Visit the Shades of Noir (SoN) http://shadesofnoir.org.uk/
Shades of Noir is a creative platform that supports and showcases current artists, events and social issues of marginalized groups. It’s aim is to give students, graduates and staff a true representation of art and art history that perhaps our current society and curriculum does not. By being an open, safe space for it’s users it encourages groups ‘to articulate self-determination and liberate the struggles from oppressive structures both in education and society.’
The site should be considered a resource for all students and staff. It’s content primarily focusses on people of colour, however the articles and topics covered are applicable and educational to all. Teachers and students should be encouraged to use the site as a resource. In doing so they will uncover a diverse and representative range of creative and social influences. As well as acting as an educational tool, the site is also a place of community to BAME students, providing much-needed exposure and representation in the creative industry.
The case studies within the Curriculum section of the site were of particular interest to me. Not only do they offer invaluable first-hand insight into prejudice and racism, but significantly they also provide tangible suggestions as to how such cases can be avoided in the future. Significantly the examples given cover student and staff experience, and therefore offer a comprehensive insight from all perspectives. It is my view that these case studies should be promoted to staff at all levels so they are better informed of the challenges faced by their colleagues and students and be better equipped to support them.
My personal experience of working with a BAME student has taught how it important a sense of community connection is, whether that be race, faith or identity. My student has always excelled when he feels understood by his tutors and peers. When a tutor shows recognition and makes the effort to connect to a project the student feels vindicated and encouraged to continue working. On the contrary I have also seen my student become despondent and demotivated when his tutors have failed to appreciate his work on a cultural level. This is not simply a case of tutors encouraging their student, but more a case of them truly understanding them too. I believe Shades of Noir would provide valuable context to my students work. In turn it could have a positive impact on his work and mentality by providing a source of encouragement and community. I am sure he would learn a great deal from reading the case studies, as indeed I have.
Read Hahn Tapper (2013) ‘A pedagogy of social justice education: social identity, theory and intersectionality’, Pp. 411-
417 (and see diagram on p.426)
What is social justice education? The article written by Hahn Tapper makes the argument that our universities will fail unless they can manage and reduce social conflict. To do so they must integrate social issues into their curriculum. This fragile situation highlights the disparities in ‘societal opportunities, resources and long-term outcomes among marginalised groups’.
Reading Hahn Tapper’s article on social conflict has introduced me to the series of studies described as ‘Contact Hypothesis’. This theory is said to have been devised by Gorden W. Allport who aimed to break-down social prejudice within education. Allport suggests that if two groups of people of conflicting opinions are encouraged to interact in appropriate conditions it can help to break down prejudice, preconception and resolve the conflict. The ambiguity here is that positive results are dependant on ‘appropriate conditions’ – as teachers how do we make sure the conditions are equal and correct? The Robber Cave experiment explains that intergroup activity and teamwork can greatly improve relations between peers, however if handled incorrectly they can also end up causing more harm than good. This experiment highlights the challenges faced by teachers in ensuring the environment they create is conducive to positive learning experiences.
It is further argued that even if the intergroup activity is successful inside the ‘room’ there is no guarantee it will change things outside. Although I can see this point of view I believe Contact Hypothesis theories should still be encouraged within our teaching. At the very least they will promote self-reflection and be the start of a critical thought process. In best case scenarios this self-reflection may then lead to a change in preconceptions and prejudices later on.
Trapper’s article on social justice education has been very reaffirming to methods that I already employ in my practice. I continue to find Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed to be an influence on my work and I am pleased that Trapper’s articles generally support Freire’s theories. Specifically it is the notion that ‘education provides venues for students to achieve freedom’ that I relate to. One of my primary objectives when teaching is for my students to gain a sense of freedom in their work. I try to aid my student to reach their potential despite their disabilities, and I think in many ways this is the ‘freedom’ that Freire describes.
The many artists and discussions on the Shades of Noir platform highlight that identity is an integral part of all student’s and professional’s learning. The same idea is discussed by Freire when he states that a student’s identity needs to be taken into account in all educational settings. I believe it is a teachers responsibility to understand their student’s ‘reality’ and reasons for studying. Our aim is to use a student’s passions and influences to direct their learning, to do so we must properly understand them ourselves first. The use of dialogue is an important element to achieving this goal. Freire explains that teachers must be ‘open to everything in the world’. True dialogue cannot happen if we are closed to contributions from others, in this case our students.
Watch the student film ‘Room of Silence’ from Rhode Island School of Design https://vimeo.com/161259012.
One of many comments that stood out to me was when one student expressed how important it is that tutors and peers do not feel ‘nervous’ when commenting on her work about race. She stated that ‘I need you to say something about this, how am I meant to learn? I could be making the shittiest work about race and no one would tell me…’
We must acknowledge that students of minority groups are being brave to talk about racial incidences and this should be encouraged. Only by creating honest, open discussion can an issue come to the forefront and resolutions be a made. I wonder if perhaps now that this video has been made and the teachers of this faculty have seen these honest discussions there has been a change in their experiences?
As teachers we should support, critique and encourage student’s individual and social identities in their education. If a lack of knowledge leads to a teacher failing to provide a full critique of a student’s work that teacher has two key responsibilities. Firstly they must direct their student to an appropriate colleague for better feedback, and secondly they must rectify the gap in their own knowledge. It is paramount to a student’s development to have access to communities and artists as reference points in contextual study. This is why the Shades of Noir platform and the case studies mentioned above can be so important – not only can it provide education to teachers looking to expand their knowledge but it can also provide reference points to students looking for inspiration.