What the future of teaching should look like: discussions with the BME Liberation Group at Edinburgh University

“You are kind of left in the wilderness to scurry around and find yourself.”

Earlier this year, Anouk Lang, Near Futures Teaching project task group member and Lecturer in Digital Humanities, ran a discussion session with members of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Liberation Group. This group, convened by Esme Allman, offers “a safe space within EUSA where self-identifying BME students (including those of African, Asian, Arab and Afro-Caribbean descent) can come together, discuss the issues affecting them, and campaign to improve their student experience.” In addition, members of other EUSA liberation groups – the Disabled Students’ Campaign, the Women’s Campaign and the LGBT+ Campaign – also attended.

The discussion was around what teaching should look like at the university in the coming decades and what that might entail for BME students. The discussion started from the premise that what university teachers and administrators might see and what students might see is very different, with this disparity likely to be particularly pronounced for those identifying as minorities. Some of the issues raised are summarised here.

The role of space: Students appreciated having a range of learning and study spaces – individual and social spaces, common rooms, graduate spaces, undergraduate spaces – and being able to move between them, for instance to avoid the silence that causes anxiety for some but focuses others. Technology and the role of social media emerged in discussion as a means of forming, and finding, welcoming communities, and making for a more holistic experience of everything university has to offer. There was a sense that social media could be used as a way to help fellow students be more inclusive – for instance to help them to understand how particular ways of speaking about minority students are racist and distressing – but also are cognition that it is valuable to keep some ‘safe spaces’ – ie. private spaces for particular communities – insulated. Whatever the future of the university might be, these space considerations will not disappear: we need to engage them and the technologies used to support their creation and regulation.

Discussing the importance of student support and induction, many expressed the desire for a better induction structure, particularly the need to raise awareness of the specific kinds of support that are available, and for practical and technological concerns: How do I get help? How do I do this? Where do I go? There is a need for induction that helps students to familiarise themselves with the university’s various online systems, and for digital literacy more broadly, as well as training about consent and unconscious bias. Staff, too, needed to undertake training in unconscious bias as well.

There was discussion around the role of the library, the role of resource lists and recorded lectures in facilitating learning and support, and potentially mitigating some of the confusion that might result from navigating such a multitude of technological systems and idiosyncratic teaching and administrative practices. Navigating such systems, particularly complex and distributed ones, is something that requires explicit guidance.

The session concluded with the students creating a manifesto to help guide the NearFuture Teaching project going forward:

Teachers should be educated better to better educate us. The future must be as inclusive as possible. No one should feel othered or alone. The university should be a space for learning and unlearning. “Inherent”biases and prejudice should be challenged through critical engagement with literature which is diverse in race, gender, sexuality, ability. The university experience should constantly aim to decolonise and deconstruct systems of oppression so people feel included and represented. University should be inclusive, representative, and caring. An institution that cares for its most marginalised members. Co-curricular and students as partners. Place the student’s wellbeing at the forefront of everything. Thou shalt not condone racism, sexism, homophobia etc through thy silence or ignorance, especially if thou art a lecturer. Education should be diverse, accessible and human. The university must be representative and intersectional. Making education accessible for everyone. Fresher’s Week shouldn’t be the best week of a university experience. That level of support needs to continue. The university should be inclusive: intellectually, pastorally, physically and otherwise. It should be better structured to support all students’ education and experience.

With thanks to all the participants and to Rianna Walcott (Project Myopia and LiberatEd) for help in organising the session.

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