If it isn’t white, it isn’t right? #WhiteCurriculum

Our group approached the subject of postcolonialism in education from the viewpoint of university studies. We found a post by Minna Seikkula in the Raster-blog on racism and borders written by antiracist researchers titled “#WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [student movement against eurocentrism]”. The movement referenced in the post originated in the UK as a statement about the one sided curriculum content, execution and setting in the universities that privilege western knowledge, white minds and bodies. It challenges Eurocentric teaching and textbooks. In the following video produced at the University College London (UCL) some students and faculty members talk about the white curriculum:

As Mariya Hussain (2015) points out, “the education we receive at many universities is one that has been largely shaped by colonialism. It places white, Eurocentric writers and thinkers above others without much concern. This leads to a blindness to other perspectives, and a complete dismissal of the large amounts of thought provoking work produced throughout history by non-white thinkers and scholars.”

Some might ask, how does all of this relate to Finland which has a distinctly different history from the UK and has never been a coloniser? A few points arise in response to this, the first being the situation of the Sami people and the history of taking lands from these indigenous inhabitants and denying the right for self-determination. This can be discussed in terms of colonialism, as has been done in a recent article “Sata kolonialismin vuotta [One hundred years of colonialism]” prompted by the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. Another important point, which is not exclusive to Finland, are the global economic processes and related systems of oppression that are linked to the history of colonial exploitation. Our lecturer Pia Mikander gave us an everyday example of a cheap T-shirt: when you buy a piece of clothing for 5 euros, someone else is paying more for it with their labour.

A practical way of shifting people’s focus to the relationship between capitalism and colonialism is to teach them concrete examples, as above, of how these are interrelated. This approach can be an easier way to get a grasp of colonialism compared to the historical view just because it deals with the material “reality” of the everyday lives of the majority student. However, the historical aspect cannot be ignored since today has its’ roots in the past.

Some things in the curriculum are often taken for granted. You might easily think that white authors are the best just because that’s what you’ve always been taught. But maybe it’s not the fact that they are the best but rather it is a matter of choice to teach only the texts of (dead) white male writers. When was the last time you pondered the limitations of the university’s curriculum? What would be some concrete ways to detach from white curriculum thinking?

The first step, one that we have taken (thanks to this course), is to acknowledge that our curriculum is mostly white. Whiteness often appears as neutral, the norm, something that doesn’t have to be pointed out, hardly even thought of. It is easy to fall into the mundane sense of “neutral” whiteness or better yet the invisibility of whiteness since white Finns do dominate the universities of Finland. In this critique of White curriculum, whiteness is not challenged as an individual characteristic (such as skin color) but as an ideology that bestows privileges and power to those perceived as white (‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL 2015).

A part of the problem is the illusion of universality, the assumption of western=better/more evolved, and everything else is almost automatically seen as secondary, subpar. To question this, to interrogate the history and the social and political construction of this hierarchy and power relation can help us see problems and a need for change where we used to see nothing special.

Whiteness and ethnocentric monoculturalism are powerful and entrenched determinants of worldview. Because they are invisible and operate outside the level of conscious awareness, they can be detrimental to people of color, women, and other marginalized groups in society. (Sue, D. W., 2004, 761–762.)

The change of perspectives might require a change in our ways of learning as well. The OSDE methodology (Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry) initiative for teaching could provide a fruitful platform for complex discussion on a multiplicity of perspectives. The methodology has been developed to give concrete guidelines on how to create an open/safe space, where individuals can, among other things, discuss and examine western knowledge production. According to the OSDE an open space can help individuals understand and analyse their own way of thinking, i.e. the lenses through which they are looking at the world. Getting acquainted with the lenses of others can also give the opportunity to imagine other ways of thinking, living and being together and therefore open up an ethical dialogue between different perspectives. (Andreotti 2011.)

We were particularly intrigued by the idea of dissensus. Participants in a OSDE open space are not encouraged to reach a consensus, instead they are asked to commit to dissensus to enquire their own and other’s viewpoints. A consensus might be needed when making decisions that affect everyone involved, but when it comes to learning, it can be important for different perspectives to have the opportunity to coexist. In OSDE these opinions and points of view are interrogated individually and together as historically and culturally constructed, situated and partial – not final or personal. (Andreotti 2011, 191–215.) OSDE proposes some basic principles for the open space:

  1. Every individual brings to the space valid and legitimate knowledge constructed in their own contexts.
  2. All knowledge is partial and incomplete.
  3. All knowledge can be questioned. (Ibid., 197–198.)

Within the OSDE initiative, independent thinking is dissociated from the autonomous Cartesian thinker and linked to the self-reflexive stance: the ability to trace the collective origins and implications of one’s own thinking through the awareness that one’s subjectivity is constantly constructed within one’s social, cultural and historical contexts (Andreotti 2011, 194).

The domination of white curriculum also refers to language, gender and culture. In the academic sphere English is the universal language and we read papers written in English, partly because Anglo-American universities are at the top of the hierarchy of universities in the Western world. The ethos in Finnish universities emphasizes Greek philosophy, which includes only male thinkers and even today, appraised and quoted scientific thinkers are mostly male, or at least born or educated in the Anglo-American universities. For example, one of our group members participated in two Philosophy of science courses this academic year. The courses gave an overview of only Western philosophy, thinkers and perspectives that represented white hegemony. We can’t help but think, what if the courses would have had a more diverse array of philosophical theorisations from multiple geographic and cultural backgrounds? Often, perspectives that differ from the assumed cultural norm, in this context, Western philosophy, would help to broaden the understanding of the topic in question.

So we conclude with a call for non-white curriculum content and the dismantling of the structures that perpetuate white hegemony in the University!

