Guest blog post by Sehrish Tahir, Graduate Intern in Department of Education, Childhood and Inclusion
The ‘Decolonising the University Symposium’ was held on 31st May 2019 at Hallam View, Sheffield Hallam University. It was part of initiatives of the Narrowing-the-Gaps team towards addressing the degree awarding gap.
The day was initiated with introductions by the NtG-team and the Student’s Union president. This was followed by the first key note address by Dr Jadon Arday, a Senior Lecturer in Education at Roehampton University who addressed “The Persistence of Racism in Higher Education: How do we decolonise our curriculum”. After the key note address the larger group broke into smaller groups for four different workshops, for which attendees had the opportunity to sign up for at their arrival. These included decolonising approaches towards recruitment, classroom spaces, intersectionality and mental-health. Following a lunch break, the second key note by Dr Shirin Housee addressed the “Speaking out against Racism in the University Space”. The event was rounded out by a panel discussion and Q/A with different key people of the event and closed with a book prize draw.
More than 80 people attended the symposium. According to responses given to a follow-up survey, participants were from a range of ethnicities, including Black British/African Caribbean, British Asian, White British/European and mixed-race/dual heritage. From these, most responses were from female participants, but were from various different directorates across the university and beyond. The overall responses of attendees about the event were highly positive, as they identified their experiences as ‘thought-provoking’, ‘engaging’, ‘interesting’ and ‘enlightening’. Whilst being an ‘academic’, ‘energising’ and ‘professional’ space, the event also built a ‘good platform for discussion’ and ‘networking’ which gave a ‘sense of community’. More specific feedback on the keynote speakers was mostly positive. Specifically Jason Arday’s key note address was much appreciated and considered ‘thought-provoking’, ‘engaging’, ‘relateable’ and ‘inspiring’. The format of the different sessions was considered appropriate by the majority, however some participants wanted the opportunity to attend more than one workshop and others asked for more ‘practical solutions/help to address this issue’.
Overall, the event posed to be a beneficial space for productive interactions around race and was considered very recommendable by the majority. Attendees suggested similar events in the future, possibly on larger scales with key notes from scholars in the field, but also ‘training, and ‘specific workshops’ towards ‘solutions’ that can be integrated into daily work.
The international ‘Race Equity Through Pedagogy Conference’ was held on the 1st July 2019 in Charles Street Building at Sheffield Hallam University. It was organised by the Narrowing the Gaps project team in collaboration with University of Warwick and HERAG.
The conference was initiated with registration alongside refreshments for arriving guests. Professor Dr Jacqueline Stevenson opened the conference with introducing the day’s structure key people in the field that were present as well as the context and the work Sheffield Hallam University had been doing in terms of race equity and the degree awarding gap. Following, the first Keynote lecture was led by Dr Gurnam Singh, Associate Professor of Social Work at Coventry University, who addressed “Intersectionality, Complexity and (BME) Student Attainment – the case for developing an insurgent critical pedagogy”. This was followed by breakout sessions with six different workshops led by academics in the field. Topics revolved around ‘race and community engagement beyond classrooms’, ‘decolonising the arts in HE’, ‘principles of success’, ‘critical whiteness approach towards healthcare education’, ‘reflective practice towards BAME success’ and ‘belonging and whiteness’.
Following the lunch break, a key note performance “Black. Asian. Just ME.” by students from the University of West London vividly and artistically elaborated on minoritised student experience in Higher Education. Thereafter, the second key note by Dr Ben Blaisdell, Assistant Professor in the College of Education at East Carolina University (ECU), addressed “Equity Coaching: A Collaborative Approach to Re-envision Racialized Educational Space”. This key note was followed by two further breakout session which both had six workshops each. Themes of these revolved around ‘anti-racist pedagogies’, ‘liberation and inclusive practice’, ‘barriers to attainment’, ‘bias breaking’, ‘teaching anti-blackness’, ‘white ally-ship’ and ‘decolonising approaches’. The day was concluded and attendees were given the opportunity to network over refreshments.
More than 120 people attended this conference and according to responses given to a follow-up survey, participants represented a range of diverse people and various Higher Education institutions over the UK and beyond. The overall feedback of responding attendees were highly positive, as they identified their experiences as ‘thought-provoking’, ‘engaging’, ‘interesting’ and ‘inspirational’ and would consider recommending the event. The conference was described as an ‘academic’ and ‘professional’ space that posed a ‘good platform for discussion’ and ‘networking’ which also gave a ‘sense of community’. More specific feedback on both key notes was exceedingly positive. Many respondents also highly praised the key drama performance and appreciated it as “amazingly powerful”. The format of the different sessions was considered appropriate and many workshops were described as immensely “interactive” and “insightful”. However some attendees felt that they “differed from abstracts” and were “expected differently”. Some also felt that certain workshops “had too little time allocated and were more like “long-talks” hence had “little room for discussion”. However, it was expressed that keeping the event “tight and not having long breaks” was useful to have a variety of engagements and individuals were given a “networking opportunity” at the end of the day. Some also reiterated that each session was “interesting and relevant in different ways” and provided “quality resources” and “practical tools” towards making change in regards to race equity in education.
Some of the suggestions for future events asked for “more sessions on how non-academic staff, e.g. unions/professional support staff can contribute to pedagogical methods of race equity” and “staff sense of belonging in HE”, “supporting BME transition into university” and generally more “participative workshops” and “spaces to discuss freely”. Overall, the conference was described as “a well-organised efficient event” that had a “relaxed, home-spun atmosphere, which was welcoming.”