Mindsets: Sitting at the table
In this post, Vikki Hill (Project Associate: Creative Mindsets) outlines the work of the UAL Creative Mindsets Team over the past 3 months and introduces Emma Clayton (CSM Fine Art Alumni and UAL Creative Mindsets Team Member) who considers the positioning and responsibility of team members in facilitating workshops.
At University of the Arts London, we have re-branded the Changing Mindsets intervention as UAL Creative Mindsets, to more closely align with the UAL Creative Attributes Framework and the context and culture of the creative arts, design, fashion and communication university.
This academic year, for Cohort 2, our aim has been to upscale the project and deliver it to at least 3 courses per college and to bespoke the workshop content for subject disciplines. We wanted to interrogate whether we could embed UAL Creative Mindsets within the university to, in effect, change the culture, create buy-in and enthusiasm for the work to address student attainment and implicit bias. The design of the UAL Creative Mindsets workshops has been largely influenced by Paulo Freire’s application of critical pedagogy to consider how to challenge ideas of intelligence/ talent being static, fixed or biological concepts and we explore this to further challenge the limiting effects of bias and stereotype threat.
Since October 2018 we have run 61 workshops across five colleges (Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Fashion and London College of Communication). Zey Suka-Bill, Associate Dean of Progression, Attainment and Support at London College of Communication, organized for the workshops to be part of the LCC Year 1 Student Induction across the college and we worked with 870 students. Zey wrote that;
Involving all the new first-year students in the Creative Mindsets programme here at LCC goes beyond improving attainment, it was an excellent opportunity to give students space at the beginning of their studies to view their creativity as development rather than something set in stone. The team proved that this initiative is beyond just improving an individuals’ attainment but allows students to better cope with transition, by promoting high expectations, resilience and pro-social behaviours.
This term, we have worked with 38% of Year 1 UAL Students (approx 2,000) and a total of 120 staff. To upscale the project and to test a sustainable model, we brought together current UAL students and Alumni to create the UAL Creative Mindsets Team to co-facilitate and co-produce materials for the workshops. The Team have worked with commitment across the colleges in studios, lectures theatre and teaching spaces and engaged in discussion with staff and students from 33 courses. They attended a bespoke 2-day Thinking Teaching Course which introduces participants to teaching in higher education; Intercultural and Communication Training workshop facilitated by the Language Centre and a session with Dr Gurnam Singh, on facilitating anti-racist workshops. In addition to running workshops, the team have been inspired to engage with the work through their own creative practice and to develop new modes of enquiry and reflection.
During my time as a facilitator of the Creative Mindsets workshops, we occupied numerous spaces, which a variety of people filled. In every setting the arrangement of the furniture changed, and the makeup of people on the chairs was different. In any case, no two workshops were ever the same. Each time, someone brought a new question or perspective to the table that we as facilitators hadn’t considered before. Sometimes, this meant thinking on our feet, coming up with answers to satiate the questioners. But often, it meant opening out conversations even further. Admitting that not everything has a concrete answer to it – the answers instead are made up of the shifting dialogues a room of people can create.
This got me to thinking about our role in that room, the sense of responsibility hosting these sessions carries; to be able to handle whatever happens in that space – calmly, with reason. By inviting people to start having conversations about diversity, racism, queerness, gender etc. – issues that can deeply impact those speaking about them – you imply that you will ensure that space is safe. That each individual’s thoughts and feelings will be counted for and explored. Uncertainties exposed in an empathetic environment, and support given where necessary.
That is a large promise to uphold.
But we try with integrity and passion to keep it, we introduce these discussions and see them through and beyond these sessions. Even when the conversation toughens and we don’t know all the answers, we try to keep a space open for postulation to journey through.
I started to think through this role in relation to hosting a dinner party, considering what this means for one’s guests as well as for oneself.
To host, a dinner
When you invite people to sit at your table, from what position do you do so?
Do you feel that it is your table to invite people to? That an exchange of your money for an oak dining table many years ago means you have the right to decide who gets to sit at it, still?
When a person sits at your table, do they change the weight of it?
Do they alter the composition, the pace of the conversation and the directions it will flow?
(This is an excerpt from a longer text called ‘Cooking dinner for someone puts your body to work’)
Printed materials designed by Andreea Stan @andreeadianastan