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Decolonising the creative curriculum: LCC Changemakers in conversation with São Paulo’s Senac University

Student browsing books at the library
  • Written byAnnika Loebig
  • Published date 19 May 2022
Student browsing books at the library
Student at Chelsea College of Art and Design's Library | Photographer: Ana Blumenkron

As part of an ongoing online series by London College of Communication's (LCC) Changemakers, student representatives of the initiative invited teachers and academics from Senac University in São Paulo, Brazil to talk about how they’re trying to decolonise and diversify their creative curriculum.

Senac’s students shared insights into how staff and students from the Brazilian university establish strategic partnerships to set foundations for an anti-racist creative industry. Some of the values shaping the university’s pedagogical approach include a focus on promoting ethnic diversity and sustainability, a look into ancestral history, and Brazil’s federal law that requires the teaching of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous history and culture.

We caught up with LCC Changemaker Cassia Clarke, currently studying BA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography, and Lucy Panesar, Attainment Project Manager and founder of UAL’s Decolonising Wikipedia Network, to hear their takeaways from the event.

Hi Cassia and Lucy! In the context of decolonisation in universities, why do you think it’s important for the Changemakers to collaborate with international partners?

Cassia: The collaboration between LCC Changemakers and national and international partners is an important venture, as opening a good comprehensive dialogue about decolonising the pedagogy is necessary. In this current climate, conversations that confront systemic discrimination are paramount and as a world-renowned educational institution, ignoring these conversations and failure to be proactive would be an irreversible mistake. It would be an extreme letdown to the diverse student and staff body of UAL, not just LCC.

Lucy: On an international level, higher education still seems to maintain knowledge hierarchies imposed by European imperialism, valuing knowledge systems in the global north/west more than in the global south/east. In our quest to learn more about decolonising higher education, it was important that we challenged this hierarchy, as a decolonial effort in itself, by placing value on practices being developed in the global south to tackle problems of systemic racism in creative arts education.

We believe that our efforts to decolonise the curriculum will be better achieved through humble, collective and collaborative work, not through international competitiveness.

— Lucy Panesar

What was a particularly meaningful takeaway from the event for you?

Cassia: A disparity I noticed between the São Paulo and LCC Changemakers was the progress made. The work headed by Tatiana Putti in the university’s fashion department is beyond remarkable – so much so that the temptation to jump on a plane and study fashion at Senac was palpable. What I learnt during the event is that for this work to truly take effect there are two important factors to consider: the decolonial effort in the educational sector needs to be widespread, not for reputation but for improving the student experience and attainability, including staff members experience; and the work needs to penetrate deep as systemic discrimination is profoundly entrenched in how all societal systems work.

Lucy: For me, one meaningful takeaway from the event was learning that the Brazilian government mandates education providers to teach Black history and sets quotas for the employment of Black teachers. Unlike in the UK, where government ministers have been trying to stop teachers from decolonising curricula and teaching things like Critical Race Theory, and where Black history is still only taught during one month of the year. Another highlight for me was it being bilingual, using Zoom to allow for live translators to be heard in real-time. I was really impressed with this and I think this opens up so many possibilities for more meaningful international exchanges in the future!

Changemakers Talk: Decolonising the Curriculum London x Sao Paulo

What’s up next for LCC Changemakers?

Cassia: The hope is to produce more episodes in collaboration with home and international educational institutions that are dedicated to decolonising the pedagogy. To continue the important conversation of systemic discrimination and tackling it head on with the support and understanding from a diversely built catalogue of partners.

Lucy: We have a growing list of universities, across the UK and the world, who we would love to talk to about decolonising creative arts education, including universities in South Africa and India. We plan to make events like the one with São Paulo a regular part of the Changemakers role at LCC, to help us develop our practices as a group and to share that learning and development more widely with others working towards racial justice.

The Changemakers Initiative at London College of Communication supports students to use decolonial and liberation frameworks in order to change the landscape of academia.