Embedding Race Equality into the Curriculum
#2Addressing stereotypical and/or prejudicial perspectives
We have a long history that we want people to know … I mean it’s interesting, when I came here some people asked me, “do you have colour televisions in China?”
I have seen people refusing to view them as individuals so staff will say things like “In Chinese culture… ” — meanwhile there are goodness knows how many Chinese and they are all very, very different. It is that kind of uniformity that is unhelpful.
academic staff comment
Stereotypes, omissions and distortions all contribute to the development of prejudice. Course content can be used to counter stereotypes and provide students with a more realistic, holistic and informed view of other ethnic groups, cultures and achievements.
Stereotyping has a damaging effect on students who may be the subject of those stereotypes, and it can also have a negative impact on the learning process and subsequent interaction with other groups for all students.
For example, if the topic of “terrorism” is discussed, how can lecturers challenge comments which “demonise” or “stereotype” certain groups? Presenting skewed examples can lead students to accept inaccuracies as the truth. An example would be the way terms such as “terrorists” or “fundamentalists” are automatically linked to certain faith groups, resulting in a negative image of those faiths, and of followers of those faiths.
Humour based on faith, culture or race can be construed as negative by members of the group in question.
2.1Course examples providing opportunities to assist students with different ways of seeing and thinking
The first two sessions of a Curriculum Design and Development course are devoted to considering the non-neutral nature of knowledge and of education. We examine issues of value, stance, inclusion and discrimination in relation to knowledge and pedagogy, then the course assignment asks students to discuss their stance/values and the implications of them for learning and teaching. We hold a full day’s workshop at the beginning of the programme examining thinking and writing critically.
Film and Media Studies
Universally known themes such as the depiction of the “cowboy”, which has its origins in a white, male, quasi-imperialist culture, are unpacked and re-examined. Students are asked to critically examine the cowboy myth and its claims to universality. With that knowledge, students are offered a different way of seeing how Westerns have evolved in the last quarter of the twentieth century as ways were found to reflect altering sets of social values in which roles and ambitions of both women and minority ethnic groups living in the USA demanded recognition.
Languages and Cultures
In considering an Introduction to African Literature and Cinema, time was allocated (a two-hour session) to enable students to set out and consider their impressions of Africa. In the second session, students looked at an opinion poll that had been carried out in Africa by the BBC, exploring African attitudes to African issues.
This is a useful tool for allowing students to understand that not all of Africa is suffering from war and starvation and allows them to appreciate the diversities within the continent of Africa. It also helps students move away from a vision of Africa as a monolithic entity and to appreciate the bias within terms like “native” so that students can develop a more sophisticated and informed picture of life in Africa.
The topic of Religion, Nationalism and Postcolonialism offers opportunities for students to interrogate British representations of Afghan-Anglo contact since the early nineteenth century as well as considering contemporary issues such as the British news media coverage of Afghan women and the burka in 2001.
Further general points:
- Care should be taken to ensure that cultural diversity matters are not marginalised through the inappropriate location or presentation of materials: for example, different cultural perspectives should not be presented as the “other” or located within a box labelled “multicultural perspectives”.
- When referring to groups, avoid using catch-all phrases such as “All Egyptian people are… ”, which are stereotyping. Statements using, for example, “some” are likely to be more accurate. Equally, when students use pejorative statements, ask them to reflect on their generalisations. If stereotypes are being discussed, ensure that this is done from a critical basis.
- Culture is not static and does vary. It can be interpreted differently by individuals from apparently similar cultural backgrounds. It is important to avoid assumptions that people from the same country or ethnic background have similar outlooks or preferences.
- Working with people from other cultures and nationalities does not make us experts on all individuals from those backgrounds, so care needs to be taken not to impose previously obtained knowledge on individuals or groups from those backgrounds or nationalities you are currently working with.
2.2Checking for bias either by omission or commission in order to counter stereotypes or biased information
Analysis of a topic or subject from a range of views will ensure that students can make up their own minds on a more informed basis.
For example, in a business studies class, one of the course readings contains an article written on the topic of discrimination in the workplace. In one part it states that, according to a survey, racist discrimination is clearly decreasing as the number of cases reported has declined.
Students could be asked to think critically on this point, and compare it to other research: is racial discriminationgenuinely on the decline or are there reasons why racial discrimination may not be being reported? For example, is there an adequate system that deals with racial discriminationin those organisations? Did the research consider all forms of racism (overt, covert and institutional)?