The Decolonising SOAS Working Group – Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter

By Guest Author|June 29, 2020|In the Media|0 comments

As SOAS staff members of The Decolonising SOAS Working Group, we stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protestors around the world. We are appalled by the brutal murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the US police and strongly condemn racism in all its forms. We recognise that this event has directly affected and traumatised Black students, students who have already suffered as a result of the disproportionate impact of the Covid pandemic on Black communities and communities of colour. 

We are committed to fighting racism of all kinds while recognising that anti-Blackness is a distinct and pernicious form of racism that requires distinct engagement and challenge. But we also recognise that, at this historic moment, words are not enough and that the call to end structural racism and anti-Blackness in society at large must begin by first looking at our own structures and practices. 

The Decolonising SOAS Working Group was born from student initiatives and demands for educational justice. SOAS is an institution that prides itself on its reputation of centering diversity and inclusion. 54% of SOAS students, 25% of SOAS academic staff and 13% of non-academic staff at SOAS are BAME. 10% of SOAS students, 2% of academic staff and 4% of non-academic staff working at SOAS are Black. Every year we see impressive Black students pass over the graduation dais and leave SOAS to change the world. We celebrate the hugely positive contributions that Black SOAS-ians have made and continue to make in this critical moment. We are immensely proud of our graduates, with whom it is a privilege to teach and work. Yet we also know that Black students, and other students of colour, secure these achievements in spite of structural racism and discrimination at SOAS and not because SOAS has overcome these inequalities. 

We are proud that SOAS is today one of the few universities in the UK to actively commit to the task of decolonising its teaching, learning and research. Given its distinct historical relationship with British imperialism we feel that the institution has a vital role to play in the work of decolonising the university. This has been institutionalised in the Decolonising SOAS Vision which remains a school-wide commitment to “recognise”, “understand” and “redress…the varied impacts of colonialism, imperialism and racism in shaping our university”. But we acknowledge that this work has only just begun to tackle the problems of racism and inequality at SOAS. Like the vast majority of UK HEIs, SOAS has a pervasive racialised awarding gap and low retention rates amongst Black students. While we have made important gains in these areas in recent years, through more targeted interventions and through student-led initiatives such as ‘Bridging the Gap’ and the Students Union’s ‘Black Student Support Coordinator,’ we know we still have a long way to go. 

We are taking time to listen to students and colleagues across the UK HE sector in order to reflect on and change practices within our own institution. We strongly endorse the views of our own Director Valerie Amos and KCL’s Vice-President Funmi Olonisakin that this is a moment in which universities’ role and commitment to fighting structural racism and inequality will be judged through action and not words. 

On this basis the Working Group commits:

  1. To develop outreach activities with SOAS students, and particularly Black students and other students of colour, in order to re-centre student experiences at the heart of the Decolonising SOAS project.
  2. To use 2020/21 to develop a clear set of action-based plans to address racism and anti-Blackness within our own institution over a five year period, particularly in relation to racial profiling, policing, Prevent, the hostile environment, gender, trans and disability. 
  3. To develop and implement an action-oriented strategic plan for decolonising teaching and learning at SOAS, working with staff and students to embed antiractist pedagogies and learning cultures in all areas of SOAS teaching.
  4. To develop a Decolonising Research Toolkit that will follow the lines of the Decolonising Teaching and Learning Toolkit and address the gap in access for Black researchers and non-Black researchers of colour.

The Working Group also makes the following demands on the School’s management:

  1. To implement the findings of the 2020 Africa Review on teaching, learning and research.
  2. To commit to the launch of the Africa and Africa Diaspora degree programme.
  3. To publish and implement the findings  of the Race, Accountability and Listening Exercise
  4. To introduce inclusive and anti-racist education as part of a core module that underpins all SOAS teaching and research programmes.
  5. To commit, in the context of the current restructuring project, to ensuring that fee-paying Black students succeed to the best of their abilities at SOAS a central part of our business model and not ‘additional’ welfare packages .
  6. To commit to a permanent financial investment in the Black Students Support Coordinator role. This role has been vital in ensuring institutional engagement, commitment, and wellbeing support for Black students at SOAS.
  7. To increase inclusive teaching and scholarship opportunities for Black students and non-Black students of colour to lead and to participate in research, knowledge production and dissemination and succeed to the best of their abilities.
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