On the surface, I am racialised and gendered as a brown man.
Underneath, my identity is less binary.
Pronouns: he/him (currently)
As a Brit(ish) African Asian twice-migrant born into the Isma’ili Muslim community, I inherit a complex history of religious persecution, misinformation and colonial subjugation.
In Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Asians became an imported middle class to maintain, and benefit from, the colonial image of racial hierarchy. “Asians tended to acquiesce in this system” due to conservatism, capitalist ambition and “low political consciousness” (Ghai, 1965). Trapped in the resulting middle-class immigrant narrative, private education provided further privileges but belie the generational and personal trauma, racism and islamophobia that sowed the seeds of social justice.
Brainwashed by neoliberalism, studying Economics and Mathematics, I was destined for a death in finance before Marx reignited creative desires. Burnout-induced introspection cut short my advertising art direction career; manifesting an embodied knowledge of Manufacturing Consent.
Acknowledging my complicity in generational Racial Capitalism inspired my decolonial practice of critical thought with respect to the Broadcast Image.
My first university teach experience with year 2 BA Illustration at Camberwell comes courtesy of Shades of Noir’s Teaching Within program.
Considering this cohort (144 students), I am mindful to avoid surface level assumptions. To look at and beyond demographics, as data masks nuanced histories that must be recognised for students to feel valued, heard and seen.
Within the overseas group (73), I recognise the self-identified introverted non-binary Black student from the USA, whose positionality requires different considerations to non-anglophones, of whom the largest contingent are from China.
Traditional reliance on language in knowledge exchange generates my artefact and question:
How to bridge the communication gap with East Asian Students?
“The percentage of staff of colour at present is very small at 3.6% and does not in any way reflect the student cohort. These staff bring a positive experience to diverse students on course in the form of role models.” (Finnigan & Richards, 2016)
Framing overseas student-teacher representation in terms of native role models simplified the problem to create an entry point for discussion with the course leader: “Have you considered hiring a native speaker?”
Regarding English requirements and student reticence to engage with language support; “I think its [culturally] to do with not wanting to admit you need help.” In retrospect, individual characteristics (positionality/neurodiversity/mental health) bring complexity to communication and require care. In the future, when students flag their ‘poor English’ and create a hurdle to practise, I will pause, patiently encourage and guide them to work through it. And direct them to language support.
The UCA Farnham case we discussed is unique; a fully Chinese cohort and one, clearly overworked, native speaking tutor. Feedback with the IPU lead tutor notes that students and tutors are drawn to one another based on a number of identity markers (gender, complexion, fashion, introversion…etc). In the UAL context, the cohort is more diverse than Farnham, so is it not more important to centre the students’ sense of being valued: seen, heard and respected?
Personally, TW and the IPU have provided my first experience of intersectional leadership and tutorship. This experience of connection and difference has been integral for considering gender and misogynoir. More readily transgressing institutional distrust and forming bonds of solidarity. This intersectional perspective has been essential for my academic and personal growth, supporting my belief in the benefit of extending representative inclusion to the East Asian contingent.
Opening the premise to external critique was helpful. Noting passive role, introducing specificity and agency yields:
How can I communicate with East Asian students on their terms?
As an auditory and visual learner, I appreciate resources that lie outside the written word. With 51% overseas students, it would be fair to offer alternative entry points and de-centre the English language. Seeing an opportunity in an anime I am reminded of Lecturer feedback: “Do students still watch Dragonball Z?”
Though my assumption was confirmed, why not start with students and co-curate content?
Thinking back to Term 2, students’ references include the Korean Alphabet, Confucius, cultural myths and untranslatable words. Co-curation will democratise resource positionality across the range of cohort cultures and interests in line with social identity theory. This real-time feedback will also benefit my teaching practice.
The IPU session Who’s Who is an interesting example of gestalt design. Simplicity allows the session to be translated across geographic and political contexts to affect the same feeling of (un)conscious bias. It is important to reflect that the notion of inclusive design is subject to discourse. Notions of Foucauldian power and normativity necessitate a turning towards the student body, after all, it is their needs I am trying to meet.
Lacking the Vocabulary
Critique is vital to development. With personal experiences across the spectrum, lacking vocabulary had resulted in both intellectual bullying and transformative feedback. As a tutor, I will explicitly acknowledge my positionality and privilege to mitigate historical mistrust. At the same time I will employ (n)etiquette and body scan meditations to set behavioural standards, focus the group and promote empathy, discourse and knowledge exchange. Intervening when necessary.
