This series of podcast episodes will focus on Decolonising Research, and feature talks from the Decolonising Research Festival held at the University of Exeter in June and July 2022.

The tenth epsiode of the series will feature Larissa Kennedy from the National Union of Students and her talk 'Reimagining undegraduate research: Student agency throuhg a decolonial lens.'

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Transcription

 

00:09

Hello, and welcome to rd in the in betweens. I'm your host Kelly Preece. And every fortnight I talk to a different guest, about researchers development, and everything in between.

 

00:31

Hi, my name is Larissa, my pronouns are she her. And over the past two years, just up to two weeks ago, I had the joy and privilege of being national president at NUS, which is the National Union of Students representing the 7 million students across Further and Higher Education. Prior to that, I've kind of been in the anti racist space around education for practically my kind of entire university life and college life too. And now, kind of with all of that, under my belt, I'm continuing to do stuff around anti racism and education, decolonization and so on. Because this is yeah, it's really my bread and butter are in activism in our work in a lot of different spaces that climate justice and so now, kind of decolonizing education is for me a core of the work. So I'm going to share my screen, we can jump into it. But please feel free to stop me along the way to write in the chat ask questions, because I want to make it really clear that you know, even though this is stuff that I've I've been doing for a while I know kind of authority, you know, I'm just a black student who was sick and tired of being sick and tired. And and kind of launched into this work in that sense. So please do contribute as and when you see fit. So as it says on the screen, this session is titled reimagining undergraduate research student agency through a decolonial lens. And the reason that, you know, I really wanted to explore student agencies, and part of this is because of the system that we are navigating now. Because, you know, we see the ways that the democratize University kind of quell student agency, the ways that it diminishes student's capacity to be seen beyond individualists consumers or knowledge. And by extension, we have to think about how that impacts a student's capacity or even orientation towards research towards research that captures decolonial knowledge is that is bringing the subaltern into play. And so I really wanted to explore that in this talk today. So, you know, I think, head of really getting into the meat of it. I also want to say that if I'm making sweeping statements about kind of the system as it is, this really isn't to invisible eyes, the incredible efforts that are happening on the ground, by individuals who are seeking to undo colonialism in education, but it's to recognize that they are often jumping through endless bureaucratic hoops in order to make this possible. And so even if they do make it, and even if they do, kind of disrupt the academy in those ways, it's in spite of our institutions, not because of them. So with that in mind, thinking about the marketized University as a colonial export, I think is a really important starting point for recognizing how we got here, how we got to a position where, you know, undergraduate research, and particularly undergraduate research that is calling on deep learning and knowledge is so few and far between, but also kind of the levels of passivity that we have in our education system. So I start over this to kind of emphasize through the title through from the from the off that reimagining undergraduate research and student agency through decolonial lens is not about harking back to the kind of good old days that we often hear about in the education system and in higher education in particular, you know, it's not about reinventing these, the kind of romanticized era of the early 60s through to the 90s, where, you know, education was free at the point of use. And so you supposedly have this point where education was this beacon of possibility and an incredible feat that it was to have free education. And although, you know, I absolutely do see free education as a core part of a core principle of kind of reimagined education. I think we also have to be honest about the fact that that free education at the point of views for shoots in the UK was reliant even then, on different went through international student feeds. But it was also relying on kind of the supremacy of the British education system it

 

05:08

was relying on, you know, as I say, this education as a colonial export, because students around the world had been sold the story of a superior British education system. You know, for myself, I come from Jamaica, Barbados, and St. Vincent, of western Indian heritage. And from early days, it is taught to children and young people, but also to their parents, that the British education system is that which should be coveted. And as such, there was always baked into the system. And understanding that even when we had free education for students in the UK, that this was going to be subsidized by the kind of colonial export of he in UK. So this kind of historic fact paved the way for where we are now paved the way for students being positioned as passive consumers in the kind of 21st century mark marketized. University. And you know, this, it also paved the way for this construct, that the purpose of education as the kind of wind is just doing a lot here, sorry. And it paved the way for the way that, you know, the construct of the former education secretary Gavin Williamson, often said that the purpose of education is to lead people to a fulfilling working life emphasis on working them. It moved us from this idea that education is a tool of liberation, it removed us from the idea that education can be this, you know, opportunity to fulfill purpose to fulfill, you know, joy, even all of this was extracted such that education from this point, we're talking about, you know, decades and decades before the imposition of home student fees, you know, we were always on the journey to ensuring that, you know, markets, democratize university be that for international students, or for all of us, could be a colonial export. And so I think it's important to see that from the very beginning, such that we understand how we got to where we are. And then that begs the question, how does this impact the status of undergraduate students? How does that inform undergrad teaching, learning and research? Because, you know, we've seen kind of the recent criticisms over the past decade or so, around the kind of false neutrality of knowledge that we receive, around kind of the role of decolonization or prior to those campaigns were often heard of the wider my curriculum, white campaigns, which were, you know, encouraging us to be critical and so on of the knowledge that we receive. But what we rarely see is students positioned as actors in informing you know, these, this status quo, or reshaping or transforming the status quo rather, is about okay, receiving the knowledge that