Group F



Andreotti, V. (2011). Actionable postcolonial theory in education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hortelano, P. (2015, November 30). On practicing anti-racism in academia. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Hussain, M. (2015, March 11). Why is My Curriculum White?. National Union of Students.

Seikkula, M. (2016, September 5). #WhiteCurriculum – opiskelijaliike eurosentrismiä vastaan [#WhiteCurriculum – student movement against eurocentrism]. Rasismista ja rajoista – Maailma rasisminvastaisten tutkijoiden silmin [On racism and borders – The world from the viewpoint of antiracist researchers].

Sue, D. W. (2004). Whiteness and Ethnocentric Monoculturalism: Making the “Invisible” Visible. The American psychologist, 59(8), 761–769.

‘Why is my Curriculum White?’ collective, UCL (2015 March 23). 8 Reasons the Curriculum is White. Novara Media.


Why is My Curriculum White

Decolonise Leeds – 14/3/16

What is ‘’Safe Space’’ and who is it for?

In today’s Social Justice lecture on intersections Iida Pyy introduced us to the concept of safe space. We found that this was a welcomed intervention and it suited well as a part of this particular session since intersections of privilege and disadvantage such as ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability can so easily be lost in the assumptions present in the classroom. These assumptions are enacted in how the teacher talks and what s/he talks about as well as how the students talk, act and relate to each other. We were left wondering how to make the uni classroom a safer space? And why is it important?

Safe space or safer space refers to an environment that is open to different expressions, cultures, ethics, genders, ethnicities, etc. The concept of safe space, as we understood it, is free from presumptions about “us” as white Finns, heterosexuals, men or women, able-bodied and able-minded. The Coalition for Safer Spaces is a good place to start, if one wants to know more about the subject. And a very important issue, particularly in a university setting, is the question of how to make social justice education more accessible to those, who are not familiar with all the hottest concepts, theories and theorists.

When it comes to creating a mentally and physically safe space by cherishing an engaging and supportive learning environment, it is hard to know whether everyone present is on the same page. Touching is a good example of something that can be done with good intentions (to show kindness) but can be perceived as unpleasant or even threatening. The difficulty is that people have different expectations for situations that require social interaction, such as classroom discussions. There is a difference between a debate (a battle of ideas) and a dialogue based on mutual respect. We see that the latter could be fostered as part of the practice of safe space. Committing to some guidelines for safe space can for example remind us about the importance of asking for consent before touching another person. And it can help us remember that we cannot know one’s gender, religion or socioeconomic status by looking at them.

The division between poor and non-poor in Ricky Lee Allen’s “What About Poor White People?” stirred up discussion in our group. When we talk about the poor, who are we thinking of? Are we assuming that none of the people we are surrounded by are poor? At least in Finland being poor isn’t something you can necessarily see on the outside. Thanks to our (almost) free higher education, people with meager financial means can attend university. Of course, due to the impact of social background on the heritability of educational attainment it is less likely, but not impossible.

As Andrew Smiler writes on unintentional gender lessons, schools provide an important setting for transmitting socially held values including beliefs about gender-appropriate behavior. These beliefs are transmitted informally through school structures, teachers’ comments and students themselves. Safer space aims to create a space where everyone could acknowledge and challenge their assumptions, for example about gender-appropriate, “masculine” or “feminine” behavior and sexuality.

A safe space can also be viewed from the perspective of the teacher. Making mistakes and learning from them should be a natural part of teaching and the overall school context. As Freire also highlights: ’’by struggling I become conscious/aware’’. The teacher can be a committed intellectual, as Gustavo Fischman and Eric Haas suggest in their article on critical pedagogy, even though s/he feels confused in some situations. When a teacher or a student violates the safe space this can be used as a teachable moment. The debate about gender roles (which often arise in everyday situations), may well be used as an example; children and young people who are behaving in breach of certain gender norms, often face discrimination. Safe spaces can also be created through these teachable moments when teachers and students reflect on their thoughts, language or action and become more aware of what is safe and what is not.

The concept of safe space has been criticised in different ways and what some have suggested is that the idea of safe space implicates that the rest of the world is unsafe. Unfortunately, this is in many respects the case. Many spaces in the world are unsafe, which makes it necessary to have safer spaces. A seemingly mundane thing such as segregated bathrooms can create a very unsafe environment for those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth or do not fit into the binary. First of all, there is the forced choice of which bathroom you go to and then the possibly excruciating experience of being called out for presumably being in the “wrong one”.

We wrote this blog post in the group study room of the Learning Centre Minerva. Right beside the room are two bathrooms which to our joyous surprise read: Kaikille/För alla/For all. Way to go! This is a good direction towards safer spaces in the university.

Group F


References and further reading:

Allen, R. L. (2008). “What about poor white people”? In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 209–230). London: Routledge.

Coalition for Safer Spaces. (2010, 4 April). What are, and why support, ‘safer’ spaces (Blog post). Retrieved from here.

Cumming-Potvin, W. & Martino, W. (2014). Teaching about Queer Families: surveillance, censorship, and the schooling of sexualities. Teaching Education, 25(3), 309–333.

Fischman, G. E., & Haas, E. (2008). Critical Pedagogy and Hope in the Context of Neo-Liberal Globalization. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 565–575). London: Routledge.

Kjaran, J. I. & Jóhannesson, I. Á. (2014). Inclusion, exclusion and the queering of spaces in two Icelandic upper secondary schools. Ethnography and Education, 10(1), 42–59.

Smiler, A. P. (2008). Unintentional Gender Lessons in Schools. In W. Ayers, T. Quinn, & D. Stowall (Eds.), Handbook of Social Justice in Education (pp. 358–370). London: Routledge.

Thom, K. C. (2015, 27 September). 9 Ways We Can Make Social Justice Movements Less Elitist and More Accessible. Everyday feminism. Retrieved from here.