Decolonizing the Curriculum for More Inclusive Learning
The School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) is one of the first universities to launch a student-centered curriculum decolonization initiative. The program pairs students with faculty to revise syllabi and re-envision more inclusive learning. Part of this process is to “identify and dismantle power structures and teachings that have legacies of colonialism, racism, and imperialism and remove them from the classroom.” I was one of 22 students involved in the program who spent the Winter 2021 semester reflecting on what decolonizing the curriculum looks like in action. This work was done in collaboration with my assigned faculty member, Dr. Paige Fischer, to build on her Social Vulnerability and Adaptation to Environmental Change (EAS 567) course.
Gaining a better understanding of the need for decolonial scholarship was the first step in this role. I found that many approaches to sustainability education reinforce a western knowledge narrative. This perspective is centered on Whiteness, with many people who are considered knowledge holders in the field coming from places of privilege. Deconstructing their dominant narratives, questioning what we consider credible sources, and seeking out underrepresented voices that have helped shape the movement became key goals of my work with evaluating class materials.
Beyond course content I also was interested in exploring new pedagogies, which are practices or theories of teaching. One method for decolonizing pedagogy is to focus on disrupting power dynamics in the classroom. This can look like positioning students as teachers and producers of knowledge or implementing nontraditional evaluation processes. In the EAS 567 course, we considered using peer reviews to facilitate co-learning, alternative assignments for assessing comprehension, and encouraging student-developed theories of class concepts.
Participating in this program gave me an opportunity to support transformative sustainability curriculum at SEAS. My hope is that students can carry critical ways of thinking honed during class into their future careers. This knowledge also prepares them to engage with diverse communities in many fields and research areas. As a result, students will be equipped to work towards more integrative, equitable, and just solutions to our world’s most pressing environmental challenges. However, this goal cannot be achieved without first promoting deeper learning and removing colonialist roots from the classroom.