Content warning: mentions racism.
A recent study by the Royal Historical Society found that a third of black and minority ethnic historians in the UK have experienced discrimination. It also revealed that throughout the universities in the UK, only 0.5 per cent of history academic staff are black. Edinburgh is not exempt from these findings. Ironically, during Black History Month, a lecturer unnecessarily used the n-word in a second-year history lecture. The publishing of these findings by the Royal Historical Society almost hit too close to home. While Edinburgh is clearly a predominantly white institution, the university does not do enough academically to internalise this.
The university should already be prioritising diversity of staff within every school. But in the departments and schools where diversity is lacking, this needs to be recognised and dealt with. Throughout these schools, especially within the humanities, there ought to be specific criteria within each syllabus that is not only diverse but inclusive. Students and staff of colour should not have to fight with every department to achieve this, as there should already be basic standards the university must meet.
Every year, we celebrate our school’s diversity by having Black History Month, but why are these discussions not taking place within our education regularly? Especially within the history department, where history seems to focus mainly on European men in first and second year, without much discussion about anyone else.
The student body at Edinburgh is diverse in so many ways and there are efforts to continue that diversity through initiatives, such as Widening Participation, which works to integrate more students from various backgrounds into our community. Once students arrive on campus, various student societies and associations welcome and support these students, but not much of that same inclusion is common within the curriculum. Students from all over the world and various backgrounds work hard to get here and study at a world-renowned university and receive an unmatched education. When this education fails to achieve an inclusive and diverse curriculum, students are unable to receive a holistic education in their subject because they are missing crucial perspectives. Without this diversity of curriculum, we may even run the risk of becoming more close-minded in our global understanding.
History should be working hard as a subject to be more diverse in their staff, but also in their syllabuses. Specifically, first and second year courses should include more about people of colour, non-Europeans, women, disabled people, and members of the LGBT+ community. While these findings by the Royal Historical Society certainly shed light on this need within history, it does not have to stop here. The university can prioritise the decolonisation of curricula by better acknowledging the power structures within our society that continually influence courses beyond history.
There needs to be a greater initiative to integrate multiple narratives into our education. While this process may take time to achieve, it needs to be prioritised. It is integral to work toward not only creating a welcoming environment for all students but also educating those who may not have confronted these issues regularly. While decolonising the curriculum will certainly not eliminate discrimination within academia, it is something that we need to strive towards, regardless.
Image: LW Yang via Wikimedia Commons