Sociology departments must make race and ethnicity more central to teaching, says BSA report

Sociology departments must make race and ethnicity more central in their teaching, the British Sociological Association says in a new report.

Commissioned by the BSA, the report, authored by Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, Dr Stephen Ashe, Professor Claire Alexander and Dr Karis Campion, finds that race and ethnicity is taught merely as an add-on or specialist module in university sociology departments.

Attempts by black and minority ethnic staff to change the situation can result in defensiveness and denial from colleagues, it says.

The four sociologists analysed Higher Education Statistics Agency data and sociology degree programmes information, and carried out an online survey completed by 188 respondents, almost 10% of sociology staff.

Their conclusions include:

  • Race and ethnicity is often taught as an add-on or specialist module, rather than a fundamentally integrated part of the curriculum.
  • Some white staff showed hostility when black, Asian and minority ethnic staff tried to make teaching about race and ethnicity more central in their departments.
  • Almost half of black, Asian and minority ethnic participants (46%) had experienced or witnessed racism, discrimination, harassment or hostility when teaching race and ethnicity, from students and sometimes staff.

The survey took place at a time when there are only 25 black, Asian, mixed and ‘other’ sociology professors, around 10% of all UK sociology professors. Black and minority ethnic students are less likely to attend prestigious universities, less likely to complete their programmes and less likely to be awarded a first class or upper second-class degree: 64.5% of black, Asian and minority ethnic sociology students were awarded a first or 2:1 in 2018/19 compared with 79.4% of white students.

In a foreword to the report, the BSA President, Professor Susan Halford, said: “The report is essential for the future of sociology.

“Whilst acknowledging the many examples of excellent research, education and organisational practice that challenge race and racism within our discipline, it highlights the tasks ahead of us if we are to address the structural whiteness of higher education institutions and their teaching curricula.

“Sociology has never been afraid to turn its critical gaze inwards and this is an urgent example of that legacy. It is up to us now to make these changes.”

Dr Joseph-Salisbury said: “The recent impact of Black Lives Matter has underlined the need for more action to tackle racism in society, and education is an important site for change. Although sociology has played a strong role in helping us understand race and racism, this report shows that universities have a long way to go to embed the study of race and racism in the curriculum.”

The report recommends that departments ensure that race and ethnicity is taught in the first year and across each of the following years, and that it is embedded in compulsory and optional modules.

Core social theory and methods modules should include an inclusive range of key theorists and works, and more modules should be run that examine the global South and integrate a ‘decolonial’ approach to sociology.

The BSA supports the recommendations that it collect more detailed data on ethnic minorities, establish a mentoring scheme for black, Asian and minority ethnic academics, set up a forum to share best practice, and run a teacher training workshop. It will seek to create a postdoctoral fellowship scheme.

For more information, please contact:  

Tony Trueman
British Sociological Association
Tel: 07964 023392 
tony.trueman@britsoc.org.uk

Notes: 

The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235  www.britsoc.co.uk

Tony Trueman
Media Consultant
British Sociological Association
07964 023392
tony.trueman@britsoc.org.uk

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