In memory of Stephen Lawrence, by University of Nottingham research fellow Dr Roshni Mooneeram (Global Research Consultant for Africa):
A year before Stephen Lawrence was murdered in the circumstances that he was, I came to study English Language and Literature at the University of Leeds as an international student from Mauritius. I was part of a cohort of 200 students, the only BAME student alongside another African student, in a school which hosted the first Centre for Postcolonial and Commonwealth Literature opening up conversations on the politics of ethnicity and empire. These were complicated enough dynamics and not always comfortable to navigate, coming from the Global South to the centre to deconstruct empire with, bar two students, an ethnically homogeneous environment. And these were formative years too.
I remembered thinking when Stephen Lawrence was murdered in 1993 that the only England I was getting to know within the walls of the university was so far removed from the England that could not only kill a teenager on the basis of his skin colour but one that did not seem to want to find the culprits, a ghostly presence. And yet one of the bridges between those two worlds is obvious. The McPherson report in 1999 commended the key role of education in the prevention of racist crime with this unambiguous recommendation: “amend the national curriculum – aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism in order to better reflect the needs of a diverse society.”
Twenty years on, what are the hurdles that stop the first British university to boldly launch international campuses, from leading the way in the decolonisation of curricula? This question has been very much at the forefront of my thinking as I write my report on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion research at the University of Nottingham and the policy potential thereof. Of course, there are time and resource constraints that get in the way. I am thinking that a university, committed to getting away from EDI as an institutional box-ticking exercise to building EDI into its ecosystem and leading by example to influence policy, is also one that should be able to whip up institutional political will and generate incentives to support staff in decolonising curricula. I’m thinking of something else too.
I am thinking of something that Simon Gallow, director of UN Women UK, said at the Language, Gender and Leadership Network conference at the University of Nottingham last year. While the ‘head’ argument about EDI has been won, the ‘heart’ argument hasn’t. I am thinking that almost thirty years on from my first arriving in the UK, my 13 year old son is subjected, within school, to the same kind of discourse that would have assaulted Stephen Lawrence: “xxxx off home you African xxxx”. Yes, England screams out to me what it is capable of doing, and not just to people who are strangers. This instance of racist abuse reminds me of the reasons why I and many of us took to our books in the first place. That ‘why’ dictates that my books cannot be divorced from multiple realities, not if I intend to engage with and positively influence them.
Posted on Thursday 12th March 2020