Bob Bailey

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Inclusive Teaching and Learning in Higher Education – Race – Task 3: The Room of Silence. A Short Film by Eloise Sherrid

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An interesting short film that gave a brief but worrying view of minority students’ reactions to class experience of racism and ignorance and their own crits. regarded as less critically constructive or simply denied a hearing / listening during their Studies at Rhode Island School of Design.

Most Fine Art subjects are subjective and the onus is on the lecturer to question the student’s work in such a way that the student can reflect and develop their work – if a Student feels that the Crit has no depth, no reflection, no gravitas, no coherent argument then surely this needs to be said during the class rather than discuss it away from all the students ? This allows the entire class to reflect, to ask questions, to agree or disagree with viewpoints whichever side of a debate they are – without the openness of the debate will the issue highlighted in the short film ever be conquered.

I do not dispute the views and experiences of the interviewees but I raise the question how did most of the other students find their Crits at Rhode Island School of Design? – the ‘elephant on the room’ is the bullet through the halo; how many other images done by the rest of the class were as provocative? How many other students were brushed off with superficial comments like “I like the colour” regardless of race. Part of this short film deals with recognising and flagging up the racist viewpoint (“she was more racist today”) of a lecturer but it also flags up to me that racial elements require blatant questions, blatant observations, blatant reviews, fired up discussions in classrooms when the subject is proffered but in a healthy and safe environment. I feel that these students were not in a safe environment, in the main, due to the Lecturer’s White ‘privilege’? Can a Lecturer truly answer to their lack of understanding, their ignorance of the subject that they see in front of them? Are they embarrassed to discuss racial issues? Surely a Professional working in an Arts Educational  environment needs to be challenged directly either by their Peers or their Students; we do not know everything but we can open debates rather than censor them. If a Lecturer is frightened of expressing their ignorance of a subject or they lack interest in various cultures, colours, creeds, faiths then perhaps they need to ask themselves if they should remain in the Profession. The act of Constructive Criticism needs to be looked at – superficial criticism is pointless, ineffective, has no outcome and no-one learns form it. My Foundation Students are desperate for Constructive Criticism… I tell them I do not know everything but I use my years of experience, my maturity, my willingness to learn and listen to help form an opinion and advice and help and support.

My fear for the Students interviewed in the film was that they would become unwilling to show their reactions, to share their work openly and safely, to be unwilling to work on subjects that would not be accepted or discussed by their Tutors. This would not help the students to explore all subjects (none should be off limits for Artists) with the depth and emotional weight and sensitivity that is needed.

I am also very aware of how racism has hit politics (again) with Brexit and also, widely reviewed as Intersectionality, Anti-Semitism within the Labour Party (again). How can this constant subject be wiped out? Not by one Lecturer, not by 2, not by one University – yes it all helps, it all adds up, but how Society acts and reacts is a very strong conduit. How Primary school children are treated and educates is vital, how secondary schools educate and enlighten their Students is more vital, by the time Students reach into the realms of further education their viewpoints have, in the great part, formed along with their ignorances, their insecurities, their loves and interests – we, as Lecturers in HE, can (and should) draw their attention as to how Society isn’t fair, isn’t black and white, isn’t (in any stretch of the imagination) perfect… it’s how we can advise and help the students question their perceived viewpoints that might be contra to their neighbours.

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