LET’S COUNT THE WAYS. Yes they are. If you say ‘no’, you are part of the problem. Decolonising the curriculum is a start. Get in touch to help us learn and do better.
HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT: As a BAME (and neurodivergent) woman from Singapore who has chosen to call UK home for 15 years, I am saddened to see things getting worse, not better, here. Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a human right. We must take the lead in Higher Education. Art and creativity can open up spaces of complexity, sublimity, and ambiguity to ask the difficult questions, to connect and to heal.
HYPOCRISY: But Art Schools and the arts sectors have always had a ‘diversity issue’. It is dangerous as it purports to be liberal and open. I have talked elsewhere about the profound biases and hierarchies of normality in ‘disability arts’ perpetrated by white women who are disabled or claim to be ‘allies’* (see below). Without 3 full scholarships I would have had to study more ‘practical’ subjects, let alone Fine Art, abroad, and as a ‘first generation’ of my working class family with a PhD (both parents left school before 16). With the pandemic, resources are even fewer, access for BAME communities into HE will be worsened. We must work even harder.
ACTION: The following are some of my initiatives. My approach is collaborative and I have invited colleagues to work with me. We must do more:
- As Programme Leader of a new MA/MFA (01/2022), I fully embed EDI in its contents and design. One module, will showcase leading international thinkers and makers and responds to the question ‘Why is my professor still not black’. This includes showcasing the research of leading BAME professors.
- Co-authoring a book on creative arts leadership. The profits will go towards a scholarship.
- I aim to propose a two-tier fee scheme, in which one above the cost price, which will subsidise scholarships for those from deprived backgrounds.
- I have been working with colleagues to create an Asian scholarship for Asians (including from the diasporas, and E, SE Asia, not just S Asia)
- Since April, I have instigated a fora for colleagues. These are discursive spaces, to connect across silos, to share live issues, for being critical friends and to look towards the future. We also have guests, experts to help us learn
- A key focus for the fora beginning from June will be on equality, diversity and inclusion through art and performance starting with ‘Race and Decolonising the Curriculum. We are keen also on a reading club. We will take as long as we need to. We want EDI to be a standing agenda in our culture and strategy.
- Drawing on good practices from institutions like King’s College London, I am keen to lead colleagues here to co-create creative toolkits to make equality do-able (not a nice to have), visible, accessible, outspoken, fun.
- Propose to curate art and performance programme to advance EDI
- Future themes will focus on other aspects of EDI including neurodiversity, gender and LGBTQIA+.
*ALLYSHIP: For the record, allyship is earned, not self-proclaimed. Not by reading a few textbooks, heroically working with people with protected characteristics as White Saviours to up your own street-cred but paying below professional rates and repeatedly misspelling/mispronouncing names and mistaking another ‘oriental’ person as you, and not changing an iota of their neuro-hetero-normative ways and in fact deepening them, fashionably clicking ‘likes’ and flashing black squares on a Tuesday afternoon and claiming solidarity and stealing credit from those on the ground, and being quick to ‘call out’ on others, and claim that they can ‘fix’ you and your disability. By paying them upwards of £250 a day.
Caption: Silence is Violence. #Blacklivesmatter. Tweet 31 May (Kai Syng Tan 2020).