DEL newsletter December 2021

University Closed Dates:

Over the winter break, the University will be closed from Friday 24th December 2021, re-opening again on Tuesday 4th January 2022. Most University staff and services will not be available during this period, and Student Services itself will also be closed on 23rd December. However, if you are in one of the University’s halls of residence, the Halls Hotline will be open 24/7, including Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Get in touch by calling 0800 029 1984, or by email at

What’s On in Reading: Festive Edition

Here are some fun things to try this festive season with flatmates and friends!

Reading Twilight Trail 2021

3 – 31 December

Forbury Gardens

‘The Twilight Trail is back – bigger, better and biscuitier! The festive light trail made its debut in Reading last year, and unfortunately had to cut its run short due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. This year, the Twilight Trail: Biscuit Town returns to Reading’s stunning Abbey Ruins and Forbury Gardens from 3-31 December 2021 with a biscuit-themed trail to celebrate Reading’s link with the world-famous Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory.

Tickets from £8. Purchase here:

A Christmas Carol

3 – 31 December

Reading Rep Theatre

‘Reading Rep Theatre presents the original Christmas tale, as it finds its perfect home on the cobbled streets of Reading. Step back in time with your favourite characters in this magical world premiere by Beth Flintoff. A festive and magical spectacle.’

Tickets from £14. Purchase here:

Beauty and the Beast – Pantomime!

4 Dec – 3 Jan


‘Beauty and the Beast has all the ingredients for a magical trip to the theatre, with hilarious slapstick humour, plenty of audience interaction and marvellous musical numbers that you will be singing for days afterwards, all in one magical show that is suitable for everyone to enjoy whether they are 3 or 103!

Tickets from £15. Purchase here:

Festive Recipes

Fancy trying some festive food and drinks with your flatmates? Here are some you can try!

Clementine Mock Mojito

Serves 1


1 clementine

½ tsp demerara sugar

1 lemon wedge, chopped


small handful of mint, woody stalks removed

a few drops of orange blossom water

sparkling water, to top up



Juice half the clementine and chop the other half into small pieces. Pour the juice into a glass and stir in the sugar. Tip in the chopped clementine and lemon, then crush using a muddler.


Add a handful of ice, the mint and orange blossom. Top up slowly with sparkling water.

Christmas Crinkle Cookies

Makes 30


60g cocoa powder, sieved

200g caster sugar

60ml vegetable oil

2 large eggs

180g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 oranges, zested

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

50g icing sugar



Mix the cocoa, caster sugar and oil together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking until fully combined.


Combine the flour, baking powder, orange zest, mixed spice, cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a separate bowl, then add to the cocoa mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. If it feels too soft, put in the fridge to chill for 1 hr.


Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5 and tip the icing sugar into a shallow dish. Roll heaped teaspoons of the dough into balls (about 20g each), then roll in the icing sugar to coat. Put the balls on one large or two medium baking trays lined with baking parchment, ensuring they’re evenly spaced apart.


Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 10 mins, then transfer to a wire rack to cool – they will firm up as they cool, but still be fudgy in the centre. Will keep for up to four days in an airtight container.

12 Days of Winter Poems

Thomas Hardy, ‘The Darkling Thrush’

Emily Dickinson, ‘It sifts from leaden sieves’

John Donne, ‘A Nocturnal upon St Lucy’s Day’

R.S. Thomas ‘The Coming’

Rita Dove, ‘November for Beginners’

Wilfred Owen, ‘Winter Song’

Robert Burns, ‘Up in the Morning Early’

Anon, ‘Miri it is’ (Merry it is)

John Clare, ‘Winter Fields’

Langston Hughes, ‘Winter Moon’

William Blake, ‘To Winter’

Patrick Kavanagh, ‘In Winter’

Vacation Reading Recommendation

Ruby Red Trilogy by Kerstin Gier probably because it is easy to read but super capturing at the same time. It’s one of these book series where you feel just a little gutted after it’s over.”

– Luzie, Part 3 English Literature

Normal People by Sally Rooney would be my recommendation. It’s heart-warming and a little heart breaking all at the same time, but it truly is a wonderfully written book.”

– Millie, Part 3 English Literature

The Greatness of The Muppet Christmas Carol

I am not an expert in Victorian literature, but I think The Muppet Christmas Carol is a perfect adaptation of Dickens’ Christmas story.

