Decolonising the academy

October 23, 2014

Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman’s article (“How do you solve a very British problem like eugenics?”, Opinion, 9 October) and the event to which it draws attention are important contributions to the project of “decolonising” an academy that too often opts for whitewashing and erasure of its problematic historical past over a robust acknowledgement of the role that it – and the people it financed and continues to lionise – played in the construction, production and reproduction of racialised and other forms of oppression.

We must always be mindful of the fact that the racism that operates today in the UK and the countries it colonised is a product of the activities of men such as Francis Galton, and of the opportunities they were offered to formalise, legitimise and promote their views.

If, as academics, we’re concerned with the pursuit of truth, or at least an accurate contact with the facts, then acknowledgement of these facts and their relationship to our history as British scholars is crucial.

Full credit to University College London for taking this bold step towards acknowledging its historical role in these contemporary social structures, and to Coleman for facilitating and communicating this work.

Zara Bain


This is an important step. The issue is not necessarily about assigning blame (and therefore guilt), but it is about an acknowledgement of the past and how that past shapes our present.

The academy (both in the UK and in the US) is not a bastion of objectivity – research, like the findings in this article, like the many books written recently (Craig Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy springs to mind), proves this point. The academy (and yes, at that time it was a group of white men, not much has changed there) was complicit in structuring Western society to sustain itself in the midst of rising capitalism and increased anxieties.

At Brown University, the mentioned report started a conversation that continues on campus – it is not without its critics but I applaud the president at the time who took the initiative to support academic rigour and intellectual self-reflection.

Françoise Hamlin

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