EDI Collective

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Collective in School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester

What is taught cannot truly be diversified or decolonised if those teaching are not diversified

To begin, I must emphasise the difference between diversity and decolonisation. That diversity without decolonisation cannot bring about real equality and inclusion in a university. 

Diversifying the English Literature course would mean having a range of texts on reading lists, from writers of various cultures, religions, genders, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds and having a range of academic teaching staff. 

The decolonisation of English Literature has many meanings: 

  • Firstly, it means to understand, as Edward Said highlights, that literature is intertwined with politics and culture, even actively pursuing inherent political ideologies and policies within its works. 
  • It means to interrogate the relationship between the location and identity of the writer, what they write and how they write about it. 
  • It means to unmask the colonial context and influence of many canonical works and literary theories. 
  • Once acknowledging this relationship between the identity and location of a writer and their work, it means then to engage with more perspectives of that work, not just taking sources from the West and establishing a Eurocentric view of that work but diversifying the sources we engage with in our scholarship i.e. listening to marginalised voices. 
  • It also demands that texts written by and about minorities should not be treated as peripheral, as an aside. 

As is demonstrated in the definition of decolonising, diversity is essential to decolonise the curriculum in English Literature. However, the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures (SALC) in the University of Manchester holds a dominantly white body of academic staff. As a student of English Literature with Creative Writing, I am yet to be taught by someone of colour. Many students go through the total three years of their degree in SALC without encountering an academic staff of colour. What this means is that, when Course Directors are putting courses together, comprising modules and reading lists, they are doing so without the voices of Black and Minority Ethnic scholars. 

A common defence against decolonising and diversifying English Literature is that it is supposed to be “English” Literature i.e. it is supposedto be the works of white and English writers and theorists. However, as Priyamvada Gopal, a Professor in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge, points out, ‘Black and Asian people have a history in Britain that stretches back nearly 500 years, and these communities contributed significantly to its wealth and heritage.’ She goes on to say, ‘the very idea of what it meant to be “white” or “English” relied on the presence of those… who could be marked as neither.’ So, by not decolonising the curriculum, and by not heeding Black and Asian voices, students do not receive a holistic understanding of English Literature and how it came to be; decolonising the curriculum is simply ‘to expand the imagination of students of literature’ as Arundhati Roy writes. 

But what exactly is “English” Literature? As the British Empire expanded and its syllabus was implemented in countries across the world, many formally colonised countries became dominantly English-speaking. Toni Morrison writes that in the literature produced in the colonising country, ‘one could write about them [minority, African, ‘Other’ cultures] but there was never any danger of their “writing back”. Just as one could speak to them without fear of their “talking back”. One could even observe them, hold them in prolonged gaze, without encountering the risk of being observed, viewed or judged in return.’ However, the Empire started writing back. The colonised and enslaved wrote back, revealing truths of Empire and imperialism that cannot be accessed in European works. And so, to not listen to these voices is to ‘lobotomise’ literature, to ‘put it under house arrest’ as Morrison argues. 

If English as a subject has any value, it is because it puts into question the very notion of “English” itself. Is it really possible, in this post-colonial era to say who and what is or is not English? There is no one, clear standard definition of what English Literature is.

If it is too difficult, too broad to capture what English Literature is in a single definition, because its value transcends the borders of a single country and a single people, how is it then that in universities and institutions it is boxed up, its wealth and richness tightly sealed and limited to the works of a few?  

How is it that defenders of this Euro-centric boxed-up version of English Literature are given the weapons they need to subdue its true richness, mask its shortcomings?

Everything comes back to the people at heart of it, to the fact that a dominantly white body of academic staff co-ordinate the English Literature course without the voices of black and brown scholars. The fundamental action that must take place to both decolonise and diversify English Literature is to eradicate the unjustified and baseless resistance towards allowing black and brown scholars to participate in the decisions of delivering an English Literature course and to teach it. 

The only way to move forward, to diversify and decolonise the curriculum, is to open the door for black and brown writers and scholars to sit in the judging panels, in the meetings where the canon is quickly defended, in the meetings where reading lists and English Literature courses are construed, in positions and posts where black and brown scholars are able to pursue research.

