In 2017, the Director of Student Experience and three undergraduate students from the Department of History produced the BAME History Undergraduate Student Report. It was a collaborative report which focused specifically on the experiences, as captured through qualitative and quantitative data, of students of colour in the Department of History.
Department(s) / colleagues involved
Department of History: Dr Meleisa Ono-George, Director of Student Experience; Khadija Lewis, UG student (now graduated); Sue Lemos, UG student (now graduated); Mohammed Abraar, UG student (now in final year)
Our aim was to …
The aim of the report was to gain deeper insight into BAME undergraduate experiences specifically within in the Department of History at the University of Warwick. Whilst there are national and institutional reports on issues impacting BAME students, in order to effectively begin to address these issues within the department, the Director of Student Experience felt it important to drill down further and identify the particularities within the department. Thus, the focus of this report was to:
- Identify any structural or cultural challenges or barriers within the History Department modules that impact BAME experiences
- Obtain anecdotal accounts of BAME experiences in the History Department
- Identify any areas where the Department was failing to adequately support students’ learning, engagement and attainment
- Obtain suggestions from our own students on how the Department can better support and engage BME students, academically but also throughout their university experience, and devise an action plan on how these suggestions can be implemented
What we did …
The production of the report was financially supported by the Department of History and Dr Ono-George was given time to develop and organize this project. As a student of Critical Race Theory, Ono-George insisted that at the heart of this project should be the understanding that the voices of students of colour must be included in addressing the challenges they face in Higher Education, and that their contributions should be recognized as valuable work that contributes positively to the University. Thus two undergraduate student facilitators and a student co-facilitator were hired by the department. A focus group and survey were organised to gather feedback from other students of colour in the Department of History about their experiences within the department and wider university. Dr Ono-George examined the quantitative data over the past years on BAME student access, attainment and progression in the Department of History. Drawing on the very limited research of BAME student experience in History nationally to provide context and framing, the team worked together to produce the BAME History Student Report, 2017. Together the quantitative and qualitative data provided a picture of the particular challenges for BAME students at Warwick, but more specifically within the department.
The outcome has been …
The report captured the breadth of both positive and negative experiences of BAME students in the Department of History. Though preliminary, the report provided the Department with a clear indication of issues that should be addressed. Some of these include:
1. There was a significant discrepancy in the attainment of a first-class degree for students who identified as ‘white’ and those who identified in one of the BAME categories. This was different from the institutional picture, which shows, in line with national data, that the discrepancies are between ‘good honours’, which includes first and 2.1. The discrepancy in attainment of a 2.1 was marginal within the Department of History.
2. This gap in attainment is particularly wide between white students and those who identified as either Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Chinese, Asian Other) or Black (Black Caribbean, Black African, Black Other). This suggested that when it comes to student experience, the catch-all categories of ‘BAME’ or ‘BME’ may obscure more than they illuminates and need to be broken down as much as possible.
3. Though the Department has challenges around attainment and progression, it has steadily increased its population of students who identified as BAME.
1. Instances of racism did not just occur in residential or social spaces, but were also experienced within the Department classroom
2. The microaggressions students experienced involved both staff and students remarks or actions.
3. Students recognised that microagressions are not necessarily intentional but the result of teaching staff unable to suitably handle difficult, sensitive or controversial topics
4. Students reported that more attention to History topics of the Global South (ie. not centred on Europe) and intersectional approaches would show the department’s commitment to teaching History to all students. Students preferred that topics such as gender and race should not be tagged onto a module, but integrated throughout.
5. The lack of staff of colour was also reported to have a negative impact on students’ experiences. In this, students referred not just to teaching staff but also those supporting students’ wellbeing. The latter is perhaps best understood in the context of students seeking support and needing to feel confident that staff would understand their challenges.
The benefit/impact has been …
A deeper understanding of nuances of BAME student experience, from a student perspective and specific to the department and discipline. While some issues identified by students were institutional, many were issues that could be addressed at Department level. As the Department revises the curriculum, the input from our students of colour provided invaluable guidance on where we should be focusing.
This supports the Education Strategy by …
The report was partially student-led, employing students to put into practice the research and critical analysis skills learned in the classroom. The report also illuminates, at the department level, the challenges for students of colour and suggestions in the way the department and university can address these specific issues and better support our students. For instance, creating an inclusive curriculum, as set out in the Education Strategy and supported by the findings of this report, is certainly one of ways the university can look at creating a more global, diverse and widely supportive university community. However, the report also illuminates that the issues faced by students of colour and that negatively impact student experience is much more than the curriculum. The report sets out a series of possible steps that can be taken to create positive change.
The response of students / staff has been …
The report has been positively received both within the department and certain areas of the university, but also among some historians and history departments nationally.
Our next steps will be …
Some of the findings of the report were presented on 11 June 2018 as a part of plenary talk given by Dr Ono-George and one of the student facilitators, Sue Lemos, at the annual conference for the Social History Society, a learned society of historians in the UK. The full presentation can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgVN6JvePOQ
Dr Ono-George has continued research on BAME student experience, specifically focused on the connections of student experience with the discipline of History nationally, as well as anti-racist pedagogy. She was appointed as chair of the WIHEA learning circle ‘Anti-Racist Pedagogy and Process in HE’, which will focus on how anti-racist pedagogy can contribute to addressing the BAME attainment gap and racial inequality in HE. Part of the aim of the learning circle is to support and assist departments in conducting research in this area and devising possible solutions that address department-specific challenges.
To find out more, you can contact …
Dr Meleisa Ono-George, Director of Student Experience, Department of History - Meleisa dot P dot Ono-George at warwick dot ac dot uk