One sign of the effectiveness of this update is the way that the Muppet dialogue and Dickens’ work so well together that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart. When Scrooge tells the ghost of Marley that he might be a delusion caused by a piece of undigested beef, Scrooge quips that there is ‘more of gravy than of grave about you’. I had to check whether the line was Dickens’: it is. The scriptwriters also knew when to keep Dickens’ prose where it packs an emotional punch. The lines that the Ghost of Christmas Present tell us of Tiny Tim, ‘I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch without an owner carefully preserved’ are transposed unaltered into the film. The Muppet and human performers know how to work these lines. Michael Caine brilliantly communicates Scrooge’s growing panic as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him his death unmourned when he admits ‘the case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way now’. What The Muppet Christmas Carol has that the novel lacks, of course, are the songs, and although the lyrics do not borrow Dickens’ words so directly, they bring out some of this short work’s dominant ideas. Kermit as Bob Cratchit reminds us of our younger selves’ excitement when ‘there’s only one more sleep till Christmas’, and the song at the film’s close captures what The Christmas Carol asks us to believe of Christmas: ‘The love we found / We carry with us / So we’re never quite alone.’

– Mary Morrissey, DEL

If there is something that you would like to contribute to the DEL newsletter, please contact



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DEL Newsletter autumn term no. 4

*REMINDER* DEL Town Hall Meeting 

Wednesday 24 November 2021, 1-2pm   

Online. Please use this link to access the meeting.   

All English Literature staff and students are invited to the first Town Hall meeting of this year. This is a chance to share your views on how your curriculum is designed and delivered. Staff will answer your questions, take forward suggestions, and give updates on how we are acting on your feedback. 

Introducing the RUSU reps 

The RUSU class reps ensure that the concerns of students about their teaching and learning is fed back to the department, formally (through meetings) and informally during the year. So, we thought this would be a good place to introduce this year’s reps.  

Our Part 1 rep is Abigail Thomas, who is studying Art and English Literature. The film she wants to see next is Dune and the book she would like to see made into a film is ‘Heroes’ by Robert Cormier. You can contact Abigail on: 

Part 2 reps are Joe Walsh and Beth Lewis. Joe is studying English Literature and Creative Writing. The last movie he watched was Star Trek IX: Insurrection, and the book he would most like adapted into a production is Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. Joe’s email is: Beth Lewis takes SH English Literature.  We also have a part 2 student representing joint honours Language and Literature students. Sophie Jordan will be going to see Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe on her next theatre trip and the book that she would like to see adapted is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Sophie’s email is 

Part 3 is represented by Daphne Sutton and Emily-Ann Robinson. Daphne wants to see is Wuthering Heights at the National Theatre, and a book that she would like to see adapted is Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell. Daphne can be reached at: Emily will be going to see the new Halloween film, as she is a big fan of the original, and of Jamie-Lee Curtis. The book that she would love to see adapted into a film is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: ‘It has been my favourite book for years and I think that it would be interesting to see how an adaptation would compare to my own vision of the novel.’ Emily’s email is 

Getting Involved with The Spark! 

The Spark is the university’s official newspaper, run by students for students! Over the last 18 months COVID unfortunately halted the work of the paper but the new committee is working hard to get things back up and running. We are awaiting the launch of our new website (which should be up in the next two weeks!) and our print paper should be returning to campus in January 2022. 

In the meantime, there are still ways for you to get involved however there may be a little bit of a backlog in getting articles published as we adjust to getting up and running! 

Want to write for us? 

We’ll be sharing regular writing opportunities via our Facebook groups – section editors will share article suggestions and all you need to do is let us know which you’d like to write! 





 We also have a creative group if you might be interested in that too and you can find that here:  

I’d also recommend following us on Instagram and Facebook (we have a brand-new page so please make sure you’re following the right one!) as opportunities will also be shared there if we can’t find writers via the groups – although the groups are your best shout for a first come, first served basis!  



Also, if you sign up as a member via RUSU we’ll have your contact details should we need to email people regarding other opportunities! 

Millie Smith – Print Editor 

 Library and Study Support 

 As essay deadlines loom, here is a remind of the help and support you can get from our wonderful librarians and Study Advisors. 