And this is not to be done out of pity, or to be politically correct, but to acknowledge that it is necessary to do so to gain a greater, fuller and broader understanding of English Literature.  To accept that the voices and works of formally colonised cultures are necessary to understand how English Literature has developed and evolved. To understand that ‘assumptions regarding racial and civilizational hierarchy informed a lot of thinking of how the world worked, what was worth studying and how it should be studied’ – that these same assumptions informed and justified the expansion of colonial rule in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were also advocated quietly over hundreds of years of literature, were responded to by the colonised through literature.

By not decolonising the curriculum, the university is perpetuating a culture of ignorance and ensuring the next academics inherit this ignorance. 

Only recently have black and brown and minority ethnic writers begun to receive prestigious writing awards and this is because judging panels are largely white; the canon is comprised of the works of white men; notions of quality by which a written piece of work is criticised are the Euro-centric notions of quality of critics who crown these canonical white works; this notion of quality seeps into universities, into lectures and seminars, maintaining the high pedestal upon which this canon is revered.

How then, can we expect such literary scholars who hold the works of minority cultures and marginalised voices with such little regard to diversify and decolonise literature, to strip down the reverence of “traditional” texts? 

Actions for SALC

  • End the ethnicity pay gap. 
  • Create and establish programmes and initiatives to encourage and employ more academic staff that are Black, Asian, from ethnic minorities. 
  • Diversify reading lists – diversify the texts that are studied on a module and diversify the secondary critical material that is used in teaching to ensure a complete perspective on a course – not just a Euro-centric perspective.
  • In lectures, seminars and tutorials, academic staff must unmask any colonial context and influence on what is being studied. 
  • Establish training programmes to train academic staff on how to approach and teach colonial contexts in a way that does not lead to further exclusion or alienation of black and brown students and students from minority ethnic backgrounds.   

Written by Saaleha Iqbal

A list of practical resources for white people striving to become better allies

  1. Educate Yourself

Education is essential for becoming a better ally. If you do not understand the concepts of white privilege and systematic racism how can you effectively combat them? This need not be an expensive process as there are many free resources available.

  • The Historian David Olusoga’s documentary ‘Black and British: A Forgotten History’ can be accessed for free on iPlayer. 
  • Bernadine Evaristo’s Booker Prize Winning novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ is available to listen to on the BBC Sounds app.
  • The author Reni Eddo-Lodge, has also asked that rather than buying new copies of her book people lend it to their friends and family, and donate the cost of buying it to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

If you are unsure of where to start, there are several anti-racist reading, watching and listening lists:

2. Support your Black Friends

Perhaps the most important part of being an ally is supporting your black friends, family and co-workers during this time. It is, however, important that you reach out to your friends for the right reasons. This is about how to be a supportive ally and, therefore, you should not vent about your own feelings of sadness and outrage at the recent events. Nor should you ask your black friends for anti-racist resources, it is not their job to teach you about racism, there are plenty of resources that you can use to teach yourself. Instead you should listen to your friends and ask how you can support them. Also understand that they may not want to speak to you about what they are experiencing and feeling and nor should they have to.  

3. Have Conversations with your Family and Friends

It is important to have conversations with your family and friends about the Black Lives Matter Movement. There are multiple resources available, detailing the most effective ways to initiate these conversations: 

4. Hold Universities and Schools to Account

A lot of attention has been focused on decolonizing the GCSE syllabus, however, much less focus has been centred around discussions of universities. Through syllabus’, reading lists and infrastructure, named after wealthy slave traders, universities often uphold systematic racism. Furthermore, a report in the Guardian found that BAME staff and students in UK universities faced ‘overt racism, including assaults, monkey chants, the N-word and other verbal abuse, to institutional and structural racism, indirect racial discrimination and microaggressions.’

Some of the ways you can enact changes at your universities are:

5. Write to your MP

Write to your MP asking them to put pressure on the government to suspend the UK export of tear Gas, Rubber Bullets and Riot Shields to the USA which are used against Black Lives Matter Protestors and ask that they condemn Trump’s actions. Amnesty International has provided a template letter which you can use. You can find your MP’s contact details through the website TheyWorkForYou.