Moving from ‘safe’ to ‘brave spaces’ requires ‘wise’ strategies, including: honest positivity, an explicit articulation of high standards when expressing critical feedback and the assurance that feedback is given with the belief that the student can meet the aforementioned high standards. (Yeager, 2013)
Bravery has to start with the teacher. Reflecting on the task of critiquing a Shades of Noir webpace, I faltered. Discomfort ensued. It felt challenging to question an authority to which you hold proximity and affinity bias. As a teacher, this is ultimately a disservice, as holding back critique removes the opportunity for learning. To help, a question from cognitive behavioural therapy: “is this feedback helpful?”
Like many students, I move between multiple contexts, currently working in hospitality to financially support this report. In these spaces, (un)conscious bias presents a number of challenges that are likely to disproportionately affect marginalised genders, People of Colour and/or those from low socio-economic backgrounds.
In these situations I will offer my experiences and survival strategies, detailing successes and failures, citing our differing positionalities and student agency. I will avoid giving direct advice, in favour of directing students to external resources for reflection. And where appropriate, offering to guide the student in unpacking and working through the problem to develop internal resources. (Francois, 2019)
Reflecting on ability and access, I am flooded with memories of debilitating glandular fever during my second year of university. Feelings of pain, isolation and helplessness without an end in sight. The IPU has reminded me to reflect on healthcare as an intersectional issue. Historic failings, abuses and mis(sed) diagnosis. For intersectional students, some may find it difficult to report illness, under/over exaggerating symptoms in good faith. As a tutor, I will assume goodwill and apply time, attentiveness and care to build trust.
Time being a scarce resource I hope to redress via digital pedagogic tools.
As a self-described ‘slow learner’ (potentially undiagnosed neurodivergent), digital sessions alleviate schedule and geographic challenges. While recordings provide the ability to pause/replay/rewatch, which is helpful for ‘slow learners’ and those with declared disabilities and/or learning difficulties.
Going forward I will record sessions where appropriate and pre-share resources with students to focus on dialectic exchange. Considering access, I will utilise basic translation, dictation and notation tools in resource sharing. Whilst giving students options to self-direct critique format, where slower exchanges over digital platforms (myblog/miro/email) will have added access benefits for inclusivity beyond language and into access needs.
“It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors” (Freire, 1970)
To conclude, I will reflect on feedback from two previous artefacts:
Artefact 1: “a complex matrix of words codes and format…potentially all barriers to students”
Artefact 2: “You’re overdoing it, you’re overcomplicating”
Having already acknowledged the complicated nature of artefact 2 with the course leader, I continued.
Why did I do this?
Perhaps, still disappointed with my TPP grade, I am still mentally stuck, trying to correct those failures.
Unpacking further, I see learnt behaviour from banking education and capitalist ‘creative direction’. Acquiescing to white male ‘creative directors’ who have ignored, stolen and dictated my creative work. Shell shocked from burnout. Dutifully awaiting orders. Unable to hear myself.
So I will listen.
I don’t want this for my students.
So I will continue use research, critique and reflection to unlearn and question the thoughts/patterns/behaviors of ingrained imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and to centre inclusivity in my practice.
Inside the academy, I will develop my inclusive praxis through student/colleague/mentor feedback for clarification, challenge and advice.
Outside the academy, I engage in talking therapies for guided reflection and challenge. This combination of internal and external community of care and solidarity helps people of colour “survive and thrive in the ivory tower” (Gabriel & Tate, 2017).
“If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else” – Toni Morrison
Word Count: 1498
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YEAR 2 BA ILLUSTRATION CAMBERWELL STATISTICS
COURSE LEADER TRANSCRIPT HIGHLIGHTS
Me: “One of the reflections was the difficulty of the language barrier…
…Have you considered hiring a native speaker?”
Course Leader: “…I know some other Universities that have done that, at UCA Farnham…”
“…We do have language support …international students don’t like going…”
“…I think it’s [culturally] to do with not wanting to admit you need help…”
Course Leader “…they’re meant to be at a certain level of language before we start.”
“In the meeting I was in, people were talking about the reason they got rid
of the dissertation was along those lines [language barrier]”
“getting translators…was also problematic”
“does [translating dissertations into English] make English the hierarchy?”
Me: “Is it also problematic to say, we have lots of Chinese students, we need a Chinese tutor”
Course Leader “There is a push to hire staff from different backgrounds but it would be problematic to say,
We’re only hiring from someone from this country and this language”
“[at Farnham where] she’s a Chinese Lecture, the student body is 100% Chinese,
a couple of the staff are English and the students are all going to her all the time
so she’s massively overworking…because their interaction with her is much easier.”