My conversation with the Co-Holder, UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education – Prof. Budd L. Hall.

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By Luqman Temitayo Onikosi – (I am dyslexic. I tend to make unintended grammatical error). 

My quest for solution in course of researching how the University of Sussex decolonize it education? led me to discover that systemic ‘epistemicide‘ as a direct result of coloniality in education system in the UK. Let me explain.

I first came across the epistemology of ‘pluriversality‘  when I was having dialectical conversation with my political and intellectual mentor, Kofi Mawuli Klu. At the time, in 2015, in the final stages of my MA Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex, my right to study was forcefully and abruptly withdrawn due to demand from the Home Office. In other not to feel defeated, so I decided to get busy by focusing my mental energy and strength, despite the fact that I am struggling depression and my physical health is evidently deteriorating  and facing forceful detention and deportation to Nigeria where there is no adequate medical infrastructure required to keep me alive. My battle to stay in the UK on medical grounds, in other words, is a fight to stay alive.

I will like to contextualize this as element of coloniality of the UK immigration system as manifestation of ‘state violence’ unleashed against non EU international students bodies through the Tory government draconian immigration policies. As Therasa May put it, student bodies from countries like Africa, India, Pakistan etc are ‘high risk students’! This is the kind of political language that has being use to demonise non EU international students. What this simply means is that, these bodies (now EU international students), are of lesser human being who are consider highly disposable by Tory government. Even though unequivocally the UK Tory government need non EU international students money to contribute into UK economy, by the way non EU international students contribute up to £40billion a year to, excluding the trickle down effect of student day to day economic contribution to their local communities through house rent, shopping, families and friends visits et.c. Yet, our lives do not matter nor do our bodies count. This beg for the question whose lives matter? whose lives deserves to be preserved or whose insignificant, ultimately unworthy of saving?  

Never the less, over the last years, university campuses that is epitome of free communal spaces, where freedom of academia intellects cross fertilise and germinate deep-rooted gargantuan baobab tree of knowledge, as in fact, have been systemically forced by the Conservative government to become faceless, draconian and effective border guards, and to monitor international students’ attendance at the risk of being accused of facilitating ‘illegal immigration’ and in effect the university can lose its so call ‘license’ to recruit non EU international students. Consequentially, lose its international rating and reputation. This fundamentally urges me to ask, so who qualifies to acquire knowledge, if truly education is a right not a privileged and should be equally accessible? dialectically, is the UK state, in itself that glorify ‘equality and diversity’, systemically hand picking what bodies could enter this academic spaces, therefore directly influencing whose knowledge counts and whose knowledge doesn’t?    

This in it self, is a glaring testimony of the existence of coloniality at the universities in the UK, from Oxford to University of Sussex, imposed by the British state upon them.

While this was at the background of my personal struggle, I decided to take on the challenge on researching how the Sussex could decolonize its curriculum/institution. At the beginning of my research I felt like I was in a sea of confusion of thoughts with no clue where to begin.

While on the one hand, trying to avoid to adopt the traditional methodology in academe whereby, the possible out come of ones research is hinted or defined at the inception of the research. Instead, I wanted my investigation to define my research out come. Also to lead me to the facts, questions and to defines my approach. The down side of this was that my research proposal question keeps changing and get longer and longer.

On the other, it did not want to repeat the same mistakes or failure of other ‘decolonize the curriculum’ or ‘why is my professor white’ campaigns. By the way, my port of call in the inception of my research was to investigate the campaign strategies of these groups across the world. Most of the campaigns on decolonization on the UK universities grounds collapsed because there was polarized campaign between students centered ‘decolonize campaign’ or scholar led campaign. Most of the time they left the ‘community scholar activist’ out of the campaign especially does domicile in the Global South, whom in the first place had actually been, from time in memorial, fighting for ‘mainstreaming’ of their indigenous knowledge or calling for a different epistemologies, that is not eurocentric, in the understanding of their communities issues.

When you compare this to South Africa #feesmustfall which has its origin in #rhodemustfall.  I noticed why the ‘Rhode Must Fall’ South Africa was successful in its ongoing campaign and struggle was because there were nexus of solidarities across the spectrum between students, academics, community scholar activist and even political parties like Economic Freedom Fighters Party that broke away from African National Congress (ANC). So I decided that my research with follow that #rhodemustfall strategy for me research.

Never the less, I had no idea the ramification of facts of the out come of research would point to the power brokerage in decision making in Higher Education, especially since the slogan of Race Equality and Diversity is never sang so loud more than the UK education sector and its institutions. The ‘power brokerage‘ in decision making in the education institution that I am referring to is severely concentrated in the hand of ‘dominant minority’ groups such as the White Male, with the minority and underrepresented group mostly BME Female academics, at the bottom cadre to pick on the crumbs of what is left behind in the aftermath of ‘power brokerage’. Keeping this factor, ‘power brokerage’ in mind, it defines everything, from who get what type of contract such as ‘permanent’, ‘fixed term’ or ‘seasonal contract’ to time spent on teaching load or time spent on producing bodies of work which in turn defines who merit who get promoted e.g. to professorial level.  It is not coincidental that majority on ‘fixed term’ contract are BME academics and majority those of permanent contracts are White Male and next on the cadre is White Female, which make so conclude, that ‘gender’ or ‘feminism’ is itself, is severely racialized.