 

08:21

there's an issue here. Not being people that are given agency to do something about it. And again, I think it's important to look backwards about how we got here, why this is the case. And fundamentally, this is as true throughout our education system as it is in higher education. If you look at schools, and colleges, this rings true. And, you know, speaking to a kind of anti racist educator, Geoffrey beracha, recently, and he described it by saying that activism is not on the curriculum, meaning that politically, kids are being reared to stay still. And so what is it about the kind of transience of the student population kind of juxtaposed with this stagnant, that is being taught to us? This kind of disempowering dampening of our impulses to make change? And what is it about that that kind of informs the way that undergraduates in particular are approaching their own teaching, learning and research? Because I think when you see the kind of rapturous reaction to the like, so, students at Pimlico Academy, resisting Islamophobic and anti black policies, when you see kind of rapturous reaction to the climate strikes that students are leading schools, it's this kind of inclination to inaction and then the kind of shock horror approach to to student agency being exercise. Those teacher Lesson Two Right, they teach students they teach young people, that for you to act against your education system for you to speak up against your education system is unexpected, and will face backlash. And again, if we go further back, you know this, in the same way that we know that this schooling model was built on the kind of Victorian model of education, which was essentially trying to explore, you know, factory workers. We also know that the university system was built in the image of the so called system, the Masters model of education, which was predicated on the idea that those who hold power know best what should be taught and how it should be taught. So where does agency fit within that, because day in day out, that passivity has been communicated to us structurally through schools and colleges, through higher education, and so on. So this ultimately kind of yields the systemic erasure of black knowledge and forms of knowledge production, I would argue, and particularly so at undergraduate level where there is far less capacity to shape your own journey, and where, you know, when I when I do these workshops with students, when I talk to students across the country, they're often talking about kind of trying to make their education more pliable, trying to twist and shape and like, look for blackness into play, rather than it being possible to exist in tandem with the current educational system. So I really to speak slightly here about okay, if we begin thinking about what does reimagination look like if we start to use that as a jumping off point from which we can think of new? How do we reckon with this kind of hyper visibility and invisibility of black students that often comes up in that sense? You know, invisibility, in the sense of black knowledge is being disregarded and delegitimize by the Academy, but hyper visibility, in that whenever students do bring those kind of whether it's lived experiences, or kind of black colleges, and this isn't just black students, but bringing black knowledges and black studies into play, there is often a kind of, you know, hyper visibility in the sense of a magnifying glass on the students and on their work, you know, which we often see in reports, regarding the BAC, attainment gap, and so on, which, of course, is is a kind of symptom of this broader structural issue. And then, you know, to add to that hyper visibility, it's not just about how it's perceived within the academy, we also see that kind of sense, I've sensationalized reports of anti racist efforts happening within our universities, I'm sure I don't need to tell those in the in this space about the kind of Daily Mail reports and so on, about kind of removal of the Queen. And we're talking about kind of colleges and universities that have taken very simple actions which have been blown out of proportion for sensationalist headlines.

 