Study space no longer needs to be booked ahead of entry, though the 1st Floor Group Study Rooms can still be pre-booked. Individual desks, PCs, and group study spaces are all available on a walk-in basis as usual. There is no longer a Click & Collect service as everyone is able to browse and borrow throughout the Library opening hours.  The Library is open 24/6+ during term time. There is a one-way system around the building for now and everyone is encouraged to wear a face covering when moving around inside (but there is no requirement to keep them on whilst seated).  

Information for new students can be found here: 

New in-depth Library drop-ins 

There is an in-depth Library daily drop-in service from 13:00-14:00 Monday to Friday on the ground floor of the Library, to the right of the stairs. Students can come along with queries, such as how to get started searching for journal articles, which database to use for research, how to find a reference etc.  This compliments the Study Advice drop-in which runs at the same time.  More information can be found here 

Study Advice 

Study Advice have put together a weekly webinar programme covering popular topics such as structuring essays and avoiding plagiarism. You can book onto these using the link above. You also have the choice of face to face or online 1-2-1 appointments this term in addition to a daily drop-in service from 1-2pm every day in the Library. The Study Advice website has a range of videos and guides to help you. 

Do contact if you need more help.  

 DEL Research Seminars 

Autumn Term  

 Wednesday 10th November, 5.00-6.30:   

Dr Rachael McLennan (UEA), ‘“A Small Flashlight in a Great Dark Space”: Elizabeth Warren, Autobiography, and Populism’   

Wednesday 1st December, 1.00-2.30:   

Dr Ruth Maxey (University of Nottingham), ‘“Indiascape”: Bharati Mukherjee’s engagement with E.M. Forster, Hermann Hesse and R.K. Narayan’.  

 Spring Term  

Wednesday 2nd February, 5.00-6.30:   

Professor Ralph Pite (University of Bristol), ‘Edward Thomas in 1914-15: unfathomable deep time’  

Wednesday 2nd March, 5.00-6.30:   

Professor Hillary Chute (Northeastern University), ‘Maus Now’. 

All events will take place online – Zoom links will be circulated nearer the time. For more information, contact David Brauner ( 

If there is anything you would like to contribute to the DEL newsletter, please contact 


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DEL Newsletter

Things to do in week six

Week 6 / enhancement week / reading week, whatever you want to call it, a break from classes in the middle of term is a blessing and a really useful time to catch up AND breathe for a moment before the chaotic second half of term kicks in! Here are some suggestions of things to get up to:

Take a break

Pop your feet up and relax for a moment. This is a chance to chill and have some time to yourself. Stick on a movie or some Netflix, treat yourself to some self-care, snack on your favourite treat. Whatever it is that makes you feel a little more relaxed and calmer, now’s the chance to do it!

Catch up on any work

Look back at the first five weeks of term and make sure you’re all up to date with notes, assignments, revision and so on. You’ll thank yourself for making sure the first five weeks of term are all sorted and organised when deadline season comes around at the end of term.

Look ahead

Look ahead to the next five weeks of term. Is there anything you can be doing to get prepared? Is there any reading you can do? Any research to help you get started? Anything you can do during this time will help you stay on top of things for the second half of term.

Explore Reading

If you haven’t had a chance already maybe take some time to head into Reading and explore. Shopping in the town centre, a nice meal out with mates, explore the Abbey ruins and so much more!

– Millie Smith Millie Smith, Part 3 English Lit


Student Support at The University of Reading

The first person you can contact about general advice will be your Academic Tutor. They can help you themselves or contact someone else who can best give you support. Another person you can contact is the DEL Student Support Coordinator Lucy Bending: She will be able to answer queries about your studies and anything else academic related.

  • Even if you think a concern is small, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek support from the university. Things you might feel are minor issues, like homesickness, can turn into major struggles over time if left unaddressed. It’s vital to always make sure you take anything that might be troubling you seriously at the start. Student Services is where you can get advice in dealing with everything from financial concerns to counselling and wellbeing.

The reception desk is open for face-to-face enquiries and one of the Student Support Coordinators will help you there:

Monday -Thursday 10:00-17:00, and Friday 10:00-16:30. Closed daily for 1 hour from 13:00-14:00.

