The Writer:Leigh Mcmanus
Date first published: 17 February 2019
The Duchess of Sussex has shown her support for a campaign by black academics and students that aims to ‘decolonise’ university curriculum in the UK, it has emerged.
It is the 37-year-old’s first apparently political intervention since she became part of the Royal Family, marrying Prince Harry last May.
The movement aims to ‘confront the legacies of the empire’ and racism on campuses and promotes black and female thinkers instead of ‘male, pale and stale’ ones.
It has now emerged that, during her January visit at City, University of London, in Islington Meghan encouraged scholars to ‘open up the conversation’ about curriculum in our universities and also reacted with shock at figures showing the misrepresentation of ethnicity in professor positions in universities.
The campaign she is backing has been a controversial movement since students took to the streets of Oxford in 2016 in an effort to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the 19th Century colonialist, removed from one of Oxford University’s colleges.
It followed a similar #RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, which succeeded in having a statue of Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town.
In January, in her new role as Patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) international organisation, the duchess expressed her surprise at the shockingly low figures of diversity in UK professors.
Upon being handed a sheet of data showing that UK professors are overwhelmingly white men, the duchess reportedly said: ‘Oh my God.’
Dr Rachel Cowan, who supports ethnic minority and female staff at Manchester University, said: ‘She was really surprised, she was like ‘oh my god, really, we need to get a photograph of this’.’
The duchess also reportedly turned to her private secretary Amy Pickering and asked her to take a picture of the data relating to 2016-17.
Meghan said universities should ‘open a debate’ in a bid to avoid ‘continuing with the daily rote’ because ‘sometimes that approach can be really antiquated and needs an update.’
Research from Advance HE revealed 68% of UK professors were white males, 23% white female, 6.5% black and minority ethnic (BME) male and 2% BME female.
Meera Sabaratnam, leading the working party to decolonise the curriculum at SOAS, University of London and whose data inspired Meghan’s ‘Oh my God’ comment, agreed that ‘change is long overdue’.
She told The Sunday Times: ‘Many of the issues around racial equality are similar and it is great to see her embrace this. Change is long overdue.’
The reaction of the duchess to the lack of diversity among scholars may be due in part to her upbringing and her ‘impactful’ and ‘pivotal’ experience in university in the US.
African-American authors are widely studied in US universities and statistics on the ethnic profiles of students and staff are published on university websites.
Meera Sabaratnam said US universities have ‘a legacy of affirmative action.’
Meghan graduated from Northwestern University, Illinois, with a joint Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and international relations in 2003.
In October, the duchess was praised for giving a ‘powerful’ speech on feminism and women’s suffrage in New Zealand on 125th anniversary of women achieving the right to vote in the country.
In her last display of political concern, Meghan spoke about economic and social development and the rights of women in developing countries.
She said: ‘Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to receive the education they want, but more importantly the education they have the right to receive.
‘And for women and girls in developing countries, this is vital.
‘Providing them with access to education is the key to economic and social development.’