In June, faculty from Liberal Studies, NYU London, NYU Abu Dhabi, and prominent British universities came together at London's Bedford Square for a first of its kind three-day symposium: "Decolonizing the Liberal Arts Curriculum." Sparked by NYU's Global Opportunity Grant, the innovative symposium consisted of roundtable discussions and in-person tours around London that inspired faculty to further incorporate global perspectives into the liberal arts curriculum. The organizing committee, led by Clinical Associate Professor of Liberal Studies Adedamola Osinulu, included professors Jeannine Chandler, Ifeona Fulani, Dina Siddiqi, Minu Tharoor, and Peter Valenti, who are all fueled by a dedication to this mission. As Osinulu explained, "for years, Liberal Studies has been interested in ways to globalize curriculum, particularly in core classes. Faculty have been working to de-center from Europe as the center of knowledge to include a polycentric approach to liberal arts curriculum."
Osinulu continued, "most institutions have abandoned their Western Civilization courses for a more outwardly global curriculum, but superficial deletions and tentative insertions have proved to be insufficiently transformative for a modern student body that is both internationally-rooted and globally-connected. This symposium was therefore conceived as a collaborative effort to discover and develop new approaches to scholarship and pedagogy in the Liberal Arts."
Planning of the symposium began over a year ago with NYU's Global Opportunity Grant, which seeks to engage NYU's global sites in advancing faculty research, scholarship, and creative work through engagement and collaboration with local scholars. After receiving this grant, Liberal Studies’ dean, Julie Mostov, issued matching funds to further support decolonization discourse. The symposium was then also supported by the Provost's Global Research Initiative.
Staying true to Liberal Studies' core values, this symposium sought to aid researchers, instructors, and academic units in solidifying a more globalized curriculum. As Osinulu explained, "the only way to achieve decolonization is collaboratively, so a conference bringing faculty together in a symposium to discuss research and pedagogy is a good way to move forward." "Decolonizing the Liberal Arts Curriculum" had three defined goals: to inspire global collaboration; to propose methods to rework coursework to focus on multiple centers of knowledge; and to devise ways to reset curricular goals and guidelines for a more diverse learning environment.
The symposium held eight roundtables, each consisting of five faculty members with unique expertise and research. Professors dove into topics such as: "New Perspectives on Teaching Film, Media, and Writing;" "Decolonial Identity Pedagogies: Contending with Power, Exclusion, and Belonging;" and "New Portals to the Past and Fresh Histories of the Future."
Professors were also able to explore London through opportunities for community engagement centered around expanding and reframing historical materials and inspiring ways for future pedagogy to be approached with a decolonizing lens. Excursions included a tour of the British Museum guided by professor and anthropologist Dan Hicks, and visits to several non-profit organizations, including Pram Depot, MayDay Rooms, and the Swadhinata Trust. The tour of Pram Depot showed the behind-the-scenes operations of what began as an art installation of baby objects and became a center for recycling gently-used baby clothes and helping mothers in need. While visiting MayDay Rooms, faculty explored archived materials related to social struggle and resistance campaigns, while the Swadhinata Trust taught NYU professors about their work promoting Bengali culture, research, and education internationally.
One visit that particularly resonated with faculty was to Collage Arts, a center for creative development dedicated to offering underrepresented groups the space and means to channel their artistry in order to expand their career opportunities. Describing this visit, Osinulu recalled, "the educators at Collage Arts described their work cultivating an education system for young people facing a difficult time and described their model for education as a playground. Rather than a ladder-model, which teaches with a focus on scores and benchmarks, the playground-model inspired faculty with its focus on discussion, interaction, collaboration, and the fun of learning. This symposium was not just about changing the books and texts used in curriculum but about inspiring new ways of thinking and teaching."