You can reach them by telephone 0118 378 5555 or email:

Using the RISIS portal ‘Ask a question’ function is another way to access Student Services. This will send your query to our Student Support Coordinator (Jemima Stevens), who will forward it to the relevant team or member of staff. Jemima can help with any query about your modules or your programme, suspensions of extension requests.

Taking care of your mental wellbeing is just as important as anything else during your time at university. The Student Welfare Team will support you with things such as:

  • Settling in and adjusting to university life
  • Crisis support
  • Difficulties with flat/housemates
  • Family or relationship issues
  • Harassment and bullying
  • Drug or alcohol issues
  • If you are victim of violence (crime/sexual/domestic)
  • Struggling to manage carer responsibilities
  • Concerns about a friend
  • If you don’t know where to go for help

You can schedule an appointment with Heather Price (or another member of the Student Welfare Team) by emailing The team also offers a drop-in service, where you can visit the Student Services Reception in the Carrington Building in person and speak to someone (Monday – Thursday – 13:00 -16:00; Friday – 10:00 -16:00). You can also call 0118 378 4777, Monday – Friday between 10:00 and 16:00 to speak a member of the team. The university website has a page dedicated to student support and you can access it by clicking the link: Student support | University of Reading

– Michelle Parr, Part 1 Creative Writing and Film)


Cindy Becker, What I am reading…

The Private Life of William Shakespeare by Lena Cowen Orlin (Oxford University Press, 2021)

I have always tended to avoid reading non-fiction before I go to sleep at night, but that has changed in recent months, partly because books like this one are such page-turners. In my experience, scholars who attempt to produce biographies of Shakespeare take a few isolated scraps of evidence and the hypothesise about what those scraps might mean. The trouble is, their desperation to imagine the man can lead to theories and suppositions with very little basis in fact, which really puts me off. This book is different, because the author takes a more convincing, and far more intriguing approach.

Take Shakespeare’s wife Anne, for example. We have some records about her, but if we take Lena Cowen Orlin’s approach, we can get a fully rounded idea of her life. By searching for ‘clusters’ of evidence, she puts every small fact we have back in its proper place. By exploring the life of a woman living in Stratford alongside Anne, whose husband was also often in London, who ran business enterprises from her home, but who had masses of documentary evidence for her life, we can piece together Anne’s life in a far more secure way. We also learn that women in that time worked amazingly hard!

I am learning some fascinating facts from this book about the lives of Shakespeare’s whole family and, just as importantly, it is a really good read.


Bonfire Night

One of the annual reminders that I have about being Irish in England is the fact that Halloween is not bonfire night. But there is an interesting history there.

Bonfires were used for all sorts of celebrations in the past. They were associated with the feast of All Saints (1 November) and All Souls (2 November): that’s partly where the tradition of a bonfire on Halloween (the ‘eve’ or night before ‘All Hallows’, that is, All Saints’ day) comes from. But bonfires were just as popular on Midsummer’s Eve, and that tradition lingered in some parts of Britain and Ireland into the modern period. In Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (1990) the social historian David Cressy explained how people in the sixteenth century used bonfires and the ringing of church bells to signal celebration for lots of events, one-offs (like the Spanish Armada being defeated) as well for annual celebrations, like the date when Elizabeth I came to the throne. ‘Bonfire night’ as we know it began in 1605, with the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot, a scheme by some disaffected Catholic aristocrats to blow up the Houses of Parliament. There was a concerted campaign, including annual sermons and popular ballads, to remind people of the threat that Roman Catholicism posed to England’s Protestant government, and this became an important means of linking English national identity with Protestantism. ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November / Gunpowder, treason, and plot’ the folksong runs. And so, the celebration of All Saints’ Day became less marked in English popular culture and the bonfires were moved to 5 November. But whether the fireworks are on 31 October or 5 November, on those days when the clocks go back and the evenings grow dark it feels right to light up the night; whether we re-discover Halloween through cinema and TV from the USA, or stick to 5 November as our night for bonfires, I think we are honouring that instinct.

Mary Morrissey, DEL


If you have an item for the newsletter, please speak to one of the student editors (Millie Smith, Part 3 English Lit) or Michelle Parr, Part 1 Creative Writing and Film), or email

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Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein on Power and Children’s Books: Teaching Myths, Fairy Tales, Folktale and Legends

Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein was recently asked to contribute to the blog curated by publisher Lantana.

