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Taking Steps To Initiate the Decolonisation of the Global Mental Health MSc

University of Glasgow Stance on Decolonisation

Screen grab of learning materials. Photo of University of Glasgow. Text reads. Decolonisation at the University of Glasgow.
The University of Glasgow has acknowledged past wrong-doings, which include upholding structural racism and benefitting from the slave trade (University of Glasgow, n.d.). The institution has pledged to proactively address historical and ongoing issues through the process of decolonising the teaching curriculum (University of Glasgow, 2022). 
'The University of Glasgow acknowledges that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it received some gifts and bequests from persons who may have benefitted from the proceeds of slavery. Income from such gifts and bequests have been used in supporting academic activity undertaken by students and staff at the University.' (University of Glasgow, 2022)
Image Caption: An excerpt from learning materials developed for students introducing the concept of decolonisation.

The University of Glasgow, recognising its historical involvement in the slave trade and structural racism, is encouraging staff to take a proactive stance to decolonise the curriculum. As part of this effort, members of the Global Mental Health (GMH) MSc team have embarked on a project initiating the process of decolonising their learning materials.

We approach this project recognising our positionalities as those in positions of power and influence. Drawing on the literature and collaborating with students, we sought to redesign our programme to reflect a nascent decolonial ethos. We recognise this is a longer process of learning and unlearning.

Starting the process of decolonising the curriculum is important to me to ensure that we start conversations to challenge biases within teaching material. 

Julie Langan-Martin

Initial Exploration and Audit

The initial phase of the project involved the project team delving into the concept of decolonisation. This was followed by a comprehensive audit of two courses using the University of Reading’s decolonising tool. The audit’s findings revealed three main areas for development:

  1. Small adaptations: Implementing minor changes to existing course materials
  2. Decolonisation development: Enhancing existing materials to incorporate decolonial perspectives
  3. New content: Introducing entirely new content that aligns with decolonisation principles

Student Engagement in the Process

The GMH team are very aware of our students’ wide range of cultural and geographical backgrounds and the valuable input to curriculum development they have offered over the years. To further advance the project, the team organised a workshop for on-campus students. This resource (https://rise.articulate.com/share/_ejykvxomXnAwn9wu90adudoBAdK8xiD) outlines the workshop and the planned next steps. The workshop served as a platform to:

  • Present the decolonisation project and its objectives
  • Share newly developed materials
  • Engage students in addressing areas requiring further consideration

The workshop encouraged students to adopt a decolonial stance and explore concepts like positionality and privilege. Current students and alumni actively participated in the workshop, and attendees were invited to contribute to future learning resources. As an incentive, students’ contributions would be recognised in their university transcripts.

I believe it is important for teaching staff and students to think critically about topics presented in the learning materials so that, collectively, we can understand how we have arrived in present-day society and address the numerous complex challenges that we face, which are so often rooted in imperialism and colonialism.

Mia Wilson

Workshop Fosters Understanding and Inclusivity

Screen grab of learning materials. An image of the word 'define' is visible along with the following information: Decolonisation requires acknowledging and challenging colonial systems, practices, and constitutions (University of Essex, 2023). There is no single agreed definition of intellectual decolonisation. However, all definitions include the concept of creating space and opportunities for alternative knowledge systems to be created, engaged with, and valued equally (Ferguson et al., 2019; Jansen, 2019).
Image Caption: A screen grab of learning materials from the workshop.

The workshop welcomed twelve students from diverse nationalities and language backgrounds. A pre-session survey revealed varying levels of familiarity with decolonisation, with participants recognising its aim to:

  • Rebalance power dynamics
  • Reintegrate Indigenous ideologies
  • Break away from Western/Eurocentric influences

The workshop incorporated including information sharing and small- and full-group discussions. Discussions centred round unconscious bias and finding solutions to specific instances identified by the project team where resources required further consideration in relation to colonialism.

Outcome notes from these case studies were embedded in the workshop sections, contributing to the ongoing decolonising effort.

The value of working to decolonise the curriculum for me is the acknowledgement and dismantling of power structures in an effort to create a more equitable and empowering educational environment.

Dr Laura Sharp

Positive Feedback and Future Directions

Screen grab of an illustrative activity set for students during the workshop. Wording presented: International Classification of Functioning
Location: Themes 3, Concepts of Disability, Step 4. 
Problem: Four Central Underlying Principles for the WHO's ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health) are introduced. The underlying principles propose non-bias, universality, parity etc. However no knowledge produced can be entirely unbiased, will functioning and health mean the same to everyone? – who created ICF?
Student Consideration: Is there any evidence that demonstrates variation in ideas of functioning and health that may challenge the universality of the ICF? Are there scholars criticising the creation of the ICF from a colonial standpoint? How should/could this be integrated into the content?
Image Caption: The content presented is an illustration of an activity posed to students during the workshop. Students are working collaboratively with the team to update the learning materials for future course presentations.

Post-session feedback indicated that students found the workshop extremely valuable. Participants expressed new or deeper understandings of decolonisation and appreciated the insights into different viewpoints. The project team is committed to continuing the decolonisation process with a focus on incorporating student feedback, and where possible, empowering students to lead on sections of the work. This ongoing commitment demonstrates a commitment to achieve a truly inclusive and equitable learning environment.

Surfacing our own biases as educators and learners is the crucial first step towards privileging diverse experiences, worldviews and knowledges.

Dr Dimitar Karadzhov
Image Caption: In the original content resources explored the impact of the Tohunga Suppression Act on Indigenous communities. Reviewing the content with a decolonising lens it was apparent it was presented from the perspective of Eurocentric belief systems. To try and redress the balance, and create transparency about the influence of colonialism, new learning materials were incorporated that provided context about the Tohunga Suppression Act, incorporated details of the Māori perspective, and challenged the students to consider where power imbalances continued to be apparent for this community. This is a screen grab of some of the new materials.

Decolonising the curriculum is important to me because it fosters curiosity and a broadening of worldviews through engaging with our history in a dynamic and disruptive way.

Ailsa Foley

Project Team

Dr Laura Sharp: Laura is a Senior Lecturer working in the School of Health & Wellbeing (SWH) with a focus on digital education. She has progressed online learning within the GMH, Public Health, and Genetic Counselling Programmes.

Ailsa Foley: Ailsa a lecturer in the School of Health & Wellbeing and GMH alumni. Ailsa is supporting the development of the online learning materials.

Mia Wilson: Mia is a Lecturer in MVLS with a strong interest in the pedagogy of online teaching. She supports a range of courses across GMH, Public Health, and the MVLS microcredential portfolio.

Isla Campbell: Following the completion of her GMH MSc, Isla joined the University for a period as a Teaching Assistant to support the initial set-up of the decolonisation project.

Dr Dimitar Karadzhov: Dimitar is part of the GMH MSc Programme Team and is Course Lead on two GMH Master’s courses. Dimitar completed his PhD in Public Health and Health Policy at the University of Strathclyde.

Dr Julie Langan Martin: Julie is a Senior Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry, an Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist and the Director of the GMH MSc in the School of Health & Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow.

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