Rianna, Project Myopia
Rianna shares how an idea she had at University has grown into a resource that is helping UK academics navigate decolonisation.
During her time at the University of Edinburgh, Rianna Walcott spotted a problem. She noticed that people like her were absent from the materials she was encouraged to learn from. So with the help of a Student Experience Grant (formerly Innovation Initiative Grant) she set up Project Myopia to give students an opportunity to have a voice in diversifying university curricula.
We asked Rianna to tell us more.
"My co-founder Toby and I were tired of not seeing ourselves reflected in what we were being taught in our English Literature degrees.
“Project Myopia is our attempt to encourage staff-student collaboration so that everyone who has a stake in the university has the opportunity to transform the academy. We wanted to allow students the opportunity to contribute to their own curricula, and to support educators.
Highlighting marginalised creators
“The idea was to create a database of reviews of diverse materials by marginalised creators that we could then advocate for the inclusion of into curricula. That website/database is still at the heart of what we do, but we now have also set our sights on improving pedagogy and the general culture of the institution as well as curricular reform, and deliver workshops to universities across the UK about best practice and decolonisation.
“We have worked with a number of universities, including Edinburgh, Napier, Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, King’s College London, Queen Mary London, Birmingham City University and many more, delivering workshops to staff and students.
The project was the beginning of understanding that I could make an impact.
An enduring impact
“The project was the beginning of understanding that I could make an impact. Now decolonisation is a core part of my practice as an academic. It has influenced the way I teach, the way I speak, taught me resilience and how to hold my own against people who are committed to keeping the university as it is.
“Not everyone appreciates or understands the purpose of a project like ours, and there are opponents to decolonisation movements all around the UK. We have been very lucky with the sheer amount of support we have received along the way, but there was some backlash at the beginning. We receive regular testimonies from staff who have incorporated our reviews into their teaching, or used the database to find content for their courses, and we are becoming a well-known name amongst UK decolonisation movements.
“I would like to continue my work in academia, making it a more hospitable space for people like me. I love the research I do, and I would like for that to be my main focus eventually, but the work of decolonisation is too important to give up, especially when it’s so clear how much good we are doing.”
“My younger sister Maïa Walcott, also a recent Edinburgh University alumna. She is so smart, kind, talented, and patient. I often think of her as the person I am working for, to make sure that her life and experience of academia is smoother than mine was. I left Edinburgh the year she joined, and I like to think that my work with Project Myopia and Edinburgh University may have made it a little easier to be a Black student there, for her. I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but it’s a very nice thing to hope. So she inspires me, because she’s my favourite person in the world and I want her life to be absolutely perfect!”
Rianna Walcott is in the final year of her PhD at King’s College London. Her research concerns Black identity formation and discourse in social networked systems like Twitter and Facebook. She is also a freelance writer for various news outlets, and has published (and will soon be republishing with Bluebird press) a literary anthology about BAME mental health – The Colour of Madness. She still runs Project Myopia, which is almost five years old now, and is funded by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership (LAHP), and has a permanent staff of four, as well as a rotating team of editors, artists and writers.
Student Experience Grants support
Project Myopia was awarded £2,885 in autumn 2016. The grant contributed towards website development and hosting, art for the website and a launch event.