Lantana’s purpose is to ‘publish inclusive books by under-represented voices celebrating every kind of child and family’.

Professor Lesnik-Oberstein wrote on the kinds of ‘power’ (including cultural power and political power) that myths and fairy-tales are often thought to have, and she explains the ways in which these ideas are interrogated in her teaching on the MRes in Children’s Literature at Reading.

You can read Professor Lesnik-Oberstein’s blog here.

More information about the MRes in Children’s Literature can be found here.

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MA English Information Session – Pathways, Students’ Experiences and Creative Writing

Are you in Part 2 or 3 and interested in Master study?

Aimed at current BA students, join us at 12.00 on Friday 23rd April to hear from MA students, Dr. John Scholar and Prof. Peter Robinson about the structure of our MA English, how it compares to studying on one of our BAs and the different pathways, like creative writing, open to you on the course.

For more information and to book on please follow this link:

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Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing: spring term seminars 2021

Please see below for the spring term seminars for the Centre for Book Cultures and Publishing. To join, please email

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Health Humanities Seminars for spring term 2021

This terms programme of talks from the Centure for Health Humanities. All papers will be delivered online: to join, email

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Online book launch: John Scholar on Impressions and Impressionisms – Henry James and Beyond

Impressions and Impressionisms – Henry James and Beyond

An Online Roundtable Discussion and Book Launch. 

Thursday 17 September 4-5.30pm (UK time)

Click here to book a place.

Participants: Max de Gaynesford (Philosophy, University of Reading), Dorothy Hale (English, UC Berkeley); Max Saunders (English, King’s College London); John Scholar (English, University of Reading); Helen Small (English, University of Oxford).

Chair: Gail Marshall (English, University of Reading).

The novel is an ‘impression of life’, declared Henry James in 1884. John Scholar’s 2020 book Henry James and the Art of Impressions (OUP) argues that James tried to wrest the ‘impression’ from the new French impressionists in painting and fiction, and from British aesthetes, and to recast it in his own art of the novel. In doing this, James engaged with a concept, the impression, with a long interdisciplinary history in philosophy, psychology and aesthetics. Scholar’s book joins Dorothy Hale’s work on James’s narrative form, Max de Gaynesford’s and Helen Small’s on literature and philosophy, and Max Saunders’ on literary impressionism. It shows the place of James within the wider cultural history of impressionism and suggests that ‘the Jamesian impression is best understood as a family of related ideas bound together by James’s attempt to reconcile the novel’s value as a mimetic form with its value as a transformative creative activity’.

This event, chaired by Gail Marshall, will bring together, in a live online conversation, an international group of major scholars. The conversation will take place in the light of Scholar’s new study and will be informed by the different preoccupations and perspectives of the participants. Please join the conversation and add to it by posting your questions and comments for the panel online during the event.

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Making space: Connecting BAME students in the Department of English Literature

In this post, Part 3 students (and soon-to-be 2020 graduates!) Georgia Courtney-Cox and Yinka Olaniyan and Lecturer Dr Nicola Abram discuss the BAME English Literature students’ network launched in 2019/20.

Find the BAME network end of year poster here.

Yinka: The BAME student network was created for English Literature students to discuss their university experiences as BAME students. It was founded by Georgia Courtney-Cox, Nicola Abram and myself to act as a safe space for BAME students, who are often few and far between in the English department. For example, in 2018, only 14.4% of UK/EU entrants to undergraduate English Literature programmes identified as BAME, compared to 25% across the University as a whole.

Nicola: Georgia and Yinka were among seven students who participated in a project in 2018/19 which sought to explore the experiences of BAME students in the School of Literature and Languages. Project participants took photographs illustrating aspects of university life, which we discussed in our group and then shared publicly in a Library exhibition and online. For me, what stood out in these images was the dialogue between cultural and ethnic identity (for example, black British, or British Asian) and institutional and disciplinary identity (that is, being a student of a certain subject at the University of Reading). Participants wanted to be able to identify themselves – and be seen by others – as both. So, with some funding from the UoR Diversity & Inclusion fund and the Teaching & Learning Dean, Georgia, Yinka and I designed a schedule of events for 2019/20 where black, Asian, and ‘minority’ ethnic students of English Literature could get together, resourcing each other and building a supportive community.

