions for lecturers worth contacting who you know have been trying to spearhead real change within their modules or departments as a whole, or not as the case may be, please do get in touch with either me, Becca Wells on Facebook or by emailing email@example.com.
If you are interested in the resources discussed briefly at the beginning of this article, please find links below.
Exeter Decolonising Network:
Eventbrite: stay up to date with Exeter Decolonising Network’s future events at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-exeter-decolonising-networks-racism-social-justice-seminars-tickets-123300181161
Creative Switch Exeter:
Facebook: The Creative Switch, Exeter
BLM Day of Action:
North Devon Sunrise:
Black South West Network: