In no other year in the past few decades (at least) has the functioning of different sectors been altered to such a large extent. A completely new university experience has emerged, balancing containment and control measures over the pandemic, as well as preserving the values of higher education. Customary methods of teaching and assessment are physically impossible to carry out, and new strategies are being put into place. While our ability as people to adjust and adapt has prevailed, the success (or at least continuation) of our new university experience is largely a result of extensive and ongoing research on building inclusive online communities as well as assessment and feedback; two of BILT’s key themes for this year.
Alongside this, civilians around the world managed to make their political voices heard through protests, campaigns, and various activities. Students were at the center of this, especially in Bristol. Protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in June. Feelings of anger and exasperation with societal inequalities and injustice were expressed, prompted by an intense urgency to create change. In this context, extensive media attention was paid to unfolding events and political figures and leaders of institutions across the UK.
Months later, however, the hashtag BLM is no longer ‘trending’ and social media feeds no longer feature widescale events like BlackOutTuesday. While the upheaval was important, it is the actions that follow that really matter in order to ensure progress. One way to tackle the issue is through the examination of the legacy of colonisation in higher education. The content being taught in our degrees impacts students’ thinking and behaviour, and subsequently a generation’s mindset. Accordingly, BILT has set the theme of decolonisation as one of its core themes this year.
Another BILT theme, Students as Researchers, ties into all of the above. Students’ involvement in the process of developing new university experiences is essential considering they are the primary recipients of the system of learning and teaching. For (mostly) young adults at a critical stage in their life (physically, mentally, career-wise…), the university can support students through the provision of a stable and comfortable experience during these difficult times, in addition to fulfilling its principal role as an educational institution. Students working with the university, such as the BILT Student Fellows, can play a tremendous role in working towards decolonising the curriculum, and building online communities, and exploring assessments and feedback.
I am very enthusiastic about joining BILT as a student fellow. It is quite an exceptional year to be a university student, faculty or staff member. The four BILT themes are massive and central topics that we should all be thinking about, and I am keen on delving into them with my fellow BILT team members and the extended university community.
As a second year law student, I have a specific interest in considering rights and responsibilities, in addition to the ways in which guidelines and circumstances shape the functioning of the systems within our lives. Being within the same physical community, in seminars, labs, and tests for example, has helped universities regulate conditions to maintain equal settings for students. Now that this option is no longer available, we must ask ourselves how to ensure that a student living independently in Bristol has the same access to education as a student living with extended family members in a completely different time zone.
I also hope to use my experience and perspective as an international student while tackling the theme of decolonization, especially in regards to the environments and communities within the university. BILT is a significant platform: it is very well established and multifarious, but it also allows for innovation and novelty. Its mission and role within the university is of the utmost value, and I am eager to contribute as a student fellow!