Georgia: During the year I advertised the BAME network on the UoR ‘Student Life’ blog.

Yinka: Across the academic year, we have had various sessions and speakers. These have ranged from myself and Georgia facilitating informal discussions whilst we ate pizza, to Creative Writing lecturer Shelley Harris discussing how we can use our experiences to benefit our academic work. The Autumn Term session with three University of Reading graduates was a particularly encouraging experience for me. It was the first term of my final year at university and I was rather unsure of what lay ahead. The pressure of my dissertation and the impending uncertainty of graduation loomed over me. The graduates, however, reassured me that it was okay to feel overwhelmed about my dissertation and the fear of the unknown. After hearing about the various routes the graduates went down after university, I realised that my life did not have to follow a linear pattern. This allowed me to let go of anxiety about the future and focus on the present. It was because of this session that I feel like I got the most out of my final year.

Georgia: The Autumn Term graduate talks showed me that

studying English Literature can provide transferable skills after university. The idea of life after university has always been a daunting thought at the back of my mind however after speaking to the graduates I felt reassured that I could enter the job market confident in my skills.

Yinka: My favourite session of the year was with Shirley Anstis, a local author and counsellor. In her interactive workshop, we used writing therapy to celebrate our successes since A-Levels. No one was required to read their writing out, so it was very much a personal exercise. We also did a visualisation activity of what we wanted our ideal future to look like. The exercise allowed me to reframe my goals and work out what truly mattered to me. Sessions like these every few weeks gave students a small period of calm in what is usually a hectic university schedule. It was also great to have BAME English Literature students from other years attend. We exchanged advice about modules we had taken and navigating university life as a BAME student generally. It was great to be able to relax and talk to other students about our oftentimes shared experiences.

Georgia: I noticed how impa

ctful the network had become during the teaching strikes. Many students who attended the sessions would join because they were already on campus. I had anticipated that because there were fewer contact hours during the strikes not many students would attend, however, I was surprised that students still attended the session because they wanted to converse. We talked about staying motivated, dealing with anxieties within and outside of university, and formulated strategies to meet upcoming deadlines. Having an open discussion for 40 minutes helped me to de-stress. The time flew by and it made a massive difference to the rest of my day.

Nicola: As a member of staff sitting in on all but the student-led discussion sessions, I’ve learned so much this year. I’ve heard what a lonely and alienating experience it can be finding yourself the only person of colour in a classroom, and how frustrating it is when the curriculum doesn’t acknowledge the contributions of people like you. I’ve also seen how resourceful students have been in making a place for themselves at University, and their resilien

ce in staying true to themselves despite various institutional and peer pressures. In our final, reflective session it was incredibly moving to see and celebrate how much the network participants have achieved this year, both academically and personally. Staff at the University have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the ways in which our systems – including our teaching methods and curricula – centre some students at the expense of others, and to make a change. I will be working with colleagues in the Department of English Literature and more widely to feed this forward.

Yinka: Being part of the BAME network has helped me in a multitude of ways. When I first started university, I felt that there were not many people I could relate to or who could relate to me. By the end of it, there is a network of people with whom I can discuss anything. The network has made me feel more comfortable about who I am and how I express myself to non-BAME students. I am now confident enough to speak about my experiences and have done so at various talks alongside Georgia, including a School of Literature and Languages meeting in November 2019 and a University-wide event in January 2020. It has been amazing to be part of such a great network and I would highly encourage anyone who has thought of attending to come along when future sessions are advertised. You can just drop into sessions that suit you – you don’t have to attend every session. Whether you would like to speak up or just listen in, the network is for everyone who wants to hear and reflect on the experiences of BAME students. The student-led sessions will be reserved for students of colour, but sessions led by UoR staff or with external speakers will be open to all students. BAME students have often been ignored in academic settings, but the network has allowed me and others to have a voice. My advice would be to use the BAME network as an empowering tool, to define your place at university.



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Natasha Robson on the need for Critical Thinking.

Natasha Robson writes:

Dear reader,

This is a call to action. I have a simple and easily implementable proposition. Recently, there has been talk of and movement towards a restructuring of the history curriculum in the UK – and not before time. I believe now is the time to take action in education more generally, in order for this to have a real, pervasive, and lasting effect.

