Top Tips for successful applications: The Student-Led Anti-Racism Project Fund

The Education Incubator Team are looking forward to supporting students’ anti-racism project ideas, and empowering the students to disseminate this necessary work across the University of Exeter. In this blog, the Incubator Project Manager, Dr Tom Ritchie reflects on Radical Pedagogies, a project he ran as a student at the University of Kent which focused on decolonising the curriculum and anti-racist pedagogies. Throughout the blog, he gives some practical tips for students and staff to use when they are applying for the anti-racism project funds.

In 2016, I was sitting in a PGCHE session (LTHE is the Exeter equivalent), discussing the challenges faced by students in universities today. These included the BIPOC teaching and attainment gap, the need to decolonise the curriculum, as well as the challenges of access and support given students from low-income households, to LGBT+ students, and those entering the University from care.

What became quickly apparent in this class – full of other PhD students and Early-Career Researchers – was that the majority felt that decolonisation – along with the variety of challenges to successful teaching – was not their priority to address in their day-to-day roles.

The only other dissenter to this view was an English Literature PhD student, Claire Hurley. We spoke after the class and decided that if no-one else was going to try to fix these challenges, then we would try in our spare time. Our idea for what eventually became ‘Radical Pedagogies’ grew out of our collective frustration at this shirking of responsibility and type of inertia in universities, particularly when it came to resolving the prevalent challenges and barriers that students face year in and year out.

Tip #1: Make sure to find a collaborator (or three!) early on for your idea – their passions, perspectives, and support will be invaluable to develop your project idea.

We spoke on Facebook over the following few days, trying to decide what we could do to make a difference on these issues. We agreed that whatever we chose to do, it had to be truly innovative and inclusive, ultimately deciding that we would create an entirely student-led teaching forum for Humanities staff that would approach and discuss these challenges. While this may not sound too innovative by itself, we decided that we would:

  • Flip the format of the traditional conference event by inviting students and other secondary school staff to come and share their teaching experiences. The forum provided a space to prototype and develop their innovative pedagogical ideas and insights with the academic staff an attendance.
  • Pay students an hourly rate to attend the event, so that those who could not afford to miss a day from work could do so, ensuring their voices were heard.
  • Create a national network for all those interested in radical pedagogies, where members could create and share guidance and best practice for how to teach in a fairer and more inclusive way.
  • Invite professional services staff alongside students and academics.

We agreed that having professional services staff as part of the project was vital, as too often they were the people left out of the loop when new initiatives were developed in our departments. We invited them as they not only understand University processes and help to manage and implement changes in colleges and departments, but their inclusion also ensured our project would have a legacy within the University afterwards.

Tip #2: Think outside the box, especially in terms of how you want your project to become part of the University-infrastructure, and last beyond your time as a student. While behind-the-scenes processes can seem boring and shouldn’t get in the way of your passion, they – along with the staff who work to implement them – are often the only way to make sure things are embedded into the University to benefit future students.

One of the key challenges that we wanted the forum to address was the Teaching and Attainment gap that BIPOC students experience nationally. To get broader buy-in for what we were trying to do, we met with key University staff before submitting our funding bid to get their advice. We also made sure to link the aims and outcomes of the project to the University’s Education Strategy and other Equality Diversity and Inclusivity frameworks. By showing how our forum would fit in with what the University was already hoping to do helped to strengthen our funding application, which was ultimately successful and led to us being awarded £4,500 to run the project in January 2018.

Tip #3: Get buy-in from key people and groups in the University. If you aren’t sure who they are, start by clicking here! Linking up with them will help you to make sure that your project complements and feeds into the current work done or planned by the University.

One of the biggest challenges Claire and I had was getting the main Radical Pedagogies project event organised as we were both were coming towards the end of our PhDs and were busy with rewrites. Though we eventually managed to do it ourselves, we would have loved some support on the preparation side. This type of project support is what the Education Incubator is hoping to be able to provide; we have lots of project experience and access to networks and expertise that you can utilise in your projects. 

Tip #4: Make sure to stay in touch with the Education Incubator about your project – we passionately support the anti-racism work at the University and other groups locally, nationally, internationally, and want your projects to be a big success.

The Radical Pedagogies forum had over 50 attendees from universities across the country, as well as local schools. We had many unique sessions that contributed to a discussion of what HE could and perhaps should be, ranging from utopian pedagogies to punk pedagogies, closing the BIPOC teaching gap, using flooding as a teaching technique, pedagogical poetry, and an excellent session on engaged learning, entitled ‘Silent Students: It’s not them it’s you.’

Our two plenary speakers also gave incredible sessions, with Professor Richard Hall describing how best to ‘Dismantle the HE curriculum,’ and Professor Shahidha Bari discussing her view of ‘The Art of Education.’

Professor Hall spoke passionately about challenging the neo-liberal University He called for us to decolonise and dismantle the curriculum, by telling participants to find ‘points of solidarity inside a system that is toxic’ and use these as points of ‘resistance and refusal’ for the prevalent university narratives of precarity, competition, financialisation, and marketisation.

Professor Bari’s talk took a more philosophical take on the challenges caused by the increasing prevalence of marketisation within universities. She cited Derrida, Foucault, Rousseau, and others in her opening words, claiming that ‘the imagination [is] our greatest weapon against the marketisation of HE and its metrics – it is immeasurable, unquantifiable.’ She discussed many potential paths to take to combat marketisation, but ultimately concluded that ‘the most radical thing we can do at the moment is teach optimism.’

It is with Professor Bari’s call to teach optimism that I want to finish this blog. If you are a student or a staff member working to decolonise the University or on any other anti-racism project (or if you have only recently become involved in the struggle, due to the BLM movement, George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor), be optimistic that every positive action you take and every discussion you have about these issues helps to contribute towards a solution.

Tip #5: If you are a student who wants to contribute further, apply to run an anti-racism project here.

For more on the legacy of the ‘Radical Pedagogies’ project, click here to see the second Radical Pedagogies event run in collaboration with the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre at the De Montfort University in 2019.

If you would be interested in being part of this project or want to talk through your idea for the anti-racism project fund, please email us at educationincubator@exeter.ac.uk.

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The University of Exeter’s Education Incubator scheme. Promoting pedagogic innovation and collaboration with an aim to enhance learning across the University and beyond.

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