By Saniya Saraf
The Decolonise Durham Network held its first online panel event on the 23rd July.
Outgoing Undergraduate Officer Sam Johnson-Audini, moderator of the panel, summed up the mood at the end of the panel, with the following advice: “Hold yourself and your friends accountable”.
The panel included two academics: Professor Nayanika Mookherjee, widely recognised for her role in co-establishing the University’s BAME network, and Jason Arday Assistant Professor of Sociology from Durham University. They were joined by incoming SU President Seun Twins and NUS’s Liberation and Equality Vice President Sara Khan.
Twins offered a view of decolonisation in terms of “opening up the space to conceptualise how violence been applied to the space – if that’s higher education, job market or economics.” She continued “it’s how has the space been engineered to erase and also to diminish.”
Professor Mookherjee discussed how the process of decolonisation should take place, pointing out that changing the curriculum is only a fraction of the process. She said, “It’s really important to see that the university doesn’t see this as a branding exercise.”
Any “rebranding process”, Professor Mookherjee continued, should avoid erasure of “intersectional injustices” among staff and students. She stressed that “basic everyday decolonising needs to go side by side with any type of curriculum changes.” An example of this was “how we address people and how we enable with their names”.
Khan expressed her concern at what she saw as an “inevitability that the institution will corrupt the language of decolonisation, strip it of its teeth and make it an ‘equality, diversity and inclusion’ claim.” She said instead the University should present a “radical vision which is of education as a right and not a privilege.”
Twins also criticised what she saw as instances where “Durham actively prevents itself from being a self-reflective place”, citing the inaccessibility of Durham for many marginalised people. Decolonising Durham represents, she said, “an admission of laziness” as well as acceptance of institutional or cultural issues specific to Durham.
The Decolonise Durham Network was set up by outgoing Undergraduate Officer Sam Johnson-Audini in collaboration with the Durham People of Colour association. The event, held on 23rd July, was the first group’s first online panel.
Twins, in addition, expressed her view that the conversation around decolonising “needs to come from people who recognise and feel marginalised.”
Professor Hardy struck a positive note as well, praising “a real coming together of staff and student” that the Decolonising Network has constituted.
Khan herself brought in not only race but also its intersection with sexuality. “As a feminized and gendered person colonised defines every aspect of my life. Every time I try to define or place myself in this world, it’s something I come up against. Decolonisation is freeing and liberating. It feels like justice.”
Image: Durham Student’s Union