My research has led me to believe that in the present-day world it is ever-more necessary to promote critical thinking skills in all people and populations. I originally reached this conclusion when writing my specifically racism-orientated MA thesis, which considered the aspects of culture and personal psychology that maintain structures of prejudice within a society. My current work looks more broadly at how the capacity for objectivity and the ability to question received wisdom and assertions of ‘truth’ have become deeply important skills – in interpersonal interactions, in our internal decision-making, in our consumption of media and media-like information. Recent weeks have demonstrated more clearly than ever before (to those that had any doubt) that unconscious bias is still an enormous problem, and without the tools with which to assess and reassess our internalised beliefs the recognition of deeply entrenched and problematic thinking is almost impossible.

Furthermore, the incidence and pervasiveness of ‘fake news’ and targeted manipulation is probably at a higher level than ever before. Countries such as Finland have already implemented educational strategies to mitigate against the effect of this informational environment on future generations. Why haven’t we?

I propose is that a collection of short courses be created and delivered, to secondary-school children at first (and/or perhaps teachers, so that they can add the ideas into classroom vocabulary), in order to supplement the changes being made in the teaching of history. Why? Let us briefly consider what it is to be a human brain:

Lippmann’s Stereotypes – Walter Lippmann asserted around a century ago that humans survive by simplifying the world around them. People to whom they have no personal-experience-anchor are composed of collections of generalisations.

Confirmation bias – If our views and opinions are problematic or prejudiced, we will ignore that which puts this into question, and find it difficult to engage with evidence that contradicts these ideas. Awareness of this trait allows us to combat it within ourselves.

Primary and Secondary Socialisation (Berger and Luckman), Theory of Personal Constructs (Kelly) – our ‘reality’ is in a constant state of reinforcement. If the environment at home in our period of primary socialisation is one of prejudice and hostility towards ‘other’, a simply passively tolerant school environment is not sufficient to challenge these ideologies and prevent their internalisation. An educational environment that constantly challenges prejudice and intolerance and drives questioning and objectivity allows for the individual to develop a more tolerant and questioning world-view. Kelly asserts that we are a product of our lived experiences – the only way to broaden our world-view is to exercise objectivity and expose ourselves to new information and ideas. A flawed conception of ‘other’ might be the product of socialisation and lived experience. Without personal experience of discrimination, it is difficult to conceive of its power or pervasiveness.

Emotional versus rational thinking – our emotional response is far quicker and longer-lasting than our rational response. Research (for example, Hill 2010) shows that not is this the case, but that emotionally-charged experiences are more likely to be committed to long-term memory. Thus, mis- and dis-information that aims to promote an emotional response (such as populist rhetoric etc) is remembered, and therefore has greater power.

Cognitive dissonance – the ability to hold two mutually exclusive or contradictory ideas at the same time. This, like all other ideas presented, is accepted as a fairly universal phenomenon. It is particularly pertinent in current discussions about the existence of systemic and internalised prejudice within our own culture.

This is just a small selection. My assertion is thus: if we are aware of the fallibility of our own brains, we are better able to sort through the complex barrage of information and conflicting ideas we are constantly faced with. With such a general approach, no accusation is being made: humanity’s neurological and psychological fallibility is clear, the impact these predispositions have on our relationships with one another and the world is tangible.

Changing the history syllabus is a huge step, but it will struggle to change ideologies on its own. Critical thinking, while taught to teachers and at HE level (and as an optional A Level), is not in the school-age curriculum except as guidance for PSHE – a subject that many young people will disregard, and one which is often taught by teachers specialising in another subject. It is therefore often only taught where individual teachers find ways of doing so.

Ultimately a core change is necessary – so that all subjects inspire a critical outlook, rather than aspects (for example, the sciences teach us to question and prove, English teaches us to be analytical – but not explicitly) of subjects promoting disparate elements of critical thought.

This is a call to action.

If we do not learn to better understand ourselves and the workings of our own mind, the prospect of further divisiveness, polarisation, reinforcement of prejudice is not simply a possible future, it is the future. If we cannot take control of our own opinion-formation, it will be done for us.

I have begun my own journey towards achieving this goal, working with the university, the council, The Brilliant Club, and as a private freelancer. I have recently begun an academic blog, available here:

My CT Twitter handle is @CT_PhD_Tash


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