"This university won’t decolonise itself, and it also won’t decolonise without the help of white accomplices"Louis Ashworth

Campaigns to decolonise the University should be familiar by now and real progress is being made in them. From students and faculty organising together to departments successfully being engaged in conversation, small and extremely important steps are being made in the right direction. Students of colour and their accomplices are working hard on this, but there’s always need for more help! There are a couple of ways that anyone even vaguely concerned with decolonisation can get involved.

" It’s particularly important that accomplices engage in decolonial citation practices because when students of colour do this (particularly at undergraduate level) they are often either accused of promoting an agenda or including irrelevant information in their essays."

The first is helping with the unglamorous work that decolonisation entails. The numbers that rallies and protests draw is heartening – this work would be significantly more difficult without those expressions of solidarity. However, we need more accomplices behind the scenes. Much of the work is being done in faculty-specific working groups. These include English, History, History of Art, Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science, Education, MML, AMES, Law, Gender Studies, Sociology, Politics, and Social Anthropology. More will pop up, and future and existing groups need as many accomplices as possible to help audit their courses, research decolonial efforts in other departments and universities, draft open letters, organise meetings and campaigns, and plan for the future.

Many hands make light work, so if you’re interested in joining one of the groups or setting up one of your own, message the Decolonise Cambridge page on Facebook or get in contact with one of the sabbatical officers at CUSU. 

Secondly, beyond providing support for students of colour leading working groups, white accomplices are essential because they can help shield those students from targeted national press. Students from our university as well as others across the country have been subjected to racist and sexist harassment (including death threats) as a result of malicious national reporting on their anti-racist and decolonial work. The underlying narrative in all these cases has been that these students pose an existential threat to the “British way of life” and that they’re unwelcome in this country despite being citizens of it. This is not a narrative that could so easily be applied to their accomplices.

Many students of colour (including myself) are extremely cautious about openly engaging in decolonialisation work due to overwhelmingly negative press coverage. While white accomplices publicly championing the cause and taking ownership of it alongside students of colour won’t entirely eradicate the problematic press coverage, it will serve to make students of colour significantly safer.

You can also support decolonising the curriculum in your day-to-day work. If you’re a STEM student, try and find out what debates are taking place within the History and Philosophy of Science (both in Cambridge and beyond). Examine the impact of your studies and research on the wider world, be it looking into the ethical practices of corporate funders operating in the Global South, or uncovering biases that are perpetuated in tech. Conversations surrounding decolonising STEM are particularly difficult, but they need to be had nonetheless.

If you’re a humanities student, decolonise your citation practices where you can. In her blog feministkilljoys, Sara Ahmed describes citation practices as a “rather successful reproductive technology, a way of reproducing the world around certain bodies”. If we only cite white men in our work, we recreate a world where only knowledge produced by them is important, while knowledge produced by others is peripheral. There are, of course, cases where white men have to be primarily cited, which speaks both to wider issues about the way that our syllabi are constructed and also to how aspiring academics must cite in order to be taken seriously.


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However, it’s particularly important that accomplices engage in decolonial citation practices because when students of colour do this (particularly at undergraduate level) they are often either accused of promoting an agenda or including irrelevant information in their essays. Decolonial citation practice works best if we all do it, and if we do it with purpose (as opposed to being tokenistic). There are so many historians, philosophers, sociologists, literary critics of colour whose work is directly relevant to our own. These academics offer new, radical ways of exploring canonical work and who themselves produce ground-breaking contributions. Find them and use them.

This university won’t decolonise itself, and it also won’t decolonise without the help of white accomplices. Find ways of meaningfully getting involved that suit you, follow the guidance of students of colour, and be a part of historic changes to come at Cambridge.

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