In the last academic year, propelled by a new regulator – the Office for Students (OfS) – and its new found focus on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) attainment gaps*, I undertook some research (in collaboration with the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre) with BAME students at LSE on how their experiences at the School contributed to these attainment gaps. My instinct at this point is to spend thousands of words analysing the discourse of the OfS that 1) pretends to be tackle a newly discovered problem that we have known for decades has existed, 2) treats these gaps as a technocratic issue that doesn’t require political engagement, and 3) manages to never use the word racism when discussing these gaps. However, I want to focus on these students of colour at LSE and how well they express the racism and white euro-centric structures of the School.
During my research, these students of colour outlined how racism is embedded in the structures of the School. They detailed story after story about how:
- Curriculum claiming to be ‘global’ or ‘international’ focused primarily on Europe and North America, and how Africa was often either not discussed or treated like a single country that could be addressed in a single lecture and seminar.
- Essays were continually marked down when using cases studies from the global South.
- They, as students of colour, were expected to take on extra labour to be represented in the curriculum while white students never faced this extra burden.
- Academic mentors gave more time to students who shared their own interests (aka areas of interest more often shared by white, male students) while dismissing other students (more often than not, students of colour).
- Academics would only call on the same students over and over again – students whose views echoed the academics (which once again, replicated racial divides).
- Black students felt the burden of continually having to prove themselves in classroom discussions while white (predominantly male) students could say any opinion without having to be held to account on its historical accuracy.
- Students of colour and ethnic minorities face continual micro-aggressions from academics and fellow students with no apology.
- A lack of academics of colour, especially Black academics, meant that their departments were always destined to fail in attempts to decolonise their curriculum and their pedagogic practices.
As student after student repeatedly said, through this constant racist interaction with the School, they felt their confidence beaten out of them and that the system was designed to break them.
You can read about these interviews and focus groups in more detail in my report: Addressing Attainment Gaps: BAME Students Experiences and Recommendations for LSE.
The School also has a newly approved Inclusive Education Action Plan, which includes a commitment to decolonising their curriculum. The School is set to begin implementing this plan this 2019-2020 academic year – we have yet to see if the rhetorical commitment to decolonising the curriculum will be met with the resources and self-reflective work needed to begin this project. I’m not sure the School understands what they have agreed to do, but I am prepared to give them a chance to act.
*BAME attainment gaps are the differences in likelihood of earning a first class or upper second class degree between ethnic groups. At LSE, for example, White, undergraduate, home students have a 94.6 % chance of getting a 1st or 2:1, while Black, undergraduate, home students have an 86.2% chance – which makes an attainment gap of 8.4. Please note, for many Russell Group universities, focusing on both 1st and 2:1 together hides the extent of our attainment gaps – LSE’s largest gaps are actually at the distinction (first) level. For more information about LSE’s attainment gaps, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.