Decolonise University of York SU’s Vision

Read the full vision here

In October 2019, GSA VP Wellbeing&Community, GSA VP Academic, and YUSU Academic Officer
initiated a campaign to decolonise and diversify the University of York. The focus of the campaign was to
work with student groups in order to deliver to the University a vision of our contributions in the task of
decolonising University of York. During the past year, both unions have organised several events and
workshops that focused on how to decolonise research, looking at good practice at departments in York,
questioning how to build an anti-racist student community, and hosting student forums such as Decolonize
UoY Student Forum. Central to this campaign has been the role of students, as we wanted to develop a
collective student-led vision for a diversified and liberated the University of York. The result of the
campaign is this document, where we have synthesized this year’s debates and our
recommendations in the following areas: decolonize education, decolonize the community and decolonize
the institution.

As unions in an academic field, we started this campaign by asking ourselves several questions, most of them
focused on our role and the different approaches to racial issues in higher education. Some of the questions
we opened to our student community and that have accompanied us along the year have been: What’s the
difference between decolonising and diversifying? Does the language matter? What do we mean when we
refer to decolonise and diversify the curriculum? Does including all marginalised voices/groups/histories etc
dilute the problematization of race and coloniality? How do we discuss oppression when we are not part of
that community? When and where is our place to discuss? Do black students receive targeted and specialised
support that understand their particular needs and experiences? How does racism impact the student
community? Are racial conflicts being addressed by our uni? Are black students, and the wider BAME
student community, represented in the student representation system at York?

These questions led to fruitful discussions where the student body responded remarkably. We believe that
the massive student engagement we had with this campaign during the year proves how debates about
racism and colonialism are a priority and a matter of interest and concern in the student community. And
for that reason we would welcome University of York to listen and act upon some of the suggested changes
that our students have proposed.

Even if we are aware of initiatives of good practice within the University structure such as the Inclusive
Learning and Teaching Project and University Committees such as Campus Cohesion Committee and
Equality Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we would appreciate to see a the University receiving an
acting upon the SUs Vision which reflect the students expectations and perspectives. Some of the issues that
students put forward were that they would like to see a University-wide commitment to the anti-racist
struggle thourgh creating BAME and gender-specific leadership developing opportunities, developing an
anti-racist strategic plan that centers BAME students as a core part of their institutional strategy and explicitly recognising and addressing the BAME attaining/awarding gap setting a target to eliminate it by

We understand how difficult it is to engage in this discussion. This path hasn’t gone without challenges for
the unions too. In the past months, we have also been aware of internal changes that need to be done in
order to support our students’ views, and this reflection can be seen in the GSA statement of support to
BLM where the union committed to be held accountable and responsible as an institution.
With this student-led vision on recommendations and proposals to decolonise University of York, we hope
to be able to start interrogating the canon, challenging long standing biases and omissions that limit our
understanding and provide a our students and staff with the tools to critically identify how the university
reproduces hierarchies.

Some reading that we would recommend in order to familiarize yourself with racial issues in the HE sector are:

Continuation Gap (2020)- Office for Students
BAME Student Attainment Gap Report (2019) – UUK
Black Attainment Gap Survey – NUS
< 1% black professors in UK (2020) – The Guardian
Equality in higher education (2017)- AdvanceHE
Why is my curriculum White? (2015) – NUS
Race Equality Report (2011) – NUS

Other SUs initiatives have been of great help and reference for this piece of work, if you would like
to take a look at what other SUs are doing you can check:

Goldsmith SU
Keele SU
Birkbeck SU

13th October 2020