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University of York - Statement of approach to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum


This is the University of York’s statement of approach to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum, co-constructed by staff and students from the University. It has been created following a number of discussion events with staff and students, and has been shaped by campaigns run by the University of York’s Students’ Unions, as well as other key University initiatives and events. This statement aims to reflect what is important to the University of York community, and sets out a framework of key principles. We also hope to make explicit our understandings about decolonisation and diversification so that as an academic community we have a shared sense of ownership. Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum is an ongoing process, and our approach and its impact will be regularly reflected on and reviewed.

The University of York: A University for Public Good

In its vision for the University of York, a commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion features as a key principle:

Freedom of inquiry and expression are central to intellectual advancement and to social and economic development. Upholding them is tantamount to assuring that every single member of our communities – whatever their heritage, creed, or orientation – is treated with the respect we expect for ourselves, is afforded the same opportunities, and feels at ease with being in our midst. University principles - Mission and strategies

A commitment to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum helps to realise this principle across our learning community. 

Alongside this, the University’s Together York Community Declaration, which has been developed collaboratively with staff and students to describe the foundations and aspirations of our learning community, commits the University to offer an inspiring learning environment, supporting students to be inquisitive and open-minded, respecting evidence and argument.

A framework of principles to support decolonising and diversifying the curriculum

  • Decolonising and diversifying is an ongoing process with a lasting legacy. As well as considering and adapting curriculum content, it also involves examining and adapting pedagogy and research, and our approach operates alongside wider processes of inclusion, diversification and internationalisation. 
  • Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum aims to reflect wider global and historical perspectives through a process of questioning sources of knowledge, theories and intellectual traditions, identifying how knowledge production can reproduce power hierarchies and how new perspectives can emerge from sustained engagement in dialogue and discussion around this. It also aims to develop a diverse, inclusive curriculum through critical engagement with the current curriculum to identify how marginal voices, identities and perspectives can be heard in order to make it more inclusive and intersectional. By considering different approaches to assessment and teaching styles the University can ensure all students are treated fairly, reflecting the needs of our diverse student body.
  • It is important to acknowledge and challenge the power dynamics in knowledge production, including the implicit and explicit hierarchies regarding what is accepted as standard and what is regarded as ‘other’. This can be applied to a wide range of subject matters, including sources of information, ways of thinking, and cultural practices. In challenging the status quo of what is taught, we can promote more representative content and more diverse ideas. 
  • Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum takes place across the whole curriculum, promoting an ethical and empowering education for students at our University. It prompts us to thoroughly (re)assess our own knowledge, perspectives and principles and develops critical self-reflection on the part of staff and students. It gives all students the opportunity to fully take part in the University of York community, and to flourish in their academic studies; creating citizens of the future who are able to engage confidently with the diversity of regional, national and global society.
  • The process of decolonising and diversifying the curriculum is one of co-construction with both staff and students, where students and staff are active partners and collaborators in the design, delivery and evaluation of the curriculum at every level and throughout the learning life cycle. 
  • Decolonising and diversifying the curriculum requires a holistic approach that takes place at all levels of the University and includes all academic departments as well as professional services. It allows for conversations, learning and collaboration across disciplines, and enables positive partnerships to build between staff and students, alumni and external stakeholders.
  • Our approach to decolonising and diversifying the curriculum also takes place at a subject-specific level; historical perspectives, including colonial legacies, influence different disciplines in different ways, and there are opportunities to diversify the  content and delivery of the curriculum which reflect different disciplinary contexts. Individual departments should therefore focus on critically examining how decolonising and diversifying the curriculum affects their particular discipline, and on developing and sharing examples of good practice.
  • A key part of decolonising and diversifying the curriculum is to acknowledge and reflect on our own behaviour and our own privileges. Using the notion of intersectionality coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, we can understand that there are many different types of privilege and that there can be more than one characteristic that it subject to discrimination. It is important to acknowledge all forms of privilege and discrimination, and to understand how they can overlap and affect one another. 
  • Creating and maintaining inclusive and safe spaces in the classroom and other forums is an integral part of decolonising and diversifying the curriculum, helping to foster honest feedback and reflexive practice.  Creating safe spaces also means removing the burden from those in a minority who often have to explain their experiences, thereby amplifying these issues. Instead, the University believes that everyone should engage with the issues of decolonisation and diversification, and that we all have a collective responsibility to take practical steps to create change.

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