Nationally, BME students are 16.1% less likely to achieve a 2:1 or First in their degree. At UCL this figure is 2.8%. At King's it is 12.8%. The debate last night centred around the question of "why is my curriculum white?" And staff at Kings College who attended the talks were unable to give sufficient explanations other than "it has always been that way. But we are working on it." Yet, many postgraduate courses which lead to professorships will not accept those who do not receive at least a 2.1. By the stats, we can see that most BME students will be cut out front the opportunity to change the curriculum by becoming part of those who teach it.
As an undergraduate I never noticed that the lack of Black professors was a nationwide problem. I was fortunate enough to be taught by two, one of whom supervised my dissertation on the impact of acculturation stress upon self esteem and the role of ethnic identity for Caribbean immigrants to the UK. My professor was African American and specialised in the role of ethnicity in psychology. He also taught at the University of The West Indies and our chance pairing was perfect for the issues I wanted to explore and I graduated with a first class degree.
However, speaking to psychology undergraduates at UCL I have heard quite the opposite. Many have voiced their concerns that they too had wanted to pursue particular modules and undertake their dissertations on the interplay of culture within psychology and psychiatry; but did not feel encouraged or supported by professors and therefore lacked confidence in their academic skills. Some professors just did not "get it." Similar views were shared by those in the English Literature department.
I realised that university curriculums are biased. Biased in a way that disadvantages people of colour. I had a similar experience when I started my masters. I was eager to extend my research in my speciality area by conducting my dissertation on the role of ethnic identity and culture in help seeking attitudes., but I was told that well "we just don't have the data for that."
***Well, can we go and collect some?***
"Nope, not a possibility. It's just easier if you just do what we already have."
A very famous scientist called Einstein (I think you may have heard of him) once said that "insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
How can we improve the sources of study, if we don't do anything different. If we keep accepting that "professor almighty Oxbridge graduate" knows best, then section me now.
I am paying short of £9000 for MY masters, but I cannot choose MY own research topic of interest? I thought a university education was supposed to harness individual thinking and various perceptions? Instead I'm being brainwashed to be whitewashed.
I posed the question to a Professor and Pro-Vost of Kings and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience - why is it that when BME persons make up the dominating ethnic group of mental health service users that yet, they are absent as the subjects of study in the psychology academia? His suggestion was that maybe professors are unaware. Such a fantastic response from someone educated to PhD level.
He tried to South my frustration by quoting a study that found that when a photo of Barack Obama was placed in a classroom, African American students were found to perform better at an academic task; as opposed to a photo of Bill Clinton.
All over campus we are inundated with busts of Freud, Darwin & Dickens. I had that infamous moment from the career defining Spike Lee film "Do The Right Thing" (which tackles racial tensions in Brooklyn, New York - peep my T-shirt in my photo) and questioned "so why ain't there any brothers up on the walls?"
Where are the busts, the photos and plaques in honour of Gandhi, Christine Ohuruogu and Charles K. Kao (all notable UCL alumni)?
Another student weighed in - "and I'm so tired of the professor getting my name wrong! I'm the only person of colour in the class, so you shouldn't be able to confuse me with anyone else." I couldn't help but chuckle. Maybe it wasn't confusion, maybe it's the tendency to auto correct (I'm sorry, I meant mispronounce) names like Gandhi, Ohuruogu and Kao, that actually reveals that we are not worthy of the few short repetitions it takes to learn how to correctly pronounce someone's name. In essence we are irrelevant. We have an ironically irrelevant presence in the classroom (even though we stand out more cause we are usually the token - insert your ethnicity - select your gender). We are irrelevant in the literature and we are irrelevant in the curriculum. For first class (muddas ass) institutions, we are receiving second class educations - and those overwhelming second class 2.2 degrees agree.