We asked SOAS students if they wanted white philosophers off the syllabus
‘You wouldn’t see another university make such a fuss.’
In the basement of SOAS’ student union, there are numerous murals depicting individuals who have stood up to promote the rights and causes of ethnic minorities. They include political activists, scholars, musicians and other individuals.
Junot Diaz [pictured] is a writer who has defended the rights of Dominicans and Haitians, opposing the USA’s immigration policy as well as the Dominican government’s forced deportation of Haitian economic migrants.
It is figures like these that SOAS’ student union wants the university’s curriculum to focus on, instead of the white philosophers that currently form a big part of many courses. First published by the Daily Mail, the story has received a large amount of negative press as a short-sighted and “ignorant” policy.
Although The Tab has tried on multiple occasions to gain comment from the campaign’s organiser, Ali Habib, he has not replied to our emails or phone calls. Instead, we went around the SOAS campus and asked students for their thoughts on the campaign.
Riyah, 20, 2nd Year, History
“The SU was elected on these issues, on their values towards this topic [of Decolonising SOAS]. Since last year when the campaign started, you can see the diversity of the figures that people have voted to be put on the SU walls. It resonates throughout SOAS, and it hasn’t been reflected in these news stories.
“It’s not about the race of the author or scholar, or where they’re from…it’s about their work. Universities should be putting the best ideas out there. You need to have some kind of debate from other regional perspectives, because they have another background to the same debate. The whole idea of coming to university is about gaining a broader perspective.”
Jasmyn, 22, MA Religion and Global Politics
“My Professor wrote something on Overheard at SOAS about the World Philosophies response to all the misinformation that has been spreading. Basically I agree with that. Our first term was all European writers. I don’t think anyone is interested in completely getting rid of them, it’s just about bringing these variety of cultures alongside each other and having them in conversation.”
Mohammad, 22, MA Islamic Societies in Culture
“I think it’s a good campaign in that it exposes people to a whole variety of different thinkers, and ideas that aren’t necessarily taught in a traditional teaching of philosophy.”
James, 23, 2nd Year, Music
“The Daily Mail started it. All I have to say about it is it’s pretty silly that people are listening to the Mail. They’re interested in reverse racism, which isn’t what it’s about.”
Dan, 20, 2nd Year, Music and Social Anthropology
“The Mail were the first to misrepresent it. Didn’t a SOAS academic think that the Mail’s slant was the right line? That itself is kind of sad.”
Austyn, 19, 2nd Year, History and International Relations and Joy, 19, 2nd Year Middle Eastern Studies
Joy: “If you’re at SOAS, you don’t really want to study some boring white guy. They shouldn’t be taken out, but with the English degree, it’s all white people…It needs to be more about what SOAS is called; what you come here for.”
Austyn: “I don’t think they [white philosophers] should be taken out…You wouldn’t see another university make such a fuss.”