13:17

I think, in addition to talking about that reality for black students, and for black colleges, it's also important to see how this systemic erasure is kind of propped up by the fact that this is operating in tandem with the exploitation of black people and people of color within the academy to, you know, I often talk about the fact that if you put every single if you kind of in a graph or on paper, put down every single person, demographically, that's that's working in the university, you would almost get a kind of pyramid structure with the number of black and brown folks in maintenance role, be that cleaning or otherwise being kind of overwhelmingly disproportionate. And then you see that that the numbers of black and brown folks in roles, you know, first of all, your early careers, academics, you have far more than you do in terms of your your professors and lecturers and senior management, of course, we know is historically very white and middle class. So this isn't happening in isolation. And so it's important to see how this systemic erasure is enabled by that kind of structural ratio of black people and black bodies. So we're often then told off the back of the ad that it's going to take time to diversify the academy. We're kind of expected to wait the number of generations that will Take for black folks to work their way up, you know, this myth of meritocracy and so on feeding into this idea that, you know, in order to enable the research of black colleges, we have to wait for more black friends to come up to be interested in at school, you have no idea and the process continues. But for me this this begs the question, what if students were empowered to redefine the academy now, rather than continuing to absorb knowledge is that have been kind of extracted from the canon? What if the spaces of education that we have today work kind of propelling this action and seeing students as agents of this change, rather than passive consumers of things as they are? And so that obviously requires a kind of considerable shift from our present education system to some kind of reimagined future one, because it present undergraduate research is an extension of the academy that exists within you know, if things are if opportunities for research, the outside of core course content, often they are inaccessible to marginalized students, if those opportunities aren't fully funded, you know, if, you know those opportunities aren't accessible for other reasons, such as even levels of publicity and and people's awareness of them, which often comes with levels of cultural and social capital. There are so many reasons, endless reasons be that kind of black students disproportionately having countless possibilities and so on that the list is endless as to why these things aren't always possible. But how do we bring that future lens into play? How do we think of both the practical interim opportunities that we can can pursue to reimagine undergraduate research within the present education system, on the way to on the path to a reimagined education, which of course we'd have this at the core, then, you know, that's what we can start to think about. So I don't know if folks have any thoughts about what those steps might be, feel free to put things in the chat or to just have a think about them yourself.

 

17:24

But what I'm gonna do now is take us on to talk a little bit about decolonial theory, and how that applies to undergraduate research. And let's talk a bit more about what that reimagination looks like practically. So I often go back to Poker laneways processes of decolonization and these five stages, which I feel are really useful, the third of which is involved, because it's perhaps my favorite. But it's also important to note that Elaine, we refer to these processes as necessitating or kind of iterative process of them all in tandem. And yeah, I'll just speak a little bit to what these are at the moment. So the first of these stages is rediscovery and recovery, the idea that there is so much to unlock when it comes to forms of knowledge and knowledge production that hasn't been lost by the processes of color, colonialism and imperialism, that this in itself is a necessary process to go through, you know, we have to begin to unlock things that you know, that we don't know that we don't know, that we have to kind of utilize funding and kind of an orientation and an inclination towards uncovering these analogies. And that has to be done with intention. So that's rediscovery and recovery, then the second stage of this is about mourning. And it's about recognizing that there are some things that are lost that cannot be recovered. But there are some things that have been raised that that cannot be undone, and that to reckon with that is a very emotionally taxing thing, and particularly so for those who have lived experience of colonial violence or racist violence. The third process, as I say, is my favorite and that's about dreaming. It's about you know, recognizing that even the barriers of what we think when we are outside the box, we are pushing the boundaries of this and thinking really imaginatively, even that is so tied to where we are at present, and to dream to really think beyond the balance with no limits were blown kind of logic, as I said at the beginning, and kind of prior to the recording for folks, which after we did a bit of a free writing, exercise just to start tapping into our capacity to dream. And I think that this is so so important because as soon as we become bogged down in the kind of what is possible, what is considered impossible. That's when we start to lose possibilities here. So I think it's really, really important to dwell on dreaming as a process. And so I'm going to go into that in a bit more detail in a second. The fourth stage in these processes is around commitment. How do you build that groundswell of community support? How do you kind of tap into, you know, the pupil powered energy that you need to move these processes forward. And often in practice, this looks like things like solidarity between students unions, trade unions, those organizing on the ground and community led initiatives and so on. But this could be even more to. And then the fifth and final stage is action. You know, I love this one, because it's simple. It is what it says on the team is about how do we kind of put in place transformative action that is ready to reckon with the fact that the educational system that we have today, is the very product of colonialism, imperialism, displacement, enslavement, and racial violence and without transformative action. You know, if we keep tinkering at the edges, it's not just, it's just not going to cut in. So to talk about dreaming in a bit more detail, you know, I think there are a number of things that we can begin to tap into, when it comes to reimagining undergraduate students agency and dreaming of an education that is built, not bought that is shared, not sold, dreaming of an education that is kind of free from exploitation, and empowering in the quest for liberation. And the kind of starting point, and this and these, literally, the Eastern kind of ideas are just a starting point, because as I say, this dreaming process has to be collective. But where it seems to start for me, is about tapping into kind of decolonial knowledge is, and I'll start on the screen there, I've

 