Never the less, some research even went further back in search for some answers to why this is the case. When I interviewed the UK NUS Black Student Officer Malia Bouattia for my research in December just before the close of work for Christmas festive in 2015. Malia argued that to understand the problem of why we are still talking about racism, inequality and injustice in education institution, 50 year after the institutionalization of Race Equality and Diversity Act in the UK, that some of the answers lies in the ‘problemitization of Black child‘ in their time early education system. Black Child are misunderstand or lack of interest to understand these Black children has cost so many ‘Black Child’ to be excluded from school or misdiagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or the mental health diagnosis. These, no doubt, has significant consequent in the reproduction of the stigmatization of the ‘Black bodies’ in the education system, as ‘aggressive’, ‘trouble maker’ or even ‘violent’.

‘Trouble maker’ in fact is some of the academics that I have interviewed has said they were referred to when they raised the issue of race especially around the issues ‘gender’ as it affect them in the work places or when identified any research area that has a tangent with ‘race’, after all, we live in the ‘post racial era’.

The consequence of the ramification of ‘power brokerage’ concentrated in the hands of ‘dominant minority’ in Higher Education system in the UK, therefore, perpetuate  a ‘universal’ Eurocentric epistemology.  The thought of this terrifies me. Although, Walter Mignolo argued for ‘pluriversality‘ to mitigate ‘universal’ Eurocentric thinking. However, I felt he did not present the case for cognitive justice in knowledge production and preservation.

Somehow, while having dialectical conversation with Kofi as regards one of the trajectories of my research, which is the campaign phase and lamenting on the frustration to put together diverse Global South panelist for the conference and seminar/workshop to  discuss this issues in the coming week of the 11th of April, 2016. He encouraged to write to Prof. Budd Hall because he has written on cognitive justice.  I did write to Prof. Budd Hall and guess what he replied. Well initially, I invited him as special guest speaker at the University of Sussex for the conference aforementioned. In the course of the formal courtesy, we discussed each others area of interest in the ‘decolonizing the curriculum’ and why it is important that UNESCO join the lead conversation and campaign. He drew my attention one his speech Beyond Epistemicide: Knowledge Democracy and Higher Education’ (you can read it by clicking here) where he addressed the question decolonizing the institution and question of ‘pluriversality’.

To be honest, my intention was to skim through it. Lying on my stomach, I began skimming through the introduction and just right at the bottom B-O-O-O-M , I read ‘ I want to speak of past and continuing cultural genocides, linguicides and epistemicides. And I want to speak about both the complicity of the modern university in maintaining unequal knowledge hierarchies. I also want to provide evidence of a possible turning in the world of higher education’. Now, I hurried sit upright and started reading carefully. Reason being that, I have never come the term ‘cultural genocides, linguicides and epistemicides’. Now I am eager to know more and all!!!  

Prof. Budd L. Hall, put it simply, the ‘the killing of knowledge systems’ or the systematic preclusion of knowledge production of academic canon or epistemology that reflect the realities of the minoritised and racialised people of the Global South in the UK education system.

I could not resist the temptation to write to Prof. Budd night of Saturday the 10th of January 2016, enthusiastically to ask question does he think University of Sussex is committing or perpetuating epistemicide? To my humble surprise he replied early morning of Sunday the 11th of January and reads:

‘You ask is the University of Sussex continuing to contribute to contemporary epistemicide?  A couple things to keep in mind.  One is that the University of Sussex does not exist in an autonomous knowledge management universe.  The University of Sussex, while having its own niche in the High Education world, is part of what I sometimes refer to as the World University.  If you were to drop into the campus at Makerere University, the University of Victoria, Delhi University, the Sorbonne, the University of Buenos Aires, you would feel at home in the sense that you would recognise the subjects being taught, most of the scholars being referred to (dominated by white european male scholars) and would know how to move about in that academic world.  So to ask if the University of Sussex promotes epistemicide is to ask to what degrees the contemporary global university continues to promote epistemicide. 

My second point is that in spite of corporatization of higher education, universities remain one of the rich spaces for democratic knowledge exchange.  Universities are spaces of contestation with the market doing its best to shape HE futures, the state having its agenda, middle class parents wanting a place to confer on going class status through graduation andŠ.this is an important and it is a place where you and your colleagues and persons like you all over the world have found space to interrogate, advocate, reflect on a more inclusive, more democratic and more engaged forms of scholarship.  At our university we face the same challenges how to decolonize our curriculum?  One strategic angle that we believe is a way to move forward is the hire Indigenous scholars and support them to do the kinds of place-based and community based research that they are calling for.

So my answer is yes, University of Sussex, along with other universities continue to perpetuate epistemicide but also University of Sussex, like other universities contain groups of scholars such as yourself and many others who are knowledge activists in the decolonisation process.’

I was like, AWESOME!!!



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