In this issue, we highlight the experiences and plans of those who participated in a Decolonizing Knowledge workshop in Washington DC, Prof. Anne Campbell’s approach to assigning readings for her courses, and brief reports of the events organized and hosted by our student clubs.
Decolonizing Knowledge Workshop
Associate Professor, Director of the Center for Conflict Studies, and Chief Diversity Officer
In October 2018, I organized a two-day Decolonizing Knowledge workshop in the Middlebury offices in Washington DC for six faculty members — three from MIIS (Pablo Oliva, Andrea Hoffman-Miller and David Wick) and three from MIDD (Jonathan Miller-Lane, Catharine Wright and Kemi Fuentes-George). My goal was to have an exchange of ideas from faculty from both campuses on what it is to decolonize our minds and therefore decolonize our classrooms, pedagogy, and syllabi. As you will note from the reports below, the workshop (especially the readings) stimulated our thinking. It has forced us to look at what we do, how we do it and how we hope to continue our research, teaching, and practice in the future. We were also glad to have Amber McZeal, a liberation arts practitioner, present to us on the meaning of and the various approaches to decolonization. Renee Wells, Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion at Middlebury, supported the workshop in various capacities.
Associate Professor & Director, Education Studies Program, Faculty Head, Wonnacott Commons, Lead Professor for JusTalks, Lead Professor for the Sophomore Seminar in the Liberal Arts
It is an open question whether an institution that was established as an embodiment of the colonial legacy can become a dynamic home for honest, creative discussions about what it would mean to ‘decolonize’ our curriculum. Yet, on the other hand, if the liberal arts is a site of education for freedom, then, where else, but here, should a commitment to decolonize knowledge take root? During our weekend together, I gained clarity on two things: First, the process of decolonizing our assumptions around epistemologies and ontologies is challenging and captivating. There is an important and rich literature to help inform my own work and I have become more committed to this effort since our weekend. Second, engaging these discussions as colleagues of the BIG M, from both Monterey and Middlebury, offered a unique and important opportunity for intellectual collaboration and shared inquiry. We need more such opportunities within the BIG M because we have expertise that can inform one another’s work. This shared experience was and is professionally nourishing. I personally believe that this work cannot be done without incorporating contemplative pedagogy because a “pedagogy of interiority,” to quote the late, Irish poet John O’Donohue, is an essential ingredient to creating the internal capacity to endure the challenges the work brings. I am grateful for our time together and look forward to our next gathering.
Associate Professor, Coordinator of Hispanic Studies
I would like to thank Dr. Iyer for inviting us to attend this workshop in Washington DC. It was great to have had the possibility to explore, reflect and brainstorm ideas as we untangled the concept of decolonization with colleagues from Monterey and Middlebury campus. I found the experience very enriching because it helped me personally to look at different perspectives and also to think of new ways to challenge my students. In Language Studies, we follow the Content-based Instruction format in the teaching of languages. One of the recurrent topics in my courses is “poverty,” and I am planning to explore in the near future and as a product of this seminar, the “voices that are not heard.” In other words, what it means “to be poor” from the point of view of a poor person.
Associate Professor of Political Science
These are my three main takeaways from the Decolonizing Workshop:
- The workshop was most helpful in realizing a) that I am not the only person trying to figure out how to deal with the important work of decolonizing the classroom, b) that this will be an ongoing endeavor – that I should beware of every thinking that I have “arrived” at the goal of decolonization, and c) that I can look for allies outside my department, discipline, and even institution to think of appropriate strategies in decolonizing.
- For me, the workshop clarified the importance of decolonizing – building ‘on-ramps’ for students to enter academia, and think about important issues in new ways. This is intimately connected to, and builds upon the ability of students (especially from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds) to feel empowered in academia. Without that, our system of building knowledge will be anemic.
- I’m taking the ideas & strategies discussed at the workshop on campus, and am building outreach through small faculty meetings to colleagues to think critically about syllabus design, classroom presence, and teaching evaluations.
Translator/Conference Interpreter (Member AIIC), Assistant Professor, German Translation and Interpretation, Leiterin des deutschen T&I-Programms/German Language Coordinator
I did not know what to expect going into the workshop, but I was open to learn, and I did learn that in order to decolonize our mind, we have to think outside of “regular academia” and reach out to as well as implement new authors and concepts. This does not mean discounting what was done in the past, but adding to it and expanding our circle-of-knowledge.
Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric and Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies
I very much appreciated the opportunity to learn about the decolonizing knowledge movement and concept and to discuss with colleagues across the institution. While I have drawn on postcolonial studies and transnational feminism in my teaching and writing before this, I am particularly attracted to the way that decolonizing knowledge invites us to critically imagine new ways forward, to work towards non competitive horizons. I hope to apply to a five-day Decolonizing Seminar scheduled for July in Spain, where an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars will, among other things, formulate new research questions.
Assistant Professor of International Education Management
I was pleased to participate in a two-day workshop on decolonizing knowledge convened by the Institute’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Pushpa Iyer, at the Washington DC Center. The work we did before, during, and after provided a powerful opportunity to challenge our thought and action related to how we reproduce colonization in our production and distribution of knowledge. We examined a variety of decolonization themes including decolonization of knowledge, the mind, the curriculum, and pedagogy in order to identify opportunities for change. The ideas we discussed at the October workshop are influencing my course design for spring semester, my research agenda, and my writing.
