[1/9/17] Institutions of higher education have increasingly become anti-white and make no attempt to hide it. Just last month, a professor at Drexel University tweeted, without repercussions, that his Christmas wish was for white genocide, while students at the University of Pennsylvania decided to remove a portrait of William Shakespeare in place of a photo of an African-American writer in the name of diversity. Now, students at the world-renowned University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SAOS) are demanding that white philosophers be eliminated from the course curriculum.
According to the student union at SOAS, “the majority of philosophers on our courses” should hail from Africa and Asia, as opposed to white, Western philosophers such as Plato, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, and Bertrand Russel. The union claims the change is part of an effort to “decolonise” the college, which they claim is a “white institution.”
In a list of educational priorities put out by the student union entitled “Decolonising SOAS: Confronting The White Institution,” the student union begins, “Whilst these priorities are primarily concerned with academic and educational issues, they are often informed by wider welfare, financial and extracurricular issues.” The statement was written by Ali Habib, a democracy and education union officer who serves on SOAS’s governing board of trustees, according to the Daily Mail.
The document describes “decolonizing SOAS” as a campaign that “aims to address the structural and epistemological legacy of colonialism within our university.”
It continues, “We believe that SOAS should take a lead on such questions given its unique history within British colonialism. In light of the centenary and SOAS’ aims of curating a vision for itself for the next 100 years, this conversation is pivotal for its future direction.”
The union lists several ways in which the school can achieve its goal of “confronting the white institution”:
1. To hold events that will engage in a wider discussion about expressions of racial and economic inequality at the university, focusing on SOAS.
2. To address histories of erasure prevalent in the curriculum with a particular focus on SOAS’ colonial origins and present alternative ways of knowing.
3. To interrogate SOAS’ self-image as progressive and diverse.
4. To use the centenary year as a point of intervention to discuss how the university must move forward and demand that we, as students of colour, are involved in the curriculum review process.
5. To review 10 first year courses, working with academics to discuss points of revamp, reform and in some cases overhaul.
6. To make sure that the majority of the philosophers on our courses are from the Global South or it’s diaspora. SOAS’s focus is on Asia and Africa and therefore the foundations of its theories should be presented by Asian or African philosophers (or the diaspora).
In accordance with this aim, white philosophers are only to be studied “if required.”
The final item on the list states, “If white philosophers are required, then to teach their work from a critical standpoint. For example, acknowledging the colonial context in which so-called ‘Enlightenment’ philosophers wrote within.”
Another goal listed among the education priorities is “tackling the attainment gap,” which the union claims unfairly impacts students of color and is the result of curriculum and teaching methods. The list of ways in which the union would like to see this gap addressed seems to ultimately involve allegations of racism whenever students of color are not as successful as their white counterparts: