Developing anti-racist pedagogies as a global collective

Jill Childs (Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy), Principal Lecturer Social Work, Department of Sport, Health Sciences and Social work, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Oxford Brookes University

Jill Childs explains how a Global South collectivist lens is supporting work on anti-racism after winning a number of national awards including, the silver Social Worker of the Year Award for University of the year, the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence by Advance HE and the University Alliance Innovation Award. Last year she received an HE Innovate award which recognises new and innovative ways developed by academics to teach and support students.

Initially our intention was to address the outcome and awarding gap between white students and minority ethnic students, which developed into a commitment to produce a curriculum that no longer privileges white Anglo-centric approaches to learning and practice, but draws equally on models from the Global South.

The idea being that indigenous wisdom is of value as it helps us to think about how we might transform our pedagogical approach, to one that truly values epistemic diversity and collective thought as a vehicle for change (Mbembe 2017). The aim of the work is to create not just an equitable experience but an anti-racist university experience for all our students. As such we have adopted a holistic strategy, with a focus on degree awarding gaps, theoretical models, curriculum, staffing, and research.

As a predominantly white team teaching a more diverse student body, we developed our authenticity through reverse mentoring, an approach that enables senior people to learn and understand perspectives from underrepresented groups (Rasa and Onyesoh 2020). Through this process it has helped us to  accept our privilege, journeying from defensiveness to acceptance. Addressing critique really helped us to see students as core partners. Learning has at times been painful and bruising and we have had to be open to becoming “white accomplices”.Learning it was far too easy to overestimate our understanding of issues of race and racism and to underestimate the associated complexities of our teaching and learning environment. Our discomfort and disruption when we got it wrong helped us transform the direction of the work with students.

Working in partnership with colleagues at Hope Africa University, Burundi on a buddying programme for students, we discovered the paradigms Ubuntu and Ikibiri. Ubuntu (“I am because we are”) and Ikibiri (“solidarity”) speak to collectivistic values based on the concept of coming together to succeed.  Listening to student feedback about the resonance of the MANDELA model (Tedam 2011), a method of structuring support, coupled with the need for belonging for students inspired us to draw on ideas by the political theorist Achille Mbembe around “creating a place to inhabit”. We used Mbembe’s work as a basis for developing strategies to achieve equity for our students.

We reviewed our assessment framework to decolonise assessment and ensure that it is truly anti-racist. For example, we altered marking rubrics to put more emphasis on students drawing on diverse material to support their work, and developed a range of assessments including developing opportunities for international work within one future module. We encouraged and supported work that used indigenous frameworks in practice and we awarded marks for work that sourced literature from the Global South or from indigenous viewpoints and developed transition support to ensure that we identified specific learning needs of students on entering the programme, to attempt to counter the impact of institutional racist disadvantage in the UK education system. We facilitated student empowerment by developing the creation of a student advisory group: The Global Majority Collective. This group has a fully meaningful role that extends significantly beyond current sector-wide initiatives to involve students in creating anti-racist pedagogies.

Through a unique commitment to uncomfortable learning, we have imagined and implemented an anti-racist approach in higher education as being a creative, rich space for growth and an exciting opportunity, so much more than a straight upright trajectory to success. Ideas drawn from Ubuntu, Ikibiri, and creating a “place to inhabit” have helped us to ensure all voices are heard and valued, and this in turn has helped the achievement of our aims related to the problem of attainment and experience. One student outlines the positive impact of this work on the student experience‘I want to thank the whole team […] for allowing me to have the platform to advocate on behalf of the students and standing with me on highlighting the disparities around anti-racist practice…. I feel humbled and blessed to be a student with such wonderful tutors and also be part of the team’.

You can find out more about it here

Jill takes an intersectional approach to tackle structural inequality. Her work on anti racism  has won a number of national awards including, the silver Social Worker of the Year Award for University of the year, the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence by Advance HE and the University Alliance Innovation Award,  an HE Innovate award and the Oxford Brookes award for inclusivity . You can find out more about her past work here She is a registered mental health Social Worker of 25 years previously working in both voluntary and statutory sector agencies and through this collaborating with third sector partners Shelter and Revolving Doors to influence government policy through attendance at the All Parliamentary Committee on Dual Diagnosis. She currently leads the Athena Swan award in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University (SAT chair) holding a silver award. This work focuses on initiatives related to supporting professional service staff careers, caring and the menopause.

Twitter @jchilds_jill


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UUK & NUS. (2019, May). Black, Asian and minority ethnic student attainment in UK universities: #closingthegap.

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