22:18

mentioned Fred mountains kind of concept around blackness and Academy is future tivity. What I really love about this concept is that it recognizes that the existence of black people in the academy as it is, can only be one of theft, right? It can only be one of trying to extract what you can in service of community in a way that isn't permitted by the educational system. But what if we move this from future tivity to function in terms of meaning this would be the norm and not the exception. By being able to move into a kind of reimagined University where we are centering community in research where we are centering kind of the solidarity between students and staff and community in building what needs to be researched in in kind of actioning, that practical recovery, rediscovery and so on. I think that would be a kind of one, but you still have a reimagined University for me, because I feel like the way that that would shape undergraduate student agency in being able to tap into the things that really, really matter to them and to their communities. And being able to use that as a kind of springboard for even thinking about research will be incredibly transformative. I would love to know what you think about that in the chat. And again, in terms of decolonial knowledges, I think a second piece of this is about centering the Western Academy and carving out space to do things differently. And why that I'm not only talking about kind of research at a post grad and staff level, but I'm also talking about how do we begin to see intergeneration knowledge is as important as is kind of aligned with African tradition. How do we start to see Indigenous Knowledges or stop the kind of process by which the academy delegitimize us indigenous knowledge is and use that to start propelling an agency towards tapping into things that haven't yet been done in the west or haven't yet been accepted in the worse. And then kind of thinking about decolonial pedagogy as well. I think this for me is about changing that. How in order to transform the wallet, because at the moment, we have, as I say, an education system built from this masters law that says, You should learn this, you should be taught in this way about this. And if we begin to descend to authority in the classroom, making space for people to bring their whole selves into an educational setting, and not just doing this at higher education, but doing this from afar earlier on, I think we have the opportunity to unlock different ideas, different things, even beyond our imagination, because of the way that we're engaging with knowledge. And I think that's really important. And to be honest, I could talk about decolonial pedagogy all day, but I'm just touching on it here, because I think it is absolutely core to unlocking undergraduate students agency. And then, ultimately, you know, this is about building decolonial spaces for knowledge. And I say spaces rather than institutions. Because perhaps the reimagined University isn't an institution in the sense that we know today. But really, if we are talking about democratizing education, and not just for one set of students, but in a kind of universal sense, if we're talking about democratizing universities, and kind of giving us some forms of agency to students to set the agenda, or to talk about the knowledges that connect with and impact their communities, and so on. And if we're talking about decolonizing institutions, and you know, thinking differently about knowledge about pedagogy about all of this, the kind of structural exploitation of black folks of,

 

26:51

you know, the Global South, and so on. This is how we begin to build a new, but it also yields towards the kind of abolition of the university as we know it, right? Because the, the university, the institution that we know, today, as I say, is the product of all of these forms of colonialism, imperialism, and so on, if we are to extract and take out and undo, and dismantle all of these kind of real forms of how racism is sewn into the fabric of the academy. Ultimately, this is about the abolition of the university. And for me, the most important thing to note here is how do we connect students and their agency in this process? What would the abolition of the university mean for students? What would it mean for student simulation to staff and community? What would that democratize, democratize, decolonized education actually look like? And How could our spaces of education construct student agency as central rather than kind of the kind of marginal considerations of our education? So this really is about positing students as creators, positive students as architects, not as passive consumers, building spaces both within and beyond the academy to start answering these questions. And this has been kind of some of the journey that under my time as NUS president that we were on. We had something called a student strike where we had students walk out of the educational settings and come to this imaginative space when we will hosting sessions and students themselves are hosting sessions about kind of its presence or absence about building life affirming institutions in the world. As of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Ruth wheels and Gilmore Girls being one of my favorite Instagram Twitter accounts. And but I do think there is great capacity to think differently about what does it mean to be a student to reconstruct who is seen as a student, because, you know, ultimately, all of us are potential students in the communities that we're in. And to kind of almost weaponize weaponize the position that students have for good to talk about the fact that the university would not run without students without staff without communities fueling into and finally into these spaces. And using that, to leverage your capacity for students to be agents of change in reshaping and reimagining University. So I was hoping to pause at this point to see if there were any questions, contributions, thoughts, reflections on any of that, so far But yeah, I mean, I hope that was helpful as a kind of starting point for these discussions. As I say, I don't want to position myself as any kind of an authority on this, but rather just kind of a black student and a black underground who wants to, you know, be in community with others who are seeking to reimagine the university and to reimagine undergrad student research women that

 

30:29

and that's it for this episode. Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe. And join me next time where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers development and everything in between

 

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