What we learn we learn by doing
Written by: Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark, BA Fine Art Alumni of Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London (UAL), Visual Artist and Junior Editor at Shades of Noir
As the discussion regarding race in Higher Education and society grows ever bigger, the New Year always seem to bring with it a renewed sense of hope in regards to tackling the challenges of the year before. To set the tone for the motivations of a wholly New Year, we should be reminded that the present is always informed by the past. Thus, we must continue to remind ourselves that as we advance speedily into this New Year, that we are only at the start of combating the symptoms of Institutional Racism concerning B.A.M.E (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students – a term which I am loathed to use because I feel that it is reductive, and fails to address the needs of students from culturally diverse background because despite our commonality, have bound up within them a unique set of individual concerns – in regards to the alarming national gaps surrounding attainment and retention (as explained in the Changing Mindsets mid-project report).
The OfS-funded project at University of the Arts London, now called UAL Creative Mindsets (to more closely link to a creative context), challenges the ‘deficit model’ account of why BAME students are ‘underachieving’, by focusing on closing ‘Attainment Gaps’ in Higher Education. In the workshops, staff and students alike are asked to consider how we might challenge fixed notions of talent and intelligence in art and design education, ‘How do we as artists & educators create an inclusive pedagogy, and address the limiting effects of implicit bias and stereotype threat on all people(s) under the remit of the institution?’ Led by Vikki Hill as Project Associate UAL Creative Mindsets is an intervention tailored to developing ‘Growth Mindsets’ in order to address issues surrounding inequality and inclusivity in yet another step towards ‘Decolonising’ the Art & Design curriculum at UAL. In our attempt to target subject-specific curriculum organisation/ frameworks and institutional policy as a means to ensuring long standing institutional changes this, is my opinion, is why projects such as UAL Creative Mindsets are so important and necessary; highlighting three key project themes which largely inform the impetus of the project: (1) an individual’s (fixed or growth) ‘Mindset’, (2) issues surrounding ‘Implicit Bias’ and (3) the concept of ‘Stereotype Threat’ within the context and culture of the creative art, design, fashion and communication institutions.
Maisha Islam (delegate and student panelist from the University of Winchester, currently interrogating race and religion (specifically Islam) within Higher Education) on the subject considered whether it was the need for ‘Changing Mindsets’ or ‘Changing (Institutional) Culture?’ in her reflection on the 2018 ‘Changing Mindsets Mid-Project Conference’ (late-June). I suppose then, my experience of being a member of the UAL Creative Mindsets team was simultaneously enlightening and thought-provoking. As a recent graduate from UAL (Camberwell MA Fine Art Alumni and Shades of Noir Team Member) who can relate to the many themes that this project highlights as a student of colour, it was bizarre to be on the other side of the curtain as it were; having to have to consider my own positioning and responsibility as both ex-student, a quote-on-quote- ‘B.A.M.E’ student whilst simultaneously facilitating workshops and conducting cross-generational conversations, having to similarly adopt a ‘Growth Mindset’ whilst engaging and teaching within this context. In hindsight I, on many occasions, suffered from what resembled ‘Imposter Syndrome’. Thus, encouraging and supporting practices through considering the benefits of a ‘Growth Mindset’ students’ attitudes to learning, the clear symptoms of Implicit Bias within an institutional setting and that many symbolisms and disadvantages of Stereotype Threat within a classroom context then becomes a strategic progressive interpositioning for any individual – regardless of race or cultural background – whilst studying within a predominantly White institution.
‘I Don’t See In Colour’ (2018) by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark is part of the UAL Creative Mindsets online showcase and can be accessed here: https://ualcreativemindsets.myblog.arts.ac.uk/online-showcase/
This academic year I have – alongside several current and ex-students – co-facilitated and co-produced materials for the workshops and have delivered the project university-wide via a bespoke presentation tailored to the multiplicity of subject disciplines. This was supported by expert training related specifically to Intercultural and Communication Training workshop facilitated by the Language Centre and a session with Dr Gurnam Singh on how best to facilitate anti-racist workshops (you can read my article, ‘How to facilitate open discussions about racism, implicit bias and stereotypes in the workshop setting here). We wanted to assess whether we could embed the ethos of the project with first-year students and affiliated staff to, in effect, change the culture. Hence, my 6 month commitment to cross-college teaching and discussion with staff and students from approximately 33 courses brought with it a range of perspectives that have inspired both myself and current students to engage with many of the themes of the project through their own creative practice and to develop new modes of enquiry and reflection throughout the upcoming academic career. The project centered and linked creativity and innovation to engender conversations around race & class and the need to carve out ‘safe-spaces’ as integral to all HE institutions.
I suppose then that as a person of colour my participation in the project evolved into the idea of no longer having to silencing ‘authentic’ parts of yourself which are key to creative growth. No longer having to censor yourself on the topic of race due to the inability of the majority of White individuals to fully consider the implications of race-based treatment within society.
I suppose then that as a person of colour my participation in the project evolved into the idea of no longer having to silencing ‘authentic’ parts of yourself which are key to creative growth. No longer having to censor yourself on the topic of race due to the inability of the majority of White individuals to fully consider the implications of race-based treatment within society. ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ therefore is about much more than simply moving away from White, middle-class perspectives and challenging institutions to look at literature from a wider set of sources. It is to cultivate an institutional ecology which speaks to the interests, passions and backgrounds not only regarding of students of colour, but all creative practitioners presumed under its remit.
Never forget: What we learn, we learn by doing.
The most recent Terms of Reference (ToR) from Shades of Noir can be accessed here: http://shadesofnoir.org.uk/body-politic/
D’Clark, R. S. (2019) How to facilitate open discussions about racism, implicit bias and stereotypes in the workshop setting can be accessed here: http://shadesofnoir.org.uk/how-to-facilitate-open-discussions-about-racism-implicit-bias-and-stereotypes-in-the-workshop-setting-by-dr-gurnam-singh-cbe/
- Changing Mindsets. (n.d.). Sitting at the Table: Vikki Hill and Emma Clayton – Changing Mindsets. [online] Available at: http://mindsets.port.ac.uk/?p=2109 [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
- D’Clark, R. S. (2019) How to facilitate open discussions about racism, implicit bias and stereotypes in the workshop setting
- Dweck, C. (2017). Mindset-updated edition: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Hachette UK.
- Islam, M. (2018). Changing Mindsets or Changing Culture? Why not both! A reflection of the 2018 Changing Mindsets Mid-Project Conference – Changing Mindsets. [online] Changing Mindsets. Available at: http://mindsets.port.ac.uk/?p=2027 [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
- UAL – Canvas. (n.d.). Intercultural and Communication Training (ICT). [online] Available at: https://canvas.arts.ac.uk/sites/working-at-ual/SitePage/45349/intercultural-and-communication-training-ict#2 [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
- myblog.arts.ac.uk. (n.d.). UAL Creative Mindsets | A OfS funded project focused on reducing barriers to success in higher education. [online] Available at: https://ualcreativemindsets.myblog.arts.ac.uk [Accessed 14 Feb. 2019].
Photo Credit: Gareth Johnson, Shannon Bono and Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark