We need a visible culture of equity and inclusion to root out racism

The invisible curriculum and the extra-curricular must be as clearly inclusive of diversity as what happens in the classroom, writes De’Andre Morris

The invisible curriculum and the extra-curricular must be as clearly inclusive of diversity as what happens in the classroom, writes De’Andre Morris

20 Jun 2023, 5:00

The Student Commission on Racial Justice will soon publish its 2023 Manifesto for Action. Over five weeks, its commissioners will set out its five key priorities and recommendations exclusively for FE Week.

I’m 19, I study performing arts at college, and I’ve experienced racism since primary school. I remember being verbally abused by grown White men who called me racist slurs. Since then I’ve experienced microaggressions and other racially motivated behaviours, not just to me but to friends and family. These sorts of behaviours are not acceptable, and education must do more to be part of the solution.

One of the key areas of investigation for the Student Commission on Racial Justice was a crucial aspect of college life: events, social life, and college culture. Our recommendation is a simple one: Celebrate diversity and normalise racial justice conversations.

But just telling you how to improve the culture within colleges doesn’t matter without understanding why it is important, especially for minority students. The truth is that colleges throughout lack in cultural education. Despite living in a diverse country, there is poor cultural visibility, making minority students feel that their voices do not matter. This same lack of cultural and racial visibility leads to harmful and uneducated mindsets.

The cultural life of a college affects us all. It forms a sort of invisible curriculum, and what that curriculum is teaching many minority students is that they are not safe, that they do not matter, and that perpetrators’ lack of education is an excuse for their racist words and actions.

Too many of us have experienced verbal or physical abuse within education settings, from students and staff. We are victims of stereotypes and worse, which add up to a common experience of living in a discriminatory culture.

One ongoing refrain is that things are “not as bad” as they were fifty years ago. Fine, but this tells us more about how bad things were then than it does about how good they are now. And besides, we didn’t experience it. This is the baseline from which we are striving for improvement.

Our society is becoming more culturally and racially diverse, but our understanding and respect is not keeping up. The majority find it to be a “difficult conversation”, and all of this goes back to education. Educating people in their formative years about different cultures and racial backgrounds fosters more understanding, and a willingness to tackle that difficult conversation. We found that students want more opportunities to do this, as well as more visibility for their own cultures.

We also found that education institutions need to do more to eliminate racist behaviours. On my performing arts course, we often learn about different cultures and perform stories that represent many different walks of life. We have deep conversations about identity, society and culture. This is not a common enough experience. In fact, only 50 per cent of students surveyed by our commission said staff encouraged them to talk about major events related to race in the news. This should be a given, no matter what you study.

Improving college culture isn’t restricted to the classroom. We recommend targeting your events and activities also. You could create a calendar of significant cultural events that reflect the diversity of modern-day Britain, and involve your students in the design and delivery.

You could hold regular, visible awareness campaigns on racial justice issues, exploring topics from current affairs to the impact of microaggressions. Black History Month is a good start, but remember that celebrating Britain’s diversity is everyday work.

Having said that, celebration days work. My personal favourite recommendation is to establish a culture day, which many students reported as a positive part of their college experience. A culture day creates a space for students to celebrate their own cultures and those of their peers. At my college, students help to organise it. We attend in clothing that represents our cultures, wave our many flags, and enjoy food and music from around the world.

In the end, there is nothing invisible about racism – only what we choose not to see. To create a genuinely inclusive society, we have to choose to see it, and each other.

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