Race and the Curriculum

Background to the Race and the Curriculum project

The Race and Curriculum project has its origins in the Race Equality Summit held in March 2014. The Summit was organised jointly by University staff in the Equality and Diversity Unit, the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU) and the student-led Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality (CRAE – an official OUSU campaign). The Summit was convened to consider:

  • the experience of home BME undergraduate students in relation to access, outreach and admissions; and
  • the experience of all BME students, home and international, undergraduate and graduate, of living and studying at Oxford.

One of the main themes emerging from the Summit, and in the preparatory work carried out by CRAE (in the form of interviews and a survey), was that both BME and white students felt that the content of their degree programmes largely reflected white or Eurocentric perspectives.

At the conclusion of the Summit, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), Professor Sally Mapstone, made a commitment on behalf of the University to seek to address what students evidently saw as a serious lack of racial diversity in the curriculum on offer.

Creating the project

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) is the chair of the project group. The Deputy Director of Education Policy Support, Mrs Philippa O’Connor, is the administrative lead.

Other members of the project group are currently:

Professor Margaret Stevens, Associate Head of Social Sciences Division

Professor Teresa Morgan, Chair of the Classics Faculty Board, and Humanities Division lead

Machilu Zimba, Policy Advisor, Race Equality, Religion and Belief

Kathleen Quinlan, Head of Educational Development, Oxford Learning Institute

Farheen Ahmed, CRAE student representative

Ruby Serensin, CRAE student representative

Yunqu Chi, CRAE student representative

The project group agreed to focus primarily on undergraduate studies, though there was also a case for reviewing postgraduate curricula. The sciences are not excluded, but most student comments at the Summit related to subjects in the Humanities and Social Sciences and so this has determined the initial focus.

The University would take two complementary approaches to encouraging curriculum review. The first approach is to support a series of events to stimulate department-level discussion and review of curricula. These would take a number of forms at different stages. Meanwhile, the divisions would take the lead on working with individual departments to promote and instigate curricula review, with support from the Oxford Learning Institute as required.  The divisional leads on the project working with the departments are Professor Teresa Morgan (Classics) in the Humanities Division, and Professor Margaret Stevens (Economics) in the Social Sciences Division.

Funding and output of the project

The project is funded by a grant of approximately £17k from the Vice-Chancellor’s Fund for Diversity. The funding is mainly used to facilitate visits by external guests, and to provide publicity and refreshments for meetings. The outcomes of the project are expected to be:

  • the promotion of discussion and review of curricula in departments by academic staff and students;
  • the identification of any structural barriers to diversifying the curriculum and plans to address them;
  • the production of a good practice guide endorsed by Education Committee.

Evaluation will take place a year beyond the project by means of reports from departments on proposed or implemented changes.

Events to highlight the project

Three high profile lectures are taking place during 2016 hosted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, to publicise the project to students and staff. The lectures offer alternative perspectives and insights from leading academic figures into teaching, research and curricula development from racially diverse perspectives. The guest lecturers are:

  • 26 January 2016: Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies
  • 27 April 2016: Professor Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University
  • 2 November 2016: Professor Ruth Simmons, Former President of Brown University, the first black president of an Ivy League institution, and Honorand at Encaenia 2015

For further details about these lectures see http://www.ox.ac.uk/news-and-events/race-and-curriculum

Other events

The first of a number of meetings for academic staff who are interested in curriculum review took place in May 2015 with an invited speaker from Sheffield University, Dr Rachel van Duyvenbode, who shared her experience of facilitating the Sheffield SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum, a project intended to introduce greater diversity in the curriculum as part of a wider race awareness initiative.

Further events to share experiences and ideas between departments are planned for 2016.

Students also held a meeting in May 2015 supported by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) with invited internal speakers.

Update on progress


The Faculty of History has been considering its curriculum from a number of perspectives including gender and race, and has recently developed proposals that will ensure every UG student studies at least one paper on the history of peoples and nations from outside Europe over the course of their degree. They also propose to introduce theme papers to cross chronological and geographical boundaries, and to remodel existing History of the British Isles and European and World History papers to provide more explicit World History options. These changes have been approved in principle by the Faculty and the process of securing approval at divisional and Education Committee level, with the appropriate consultation with Senior Tutors’ Committee, is underway.

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Theology and Religion

The revised curriculum for BA Theology and Religion will first be taught in Michaelmas term 2016. Retaining its strength in Christian theology, it also reflects a new commitment to become a major centre for the study of world religions, the relation between religion and science, and the place of religion in public life.

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Politics and International Relations

In the Department of Politics and International Relations, the Director of Undergraduate Studies is planning to take discussions forward by holding discussion groups focusing on each of the five core Politics papers.

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The Ashmolean Museum’s University Engagement Programme: Promoting diversity through object-based learning

The Ashmolean’s UEP and extensive collections have made possible innovative, interdisciplinary course collaborations with various University faculties and departments. Learning through objects has enriched and diversified the experiences of Oxford students across a wide range of degree subjects.

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