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Exploring the ‘white curriculum’: challenges and potential solutions

17 April 2015

Jamilah Jahi, 4th year medical student at UCL, shares her thoughts on what a ‘white curriculum’ means in terms of working towards a connected curriculum.

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Jamilah’s UCL Teaching and Learning conference presentation began by outlining the broad definition of a curriculum: the syllabus (what you learn), the processes (how you learn) and the participants (who is teaching and learning). Jamilah added a final component worth considering: the environment (where you learn) a dimension which is often overlooked.

Jamilah described how the term’ white curriculum’ refers to the Eurocentrism many perceive in UCL and other UK universities. “With Eurocentrism focusing on European culture and history (Western civilisation) and excluding a wider view of the world, it means that at university, students are extensively exposed to figures and ideas from the West, and sometimes focusing on the greatness involves omitting more negative aspects.”

Examples followed. From her own experience Jamilah highlighted that, in medicine, of the two men regarded as fathers of the discipline only the West’s Hippocrates, is studied by the majority of medical students whereas Imhotep, the ancient Egyptian polymath, is not.

Jamilah notes: “Being more inclusive of these underrepresented groups would be enriching to the curriculum and still remain relevant to this European university because of the diversity of students and Europe’s many international connections, from the past and present. Seeing as UCL prides itself as being a global university, I think more can be done in the curriculum to reflect this. “

Exploring students’ attitudes towards this, Jamilah suggested that many see a ‘white curriculum’ as normal practice and therefore the inclusion of non-white or women scholars becomes ‘tokenistic’. Within her own studies, Jamilah has seen how the curriculum often takes a Eurocentric approach whether through eponyms, reading lists or teaching staff.

“In regards to attaining a Connected Curriculum, this is not possible in the presence of the white curriculum. This is because it stands as a barrier to multiple dimensions of the Connected Curriculum, such as connecting students out to the world. There are examples in undergraduate and postgraduate courses that illustrate it is possible to tackle the white curriculum and create a Connected Curriculum.”

One of these is the Global Citizenship programme which encourages students to connect their studies and skills to the wider world – often the focus of the courses available within the programme have an international dimension allowing students to consider approaches within other cultural contexts.

Jamilah expressed hope that, once the dimensions of the Connected Curriculum are considered in the light of the challenges posed by the white curriculum, a truly inclusive teaching and learning experience can be more easily secured.

  • Students and staff are encouraged to join the ‘Liberating the Curriculum’ working group (as part of the Connected Curriculum working groups) which “works closely with UCLU Liberation Networks and UCL Equalities and Diversity”.