DSU launches campaign to decolonise Durham


Durham Students’ Union has launched its campaign to decolonise Durham University, a scheme spearheaded by the current Undergraduate Officer, Sam Johnson-Audini.

The campaign involves the publication of a seven page manifesto, as well as the launch of a ‘Decolonise Durham Network’, which aims to “bring together students and staff to think critically about education and the university as a whole.”

The manifesto is broken into three sections, ‘What?’, ‘Why?’, and ‘Principles Moving Forward.’

‘What?’ describes how “Colonialism is prevalent in many forms of education, especially formal education. It influences how we learn, what we learn, and why we learn it”.

It outlines how “What we learn is overwhelmingly, if not exclusively, knowledge produced by and centred around the Global West, putting the achievements and knowledge of the West above those of other regions, centring them as the producers and owners of knowledge”.

It also posits that decolonisation does not happen within a vacuum, siting how the commodification and marketization of higher education have reinforced and continue to promote colonial perspectives.

‘Why?’ outlines the reasons for which the campaign is important. It argues that “Decolonising the university is both an inherent moral good and an academic good.”

The manifesto also describes how Durham has perpetuated the effects of colonialism through its failure to appoint and promote BAME staff. By doing so, “we implicitly teach students who has knowledge, and as we’ve said before, knowledge is power”.

This part of the manifesto argues that problems in BAME staff recruitment and promotion are mirrored by the student population, contending that the University’s target to recruit an extra 25 students of colour per year will not change Durham’s environment. Instead, “it is just going to put a few more people through an institution that has been and continues to ignore their needs.”

The third and most detailed section, ‘Principles moving forward’, outlines six grounding values and priorities for the campaign moving forward. These are: ‘Education’, ‘Understanding past colonial activity and ongoing complicity’, ‘International students’, ‘Climate justice’, ‘Unpaid labour’, and ‘The hierarchy’.

The full manifesto can be read here.

Johnson-Audini told Palatinate that: “The launch of this campaign has taken a year, the main reason for that is we knew that we had to be clear in our vision or we would risk the demand to decolonise become yet another buzzword to be watered down and be co-opted. 

“The manifesto lays out clear principles for the University to undertake decolonise work, because the mission is not just to put a few more people of colour on our reading lists, it’s to radically reimagine how our institution is structured and how it functions. 

“Any decolonial task is not easy, especially for an institution like Durham that is so entwined with the colonial past and present, where every day racism has become the norm. The campaign and its demands are radical, and it must be in order to genuinely achieve the change we need.”

Since the sabbatical post of SU Undergraduate Officer has a one year tenure, Johnson-Audini will soon be replaced by Nailah Haque in the role. Haque told Palatinate why and how it is important to continue Johnson-Audini’s work on decolonisation: “A big part of what I want to do is push the university to show a tangible commitment to decolonise by resourcing and funding their departments. This should be part of a wider commitment to anti-racism that isn’t performative like most of Durham’s previous efforts.”

Image: Durham Students’ Union

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