The role of student consultants in addressing EDI: Blog post 2

This post has kindly been provided by;

Dr Karen Patel

Karen is a Research Fellow based at the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), Birmingham School of Media. Karen is also Director of the Centre for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts (CEDIA) in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media.

Dr Annette Naudin

Annette is Associate Professor Academic, with responsibility for Learning and Teaching at Birmingham Institute for Media and English. Annette is a member of the Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research (BCMCR), Birmingham School of Media.

In our first blog post, we discussed the lack of research exploring subject-specific approaches to addressing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) through curriculum development. Taking a Case Study approach, we highlighted our research into The Centre for Equality Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts (CEDIA) and the work done with CEDIA Student Consultants. Early findings from this suggests that student-led research can inform a constructive debate for addressing EDI in Art, Design and Media (ADM) courses. In this post, we explore the CEDIA student consultant findings in more detail.

Six CEDIA student consultants were involved, all were passionate about EDI and representative of our diverse student body. They included BA and MA, international and mature students, as part of a paid role. They gathered a brief ‘snapshot’ of the diversity of recommended reading lists across six courses in the ADM faculty. But more than interrogating the reading lists, the fact that they were being consulted and invited to scrutinize the curriculum as part of the CEDIA team, was a powerful message.

“Being given the agency to critically analyse and assess my resources, tutor recommendations, and film and reading materials has helped me to engage with these resources more comprehensively, consciously, and rigorously (…) the CEDIA project empowered me to focus on how I can help assess and improve my education, and therefore I feel more confident in taking action to help decolonise the curriculum.”

Student consultants gathered data on the ‘diversity’ of the authors’ background, referring to the following categories: gender, ethnicity, nationality, western education and socio-economic background. LGBTQ+, neurodiversity and disability.

Their report includes quantitative data, according to each of the categories, and qualitative data such as subjective notes based on students’ personal ratings. This ‘snapshot’ of the curriculum was primarily based on the individual student’s perspective – therefore, it is limited in its wider generalisability, and it was not a systematic exploration of all available reading lists, for all courses.

The most significant finding is in the ethnicity and western education categories, with 89.5% of authors being from a white background as well as having been educated in a University from a developed country, based in the Global North. The student consultants felt that reading materials should be contextualized for students, especially those that imply or support a majority perspective (e.g. cisgender, western education, higher socio-economic status) and there was little evidence of this.

Overall, the student consultants reported that they had thoroughly enjoyed the research project. Their diverse experiences and passion for advocating inclusivity was their driving force for contributing to this project.

“CEDIA has been a positive, empowering, and heartfelt experience. To be able to collaborate with peers who are passionate about social change has been a great honour. It has made me feel stronger in my own self-worth in an academic space that has not always been welcoming. CEDIA has greatly improved my mental health, knowing I’m not alone, and that other students face similar challenges as myself. CEDIA has given me the confidence to advocate for both me and others when faced with challenges in the academic space (…) most invaluably, this project has given me the language to express my observations in my work as an artist. And to continue to find ways to give back. It’s been uplifting knowing my time at RBC (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire) will now leave a legacy for future students to build upon. Thank you for giving me that opportunity and for the constant support, kindness, and encouragement that I have received whilst working on CEDIA.”

The student consultants made some useful observations and recommendations for any future project, stating that deeper insights could be gained from a broader data sample by including all courses within ADM faculty. The rating system could be interrogated and more transparent as an approach. Students suggested that sharing the research across different committees and courses to emphasize the student voice, as well as collaborating with librarians to improve diversity.

The research has contributed to an inclusive reading list for the ADM faculty, developed in collaboration with the BCU Library and Learning Resources team. The next steps involve making sense of the potential of this work – how has the new reading list been used by staff or integrated into courses? How can the qualitative data and insights from the students be made useful? What are the views of other students on the courses analysed? How do we make sense of this in relation to other activities addressing ‘decolonising the curriculum’?

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