“My curriculum lacked diversity until I found it for myself.” Studying her BSc Hons in Management, Politics and International Relations at Lancaster University, Seun Odusanya did not realise how Eurocentric her courses were until she began exploring outside of them. Following the rise of diversity conversations around the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as well as her role as the BAME Academic Rep for the politics department, she found herself seeking out scholars and ideas that helped her to gain an intersectional understanding of the content she was studying.
Reports published by the 'Why Is My Curriculum White?' campaign suggested that it is crucial for all departments to reflect upon whether there is any BAME representation in their academic disciplines. In response to this as well as the range of conversations prompted by the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, Lancaster’s politics department decided to create the first BAME Academic Rep role. This specifically focussed on the issues raised by BAME students and ensured that the department made an active effort to improve the experience of current and future BAME students.
Seun applied for this role, and subsequently took it on, because it was something she was passionate about, specifically when it came to issues around the lack of diversity within academia. Seun’s role included setting up termly focus groups to which all BAME students were invited to share their experiences and thoughts in a safe space so that their honest feedback is relayed back to the department. She was also invited to participate in a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor to share her experiences, both socially and academically, and helped lobby for initiatives such as ‘Decolonising the Curriculum’ and Black History Month. Seun says that one module that really opened her eyes to how intersectional the curriculum could be was ‘The Politics of Religion and Gender’. This module examined knowledge about gender with a focus on Hinduism and Islam through a critical, postcolonial perspective. As such, this reinforced the importance of gaining an understanding of non-western feminist readings. But this was an outlier, and Seun could not help but question why there was only one course like this available in the whole of the department.
Having had her eyes opened by this course, Seun made the decision to include ethnically diverse feminist scholars when writing her dissertation. She took inspiration from Dr Gurminder K. Bhambra’s mission to amplify the voices of those who continue to be misrepresented, because it is only by doing this that we can ‘decolonise our minds’ (hooks, 1992). Seun drew upon sociological frameworks which allow her to critique political debates of racism and sexism, and the role they play in the corporate world. She focused on how issues of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practises in the workplace affect black and Asian women. Taking a qualitative research approach, she chose to interview ten women of colour during her placement year.
Seun explains that what she was most surprised about was just how honest her participants were. “Given that the interviews took place in the midst of BLM, much of my insight came from the participants' reality of this and led me to focus more on the issue of race than initially planned.” Her research showed that there are many intersectional factors beyond gender and race, such as religion and culture. One example she pointed out was that a key obstacle for the Muslim women at work is that a large majority of the social aspect tends to involve the presence of alcohol, like the team going to the pub on a Friday evening. “They told me how uncomfortable that makes them, as it is obviously against their religious beliefs.” These parts of workplace culture are by their very nature exclusive because they were not constructed with everyone in mind. “Others felt that a lot of EDI schemes were performative, for example, having days to celebrate all the different religious observances just to ‘tick off the boxes,’ rather than understand the cultural significance of them.”
“My choice of topic was influenced by my desire to do something impactful but also meaningful.” The combination of knowledge and personal development gained from this experience deepened her understanding of this phenomenon. This was demonstrated by Seun’s achievement of 98% in her dissertation, as well as presenting her research at the Organisation, Work and Technology Masterclass. Given that this topic is one that continues to evolve, Seun plans to one day do further research at postgraduate level.
An education that is not diverse is one that is not fully complete. Learning about feminism without understanding intersectionality does not offer a full picture and excluding diverse scholars when studying politics, is a contradiction to its purpose. Seun had to discover this for herself. Furthermore, through her dissertation, she learnt that the key to inclusivity in the corporate environment is listening to the individual voices. When we focus purely on statistics, we are reducing the lived experiences down to numbers. “While I understand that the journey towards diversity and inclusion requires uncomfortable conversations, I believe change happens when we all educate ourselves because education is the primary instrument for change.”
Want to keep up to date with Seun and her work? You can find her here:
LinkedIn : linkedin.com/in/seun-odusanya-8700b2173