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Decolonising report from the Faculty of Environment

Report summary

This report aims to understand some of the challenges and resistance towards decolonialising initiatives in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Leeds.

We used an online anonymous survey in May/June 2022 to collect responses from all staff (including academic related and professional staff) from the faculty. In total, we received over 100 responses from the four schools within the faculty: School of Earth and Environment, School of Geography, School of Food Science and Nutrition and Institute for Transport Studies, which are collated and analysed in this report.

Among our findings, there are various challenges faced by staff in the face of decolonising their research, teaching and/or job. The majority thought it did apply to their teaching, research, or role and that it was their responsibility to engage in wider conversations and practices on decolonisation.

Challenges appear to be in not knowing where to start, and not having resources, including time and finances. There was moderate agreement that there was a ‘fear of getting it wrong.’ Anxieties around challenging power structures and bringing up the subject of decolonisation had lower agreement rates, suggesting once bottlenecks of resources (including time) are addressed, staff would be willing to challenge existing power structures and engage in decolonisation conversations to a greater extent.

Responses to our survey reflected resistance from staff which ranged from decolonisation not being applicable to the person’s field, feeling offended we were questioning scientific methods to lacking time for these initiatives. Though a majority agreed that decolonisation was relevant to their teaching, research, or job role. At a structural level, participants expressed how the burden to decolonise seems to fall on those most involved in teaching, particularly those on fixed-term contracts and lower paid staff members. Respondents also showed hesitation towards these initiatives as they thought they could be perceived as tick box and tokenistic exercises on behalf of the university. Others raised the issue of the university wanting to apply a blanket one size fits across the institution without considering multiple variables such as the nature of the discipline, module, type of research and most importantly power dynamics around gender, race, immigration status, class, type of employment, etc.

We found there is an urgent need to recognise and address the various levels of resistance to decolonising the university from staff.

We present recommendations at the institutional, faculty, school, and individual level towards decolonisation. The findings and recommendations we present are non-exhaustive. As similar issues are present across Higher Education, we suggest the report is relevant to both other faculties and institutions.