Many of our workshop conversations about the scholarly and theoretical underpinnings of decolonization led our group to focus on our institutional context. As we initiate conversations about decolonization it is important to consider how our institutional symbols and actions perpetuate historic injustices. MIIS is located within the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation (http://www.ohlonecostanoanesselennation.org). Our Institute mission, programs, and events are strongly rooted in nationality and internationality. For example, we have flag ceremonies as part of new student orientation and commencement to acknowledge the origins and affiliations of all who are part of this academic community. However, we never acknowledge the people who have the longest history with this land on our website, in our public spaces, or as part of our events. I am happy to have downloaded this app that allows me to learn about the native land that I am on anywhere in North America: https://native-land.ca/mobile-app/. Since returning from the workshop I have been gathering resources related to institutional acknowledgements of the land. I was introduced to a Native student at MIIS who is an advocate for Native rights and decolonization. We have begun to meet regularly and recently reached out to the Ohlone Costanoan Esselen Nation’s tribal chairwoman tribal leader to initiate discussions about appropriate acknowledgement.
Who are MIIS students learning from? A few thoughts on class readings.
By Dr. Anne Campbell
Assistant Professor; Program Coordinator, Joint MPA/International Education Management, MIIS
I like to think of my classes as conversations. Conversations among students, me, guest speakers, scholars, and practitioners. To have quality and depth in these conversations, it’s of course important to know the main theories, debates, and ideas on a topic. Knowing the key tenets provides a strong foundation—a good starting point.
However, the challenge is that the foundation has been set by only a small subsection of those who are involved in any given field. In my discipline—international development and education—a major tenet is human capital theory. To oversimplify, it means measuring the return on investment in education (if you’re really curious, check out this new related initiative from the World Bank, shared with me by a student). Many of the key writings on human capital theory have been authored by male economists and scholars of European decent, who are based in the Global North. So, who is left out of the conversation? Teachers. Students. Policy makers in the Global South. Even those scholars who prioritize transformational learning over economic and employment outcomes.
I feel it’s my role as a faculty member to bring these other voices to the classroom conversation. I want to make sure my students are aware of not only what they’re reading, but who they’re reading. It’s important to me that are aware of the context and can judge whose views to prioritize in their own learning.
Doing this is not easy, and I’ve not mastered it. But I keep trying – I search for diverse authors, critical opinions, and fresh views. I also get inspiration from others: Recently, two faculty at the University of Cape Town wrote this article for The Conversation. In it, they provide a list of 10 crucial questions for faculty to ask themselves about their curricula. I highly recommend it.
Here is some of the interesting work done by student clubs here at MIIS.
MIIS Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA)
In its first semester as a club, the MIIS Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA) hosted several successful activities which brought together members of the MIIS as well as the greater Monterey community. In September, MIRA established a partnership with the Salinas branch of the United Farm Workers Foundation. UFWF is deeply involved with policy advocacy and community empowerment work in Monterey County. MIRA members supported UFWF throughout the semester by volunteering at two of the organization’s immigration workshops, at which they helped clients complete citizenship applications in Spanish and English.
In November, MIRA held a panel discussion titled “Living in Fear: The Local Impact of Immigration Policy in the Trump Era.” This event featured the perspectives of five community leaders from Monterey County and highlighted the ways in which immigration policy has affected their work in the community. Some of the most significant points raised by the panelists were the importance of building trust within the community, bridging the gap between academic research and practice, and engaging in policy advocacy to change the status quo.
Queers and Allies at MIIS (QAAAM)
Fall 2018 was QAAAM’s first semester as an official student club, and we successfully hosted more than nine events and meetings. Our National Coming Out Day event featured 10 MIIS students and their experience of sharing their queer identities with loved ones. Later in the semester three QAAAM members, Carlos, Caitlin, and Alexandro, took over MIIS Radio and recorded a discussion about the fluidity of identity, self-censorship, mentorships, and being queer abroad. Our most recent events have been panels where special guests from the Monterey and MIIS community have come together to converse about navigating in the workspace as a queer-identifying professional and the realities of HIV/AIDS. This first semester as an organized group has been very exciting, and we want to thank everyone who has supported the growth of our club this year. We are thrilled to have been voted as the student club that organized the ‘Most Valuable’ activity of the semester, and we look forward to more events and discussions next spring!”
GSTILE’s Fall Forum: Gendernation
This year, the Interpretation Practicum class organized their annual Fall Forum around issues of gender. This forum provides a platform for the MIIS community to share perspectives from different cultures, while also allowing second-year interpretation students to perform interpretation in a professional setting. The forum is a unique opportunity for students to experience working with interpreters, and brings together people across language barriers. This year’s forum had eight panels where students representing different cultures discussed challenges and opportunities on the following topics: Women in Combat, Single-Sex Schools/Courses, LGBTQ+ Rights, Gender Linguistics, Gender Identity & Upbringing, Gender Stereotypes, Affirmative Action, and Workplace Discrimination. 39 panel speakers and 33 interpreters spoke at the event, with approximately 80 in attendance.
Emilia Wei, a second-year GSTILE student who co-organized this event with a team of peers says “I really liked how at the panel we got to engage in honest and respectful discussions on the featured issue. I admire the candidness and respect shown by all participants during the discussion. It takes courage and consideration to talk about things that are deeply relevant to us, an important lesson I learned throughout the months of organizing the event itself. One afternoon was certainly not enough, but I left the fall forum with a little more awareness, a little more insights, and a little more hope that things are changing for the better. If most participants felt the same way, then I’d say it’s a success.”