6. Sign Petitions

As well as writing to your MP you can put pressure on the UK and US governments directly by signing petitions. Whilst the Justice for George Floyd petition has reached nearly 19 million signatures there are still various petitions that have yet to reach their goal:

7. Donate

If you have the money to make a donation Practical ways to support BLM from the UK, has a list of charities and funds to donate to. You can also donate directly to the Black Lives Matter, Fund the Movement. In addition you can choose to buy from Black-Owned UK Businesses.

If you don’t have the money to make a direct donation you can watch stream to donate YouTube videos, which will make a donation on your behalf. 

8. Self-Reflection

In order to be an effective ally going forward we must reflect on how we oppose racism in our everyday lives:

How do I support my black friends and co-workers? Is my ally ship only performative? How do I use my privilege to fight for racial equality? Anti-racism requires a lot more than a simple Instagram post, it requires constant personal growth and practice.

There are many resources and checklists available that encourage this self-reflection and continuing education:

Anti-Racist Resources Available at the University of Manchester

The Library:

(This is by no means a comprehensive list, but due to the temporary closure of the library this list has been limited to books that are available to read online.)

  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race,Reni Eddo-Lodge.
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good AncestorLayla F. Saad.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colour-Blindness, Michelle Alexander. 
  • White Rage: The Unspoken truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson.
  • Algorithms of Oppression: How search Engines Reinforce Racism, Safiya Umoja Noble.
  • There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, Paul Gilroy.  
  • Heart of the Race: Black Women’s Lives in Britain, Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe and Lola Okolosie. 
  • Dismantling Race in Higher Education: Racism, Whiteness and Decolonialising the Academy, Jason Arday and Heidi Safia Mirza.  
  • The Good Immigrant, Nikesh Shukla. 
  • Race, Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, Derald Wing Sue. 
  • Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy, Chris Crass.
  • Racism without Racists: Colour-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America,Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.
  • The condemnation of Blackness: Race Crime, and the making of Modern Urban America, Khal Gibran Muhammad.
  • From #blacklivesmatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.
  • Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race, Jean O’Malley Halley, Amy Eshleman and Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya.
  • The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, George Lipsitz.
  • Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era,Ashley D. Farmer.
  • The Making of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea, Christopher J. Lebron.
  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a MovementAngela Davis.

Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre:

  • This centre (at Central Library) has a collection of books, articles and archival material ‘focusing on the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity’. 

The Student Union:

  • The SU has released several statements addressing the killing of George Floyd and the recent protests which you can view here
  • Sara Khan, the SU Liberation & Access officer has also compiled a list of anti-racist resources, as well as links to the EDI Allies Initiative, Decolonise UoM and the National Union of Students’, Black Students’ Campaign.

Written by Isabella Wood

We are the EDI Collective – a new student-led group to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Manchester.

We aim:

  • To Act as a body body to which students can report incidents of racism and discrimination.
  • To Actively respond to such incidents by communicating with the appropriate departments/ members of staff and seek disciplinary action against the perpetrators involved.
  • To Advocate greater awareness of differing experiences of Ethnic Minority students.
  • To Promote a culture of greater inclusion and consciousness of Ethnic Minority students in lecturers and classes. 
  • To Commit to promoting the decolonization of curriculums in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures.

More About Who We Are

Our collective is made up of students from across the School of Arts, Languages and Culture and is multi-ethnic. We believe it is important that students support other students. We aim to tackle fundamental cultural and political issues, which are not only present within wider society but in our University, too.

We want our collective to be seen as a place of support and help. We understand that approaching University leaders and academic staff can be daunting. So, we want to make this process as easy for you as possible. 

Furthermore, we seek to advocate greater awareness of differing experiences of Ethnic Minority students by reporting to the SALC Committee of inclusion. We endeavor to become the voice for SALC students, to promote greater inclusion and consciousness of Ethnic Minority Students. Particularly, within lecturers and classes.

We believe that the curriculum for the courses across the School of Arts, Languages, and Cultures remains predominantly concentrated upon the works of straight White males. This needs to change. As such we are committed to the decolonization and diversification of curriculums within the SALC department.

We are a group formed by students for students, for support and guidance. We are in the fight against racism and discrimination together.

For support or more information take a look at our Instagram page @uom.edi.collective or email us, edicollective@gmail.com. 

Written by Sian Jones