Author: Liam Greenslade, Project Officer – Canterbury Christ Church University

At stake here is the task of demystifying and deconstructing forms of privilege that benefit maleness, whiteness, and property as well as those conditions that have disabled others to speak in places where those who are privileged by virtue of the legacy of colonial power assume authority and the conditions for human agency.

Henry Giroux (2010)

In my previous contribution I argued that factors such as implicit bias (IB) and stereotype threat (ST) could inhibit the development of growth mindsets amongst students from BME and working class backgrounds. I suggested that the negative impacts of both ST and IB were facilitated within the habitus comprised of the ‘colonised classroom’ and the ‘colonial curriculum’.

In this essay I would like to reverse the process and outline some practices that have emerged from decolonising pedagogy which can have an impact on ST and IB and so facilitate students in developing growth mindsets. These involve the following interacting and cross-cutting elements:

 

  • Recognising and dealing with discrimination and racism as it is woven into different aspects of university life​
  • Recognising that structural inequalities don’t end at the door of the lecture theatre​
  • Dealing with the consequences of diversity amongst and for students and their teachers​
  • Understanding that the alienation expressed by some groups is not evidence of deficit ​
  • Open acknowledgement of the hierarchical context within which knowledge is both produced and shared/transmitted​
  • Engaging with and including perspectives other than white, middle-class, Anglo-Eurocentric knowledges, cultures, and societies​
  • Interrogating the make-up of our curricula and how their contents are put before students

 

At the PPS awayday I attended, my colleague Harshad Keval illustrated the unthought way in which implicit bias enters into the colonised curriculum. He did this by showing a version of the powerpoint slide below, asking his audience of social science lecturers how many members of the white group of social theorists they could name and how many of the BME theorists. While most people could recognise most, if not all, of the white theorists, almost no one could name more than 2 or 3 of the BME group.

The significance of this exercise was that members of the BME group are all important figures in social theory and their work makes up a significant chunk of the ideas and other material that students will encounter in a social science degree yet despite this lecturers were unable to recognise them.

Figure 1: The Naming of DWEMs – How many social theorists from the bottom 2 rows can you name? (Slide courtesy of Harshad Keval)

As we know from the work done on both bias and stereotype threat, providing the simplest role models for students can have a significant impact on their engagement and their vulnerability to stereotype threat. (.e.g. Blanton, Crocker, & Miller, 2000; MacIntyre et al 2003, 2005).  Showing BME or female students, for example, that many of the significant figures whose work they study are not the dead white European males presupposed in much social theory teaching may convince them that they too can find a place within their discipline. Using slides which show the gender and ethnicity of theorists, or providing biographical details as to their origins can be easily accomplished, make the lecture more interesting, and facilitate identification of the student with the subject matter.

Another significant issue which has emerged in my discussions with colleagues during the project was issue of students grouping themselves by ethnicity, class, and gender. Even though they recognise that bias and stereotyping can be reinforced by this self-segregation, many lecturers find themselves uncomfortable attempting to ‘integrate’ the lab or the lecture theatre as a means of facilitating interactions between different ethnic and social groups.

During Changing Mindsets training sessions we use a number of ‘mix it up’ methods (Tolerance.org, 2018) to ensure that student cliques are broken up and that individuals have the opportunity to interact across age, gender, class, and ethnic lines. While the students find this a little challenging at first, the shift from homogenous to heterogeneous groups appears to have a positive impact on the experience of activities connected with bias and stereotyping. We also offer training to staff in how best to implement these techniques in their own lectures and seminars.

The make-up of the current university population is probably at its most diverse along class, ethnic and gender dimensions than it has been in living memory. Yet despite this, it is often forgotten that ‘difficult’ relationships between groups which exist outside of the academy can continue within its walls.

Recent reports of racism on British university campuses (Bouattia, 2018) and a recent study of Muslim students by the National Union of Students (NUS, 2018) suggest that it is naïve to think that individuals  who are the subject of racism and discrimination outside the university will not be the subject of similar problems inside it. It is also important to note that such issues are not restricted to BME groups (e.g. Jones, 2011; Reay et al , 2001; Reay, Crozier & Clayton, 2010).

Again in such a context we encourage lecturers to re-interpret behaviours that they may see amongst some groups of students, such as absenteeism, withdrawal, failure to engage intellectually or participate in discussions.  We often hear colleagues talk in this context of ‘declining standards’ or ‘failure to prepare academically’. We suggest that rather than view them as evidence of a deficit on the part of the students, they see such behaviours as inevitable responses to an environment which may be perceived as alienating, hostile or threatening from the students’ points of view.

Facilitating the success of such students does not entail a modification of expectations but it does involve a modification of approach and habitus. As Thomas (2002, p.433) observes

A traditional institutional habitus assumes that the habitus of the dominant group (i.e. white, male, middle class, able bodied etc.) is not only the correct habitus, but treats all students as if they possessed it, and this is reflected in teaching, learning and assessment strategies. …… these expectations are internalized by students so they expect to do less well than their middle-class peers.

The fact is that if we want greater participation and improved attainment, retention and success rates then we need to examine how we, as both lecturers and human beings, engage with the learning situations in which BME and other students are expected to succeed. We need to interrogate and remove those elements of our practice which reflect the anti-human assumptions of colonialism and the monocultural status hierarchy which they sustain.  We must develop our own version of a growth mindset in which the hierarchical is replaced by the horizontal, where we and our students in all their diversity become partners in each other’s learning.

For, as Ngũgĩ (2017) observes:

When you crush hierarchy, and replace it with network, then the cultures held in the different languages generate oxygen. They cross-fertilize. Cultures are able to breathe life into each other. Every culture should be taught with a nod to other cultures.

References

Blanton, H., Crocker, J., & Miller, D. T. (2000). The effects of in-group versus out-group social comparison on self-esteem in the context of a negative stereotype. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 36, 519–530

Bouattia M (2018) Racist incidents at universities show they aren’t as tolerant as we think Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/11/racist-universities-not-tolerant-rugaro-chisango-nottingham-trent (Accessed 12/03/18)

Jones O (2011) Chavs: The demonization of the working class London: Verso

McIntyre, R. B., Lord, C. G., Gresky, D. M., Ten Eyck, L. L., Frye, G. D. J., & Bond Jr., C. F. (2005). A social impact trend in the effects of role models on alleviating women’s mathematics stereotype threat. Current Research in Social Psychology, 10, 116-136.

McIntyre, R. B., Paulson, R., & Lord, C. (2003). Alleviating women’s mathematics stereotype threat through salience of group achievements. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 39, 83-90.

National Union of Students (2018) The experience of Muslim students in 2017-18   London: NUS

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (2017) Interview with Professor Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o Available at https://projectmyopia.com/interview-with-professor-ngugi-wa-thiongo/ (Accessed 20/02/18)

Reay, D., Davies, J., David, M., & Ball, S. (2001). Choices of Degree or Degrees of Choice? Class, ‘Race’ and the Higher Education Choice Process. Sociology, 35(4), 855-874.

Reay, D.,  Crozier, G.,  Clayton, J. (2010) ‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: working-class students in UK higher education’ British Educational Research Journal, 36, (1) pp. 107-124

Thomas L (2002) Student retention in higher education: the role of institutional habitus, Journal of Education Policy, 17 (4), 423-442

Tolerance.org (2018) 8 ways to mix students up Available at  https://www.tolerance.org/mix-it-up/activities/activities-during-mix-it-up

Disclaimer:  the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the values of the University of Portsmouth or the extended Partnership.

Not being neutral: Changing Mindsets and the Decolonised Curriculum Part 2
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