An eerie absence pervades our libraries, course guides, reading lists, and lecture halls. It hinders us from thinking critically, shields us from alternative perspectives, and weakens the quality of our education. It is the absence of diversity in our curriculum.
The overwhelming majority of academics and thinkers whom humanities students study are white men. In Edinburgh, pre-honours history modules focus on Europe and America, with the whole of Asian and African history lumped into one course; the philosophy we study is western; literature courses focus on English and American texts, and so on.
This is perhaps symptomatic of a dire lack of academics of colour in this country: recent figures revealed that there are only 60 black professors in the UK, only 17 of whom are women.
Diversifying the curriculum means including a wider variety of work in our reading lists. It means exploring the ideas of ancient Chinese philosophers such as Confucius and Laozi alongside Plato and Aristotle; studying the great literary works of women of colour such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Arundhati Roy as we do Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Diversification means having first year history courses which enable us to specialise in Mesopotamia, just as we are currently able to do with Celtic civilisation.
We need to change our curriculum to reflect the diversity of thought and perspective of our university and the world around us. Edinburgh students are of a variety of different nationalities, genders, and backgrounds, and so it is only logical that our education should reflect this diversity.
It is important that students are able to relate to elements of their curriculum and see aspects of their identity reflected in the periods of history, thinkers, and academics they study. This is particularly critical for people of colour and women, who are seriously underrepresented at the highest levels of academia.
Our limited curriculum is further damaging because, by solely teaching the work of white, European men, academia implies that their ideas are more worthwhile and intellectually superior to non-western perspectives.
Diversifying the curriculum is in our University’s best interests. It means we will receive a more international and relevant education. The world is changing, and our curriculum needs to reflect that. There is undoubtedly educational value in studying the ideas of white men, but there is equal value in studying the thought of more diverse groups, and there is endless value in learning to critically analyse all perspectives, considering and critiquing the biases and contexts which inform academic work.
So what to do about our chronically ‘pale, male and stale’ curriculum? Act to change it! Join the many campaigns to diversify Eurocentric university curricula, from SOAS’ ‘Decolonising our Minds Society’ and the nationwide ‘Why is my curriculum white?’ project, to student initiatives here in Edinburgh such as ‘LiberatEd’ and the soon-to-come ‘Project Myopia’.
Tell faculty and course representatives if you are not satisfied with the content of your modules in course feedback. Celebrate and seek the perspectives of the outstanding diverse academics we already have here in Edinburgh, such as Akwugo Emejulu and Suilin Lavelle.
Examine issues from the point of view of a woman, a person of colour, an LGBTQ+ person, a disabled person, or someone who is working class. Reflect on your own unconscious biases and seek alternate sources of information: gal-dem and Writers of Colour are good places to start. We will only achieve a diverse, representative curriculum by demanding one from our institution, and our education will be richer, more relevant and rigorous for it.
Image Credit: Matt Neale