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Pedagogy through re-existence : Decolonizing as ‘doing’ and academic responsibility

Ahmed Raza Memon

Decolonizing teaching and pedagogy has been at the centre of many student movements including ‘Rhodes must fall’ movement. It is safe to say that decolonizing student movements are a form of resistance which is materially grounded to de-centering ‘canon’ which historically invisiblizes colonial histories thereby carrying out a continuing ‘epistemicide’ of indigenous ways of existing/knowing. In a real sense, as academics/researcher who are part of the ‘system’, we must also question how we – as the insider/outsiders – are also complicit of this colonial neoliberal university.

More often than not, in a more grounded sense our complicity is clear in the way we even speak of colonization and ‘decolonization’. Not just through the logic of neoliberal cooptation but also through the language we use within the academy. To take as an example, the word ‘epistemicide’ while describing the violence of erasure, itself is obfuscating for the marginalized students unless they are not cognizant with the relevant literature and context. These vocabularies of the academy, even those seeking to be ‘decolonial’, end up being restrictive, limited to a certain audience.

Student decolonizing movements, in my own experience working with students and as a PhD. student and being a teacher, made me more aware of the different vocabularies of self expression and resistance which do not ascribe to the academy’s own logics of value.  

Through my own reflection of working with and alongside the decolonize UKC movement (, for the last two years made me realize the importance of humbling oneself and truly exercising self restraint in the way we intellectualize materially grounded issues of alienation, marginalization and violence faced by many students and staff in the university. The project itself was structured from the get go by Dr. Suhraiya Jivraj and Dave Thomas ( the staff leads and facilitators of the Project) as a student/staff collaboration by creating a more dynamic and democratic approach to doing research. The idea was to have students of color themselves frame the politics of the research, use their networks of students to speak to and present a ‘policy’ on BAME attainment ‘gap’. However, the students and staff were both critical of the framing of these issues by the University. Ultimately the resulting document of demands or ‘manifesto’ was a critique of the framing of the ‘attainment gap’ and its assumptions.    

Decolonize UKC movement and other movements such as Goldsmith Anti-racist action, Decolonize Keele, Decolonize Lancaster, Decolonize Kings College and Decolonize Queen Mary are all examples of student led movements which speak to material conditions surrounding the students. They are active in ‘doing’ decolonizing work and letting that speak truth to power. As academics that are complicit in the neoliberal academic system, we should be asking ourselves where we stand in relation to these and other brilliant students that have taken on themselves to do this work in a critical and material way. These students perhaps understand what decolonizing is beyond just a ‘metaphor’ without having to really have a reading group or publishing articles about ‘decolonizing’ frames.

Of course, reading decolonizing thought and resistance itself is homage, learning and carrying on the lineage of courage which we see in activists, revolutionaries and anti-oppression teachers, artists who inspire us – but it has to and needs to translate to ‘action’. Our development of any ‘decolonizing work’ has to be about theory informed praxis and praxis informed by theory.     

Most importantly, as researchers and academics, it is important not just to learn from and be inspired by these student movements – but to actively think about these movements as a wakeup call for academics thinking about decolonization. We need to actively support, facilitate, work with, highlight, give credit to and build communities alongside students as part of a broader agenda of decolonization.

Recently, on March 11, the second event of the Decolonize UKC movement was to bring together and give a stage to build solidarity across different decolonizing student movements including Decolonize Keele, Decolonize Kings College, Decolonize Lancaster and Decolonize Queen Mary University. The lead up to and decision to bring these together was inspired by and made possible through the efforts of Building the Anti-racist Classroom Collective, which is a collective of women of color in the academy who aim to support and facilitate pedagogy, activism towards an anti-racist space in the academy.

The question that comes to mind thinking of this particular event is what made it possible was a form of facilitation and responsibility by academics in Kent ( particularly Dr. Suhraiya Jivraj) and academics that form the BARC collective i.e. Dr. Saadvhi Daar, Dr. Deborah Brewis, Dr. Angela Martinez, Dr. Azeezat Johnson,Maria D’Amico and Dr. Helen Liu. This responsibility which more often than not goes unrecognized, unrewarded ( in the neoliberal sense) but is often one taken up by these academics/activist as part of their ethics and praxis, is just as much lesson to be learned as the efforts of the students they facilitate. The work, through my lens of viewing the work that these academics, students, activists, have done and continue to do is about creating a community. A community, not in the shallow, neo-liberal sense but in an ethical/praxis based effort to re-assert dignity and re-exist as marginalized people within the academic space and beyond.    


Tuck, E. and Yang, K.W., 2012. Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, education & society1(1).

de Sousa Santos, B., 2015. Epistemologies of the South: Justice against epistemicide. Routledge.

Kwoba, B., Chantiluke, R. and Nkopo, A. eds., 2018. Rhodes Must Fall: The Struggle to Decolonise the Racist Heart of Empire. Zed Books Ltd..

Dar, S. Dy, A. and Rodriguez, J. 2018. Is Decolonizing the New Black.

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