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19 October 2022

Developing Anti-Racist Curricula: Reflections on three subject workshops held in 2022



Dr Peggy Brunache
Lecturer in Atlantic Slavery, University of Glasgow


Dr Saima Salehjee
Lecturer in STEM Education, University of Strathclyde


Dr Stephany Veuger
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, Northumbria University

The Anti-Racist Curriculum (ARC) Project is a key component of the current Enhancement Theme, Resilient Learning Communities.

In session 2020-21, under the management of Advance HE, the project resulted in a Guide aimed at supporting colleagues to get started with this vital work. In session 2021-22, QAA Scotland hosted three workshops aimed at exploring how the resources might be used in the context of different broad subject areas.

Our workshops were held in April and May 2022 and attracted over 70 participants. In this blog post, each of the facilitators offers three key points from their workshop.

Dr Peggy Brunache is a Lecturer in Atlantic Slavery at the University of Glasgow, and the Founding Director of the Beniba Centre for Slavery Studies at the University. Through examples of lived experiences, Peggy's workshop allowed participants to interrogate personal preconceptions and institutional biases often informed by societal structures of racism and racial inequity. Here, Peggy summarises three major areas that were discussed using an interactive approach.

1. The need for a wider awareness of the evolving scope of language, especially when considering the instability of traditionally politically correct terminology. For example, the term BAME was once thought to be inclusive but is now a controversial classification and somewhat divisive, due to the diversity of inter and intra-racialised communities.

2. Differentiating anti-racism and non-racism. One can be non-racist in their everyday personal lives. However, the dominant culture shapes the institutions and societal structures of behaviours, values, policies, laws, traditions, and so on. Structures of racialised oppression are powerful but often subtle and flexible to survive 'knee-jerk activism'. Therefore, anti-racism is the long-term commitment to actively resist and dismantle unjust laws, policies and attitudes.

To consider discriminatory actions experienced by various minoritised ethnic (and/or racialised) groups and consider positive responses and solutions for the staff-student experience through scenario-based activities requires an understanding of intersectionality.

3. Racialised communities are not monoliths. Modes of oppression can be experienced in differing degrees based on, for instance, sexuality, gender, ableism, age, class; and interplay simultaneously. Therefore, each case of racism must be acknowledged and treated individually.

Relevant resources from the Guide:

Dr Saima Salehjee is a Lecturer in STEM Education at the University of Strathclyde and was a member of the Working Group which developed the ARC Project Guide. In her workshop, she challenged participants to think afresh about epistemic approaches and boundaries. Here, Saima offers her three top suggestions for STEM educators.

1. Be resilient to go against the tide. The STEM education and professions are hugely dwelling on developing a STEM workforce who are 'STEM entrepreneurs', 'innovative learners' and 'entrepreneurial citizens', which unfortunately leaves the source of injustice untouched (Takeuchi, M A et al (2020)). So be resilient to go against these market-driven entrepreneurial approaches to a people-oriented approach. This can be achieved by changing our focus on developing individuals for the future who are 'STEM publicists', promoting STEM in their immediate cultures. Moreover, those who are 'diverse learners' and 'scientifically literate citizens' are learning and using science to improve their lives, communities, country and the world.

2. Reflections and actions. Various racist situations can arise in STEM-oriented lessons, lectures, workshops and events. So, before delivering the sessions, ensure to thoroughly check your plan and consider any pseudo-scientific ideologies, concepts, theories, illustrations and practices that you could unintentionally bring into your sessions. Pseudoscience, for example, gives privilege to a particular group of people over another and vice versa based on their socially-ascribed characteristics (for example, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexuality or social class and the intersection of these characteristics). Most importantly, self-reflection and actions, promoting anti-racism on the situations after it has passed - 'reflection on action' - is a must. In addition, sometimes you are also required to reflect and act upon racist situations on the spot - 'reflection in action' - in response to the pseudo-scientific thoughts brought by the attending students or staff members. Therefore, consider having some contingency plan ready to deal with possible and commonly pseudo-scientific ideologies.

Some examples of these situations, reflections and corresponding action plans are available at:

3. Move on to the next level. Plan and deliver STEM sessions and projects by looking outside the STEM disciplinary and interdisciplinary box by incorporating a 'STEM transdisciplinarity approach', including historical and indigenous stories and contemporary scientific discoveries and models. For example, to embed STEM in everyday culture, intersect STEM learning with current societal discourses based on everyday cultural markers (gender, nationality, race, religion, social class). Provide storytelling opportunities to the audience (students and staff) to voice their individual perceptions and critique the institutional STEM culture (including STEM specialisms, perceptions, engagement and practices) with the aim to make our institutions inclusive for all.

You can use the following resources to support this work:

Dr Stephany Veuger is a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences at Northumbria University and is also co-lead for the Decolonising the Curriculum Network at the University. She is working with Advance HE and the Open University as an EDIA change agent, and in 2022 was a finalist for HE Bioscience Teacher of the Year. Stephany shares how she used the Guide resources to inform and structure her workshop.

I consider myself an ally of social justice in STEM education and relished the opportunity to develop a workshop to explore the development of an anti-racist curriculum by showcasing the Guide. I felt it was important to emphasise the need for respectful enquiry by providing advance principles and Specific Content Notes during the session, ensuring participants only engage with what they could. This was well-received, and has now been adopted by others preparing their own workshops.

Using frameworks from within the Guide (ideas on how to support curriculum change; running focus groups; planning and embedding principles into the curriculum), participants shared experiences to enable them to consider how to build a culture of discourse on systemic inequalities in STEM, cultivate learning experiences and create an anti-racist curriculum that embraces diversity. Scientists are often very focused on the 'how', and therefore the framework guides are particularly useful to a STEM workshop.

'Overall this was an excellent workshop - I learned a lot and really enjoyed the breakout room discussions as a way of hearing other people's perspectives and sharing knowledge and ideas.'

Positive feedback demonstrates that small group discussions were important in capturing thoughts and ideas. I found that useful questions to promote reflection were: Change? Who? How? More controversial was a small breakout discussion that used quotes for provocation and reflection, which participants agreed need to be handled sensitively and according to context.

My three top tips would be:

1. Set the scene for respectful enquiry.

2. Facilitate small group discussions using the Guide with a practical focus on facilitating conversations to enact change.

3. Ensure enough time for all exercises - they always take longer than you think! (This is a good thing, as it reflects rich exchanges between participants.)

I used the following resources to develop and deliver my workshop: