Intentions and Actions: The CTL’s Role in Confronting Systemic Inequality in Higher Education

Our institution, like all institutions of higher education, operates within a larger social fabric and a global system that is deeply impacted by systemic racism, economic oppression, and other forms of entrenched hierarchy and subjugation. These forces impact nearly everything about higher education: who gets to participate as student or staff, how you are treated within academic spaces, dominant norms regarding acceptable speech and what constitutes academic rigour, what subjects receive funding and status, the selection of texts, case studies, and animating questions within the classroom. Higher education institutions across the world have an obligation to look at themselves closely in the mirror.

In the CTL we acknowledge these entrenched inequities, work to disable them, and always strive for better. In fact, almost everything we do in the CTL emanates from an inclusion and community-building framework. Diversity, inclusivity, and pluralism are core to who we are at Yale-NUS College. Starting in week one of Comparative Social Inquiry we teach about the structures that privilege certain identities and perpetuate the exclusion of others. We are, by our mission statement, “a community of learning,” one composed of a “diverse group of student, faculty, staff, and supporters.” A defining trait of the College is our common curriculum, which “integrates knowledge from across the disciplines and around the world.” Since its founding, the College has hosted rich discussions and taken concrete actions to enhance diversity and equity within our community. Many of the most impactful conversations and initiatives have been generated by our students. This is one of many reasons I am a proud member of this institution.

There is no place in our college for bigotry or prejudice. And yet, we know that implicit bias is pernicious and must be actively unlearned, not only wished away. The global pandemic has brought greater attention to lurking forces of inequity and social stratification, but those forces are not new. Systemic racism, gender inequality, and economic exploitation are global phenomena and we are not immune to their long-lasting effects. Many who work in education do so to lift our societies up and confront embedded inequities. Higher education can be a site for liberation, rather than perpetuating forces of exclusion.

The CTL operates from the perspective that rigorous, even uncomfortable reflection and aspiration are the foundation of excellence in teaching and learning. The Octant recently published a story by an incoming first-year student reflecting on their thought process before choosing to attend Yale-NUS, and concludes by writing “Yale-NUS may not be perfect, but I clicked ‘attend’ because it is constantly aspiring to be.” This is our sentiment as well.

To that end, the CTL has and will continue to gather, produce, and publicise resources for faculty to make our courses and pedagogy more inclusive and sensitive to entrenched inequities. We will strive to centre social justice concerns in our own work, and encourage faculty to do the same as we design curriculum, draft syllabi, run classes, and assess student work. Please visit our “Inclusive Pedagogy” page to learn more, or contact our staff for a friendly, non-judgemental consultation. We hope that students and faculty alike will share additional ideas with us to circulate across the community, as we all strive to enhance our collective efforts.

 

With gratitude to the members of this community past and present who have helped us in this ongoing journey,

Catherine Sanger

Director, CTL