At the Dental School we have been working closely with students to understand what Decolonising and Inclusion mean for us. Our research received funding from the Policy Support Fund and Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and ethical approval from the Faculty of Health Research Ethics Committee. Students were involved as paid co-researchers and received training on antiracism and decolonising.
The first part of the research focused on Decolonising the Curriculum and identified key themes of Sense of Belonging, Learning Space, and Teaching Materials, all of which intersect with each other and have cross cutting sub themes. The second part of the research explored wider Intersectional Identities, and further themes of Social Class and Mental Health were identified by students as being areas of exclusion significant to their experiences of the Dental School.
The study took a mixed methods approach with online survey, focus groups, and individual interviews ensuring that anyone who wanted to take part had the opportunity to do so and could remain as anonymous as they wanted. Across the study, there were 103 students and 42 staff engagements from across the School. Data analysis is ongoing.
As Clinical Communication Skills Lead, I teach students how to navigate challenging and conversations. Throughout this research I have reflected on the importance of staff being open to difficult conversations too. The reality is that Institutional and Individual Racism exist. Avoiding conversations will only perpetuate this, not reduce it. My hope is to start conversations that can lead to greater inclusion and psychological safety for all.
The focus of this blog is on names. Names are core to our identity, they are how we know ourselves and are known (Dion 1984). Students of colour repeatedly reported names mispronounced or not used at all, or being called by the name of another student of colour (see quotes below).
vom Bruck and Bodenhorn (2006: 27) argue names signal ‘recognition, rather than the imposition of personhood’, by not using student’s names correctly, staff are not recognising individuals, and instead imposing a sense of otherhood onto non white students, which in turn leads to a low sense of belonging and impacts self esteem, and for some affected their entire experience of their time at the University of Bristol.
Murran, writing about American students describes the importance of names in the educational space,
“the first step in becoming a multicultural and culturally responsive educator is respecting students’ names. When educators mispronounce, Anglicize, or (re)name students of color, they convey a colorblind message to their students that their racial, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and family and historical backgrounds do not matter in the classroom. This practice frames students of color with non-Eurocentric names as needing to be ‘fixed’ or ‘helping’ them ‘fit in’ through assimilationist practices such as ‘Americanizing’ their names” (Murran, 2018)
The same can be applied to students in the UK, where students are viewed as somehow deficient for having names too cumbersome for staff to take the time to learn. Significantly, it models to students that unusual names need not be bothered with. This has implications for patient care.
It is a fact that we are more likely to remember names that are familiar to us, but names will only become familiar through making conscious effort to learn and use them. Saying ‘I am bad with all names’ only compounds the fact that no effort will be made to learn names despite students raising this as an issue. It may be surprising to learn that misnaming and mispronunciation are racist acts. Mistakes are natural, but when this is ongoing, it is a choice and is recognised as a racist microaggression (Kohli and Solórzano 2012). When sharing this data in the Dental School, I had a member of staff say to me ‘I do this – if I can’t remember a name, or I worry about mispronouncing, I just ask the student ‘what do you think?’ I hadn’t realised till now how this might feel for students to be the only one whose name is not said’. This shows that once conversations start, changes can be made to make spaces more inclusive for everyone.
Over 130 students and staff took part in the Decolonising the Dental Curriculum study, with over 100 students shared their experiences.
Seeing all non-white students as interchangeable communicates that non-white students are not important enough to bother learning names of. That, just using one, or even no name when it comes to students of colour, will suffice. This is starkly obvious when every white students name is remembered but not the names of non white students. It has lasting impacts on sense of belonging, wellbeing, and mental health, and models to students they don’t need to learn names of their peers and non-white patients.
There can be serious confidentiality and GDPR issues from not taking the care to ensure the correct person is contacted. Students are happy to repeat how to say their names.
What have students recommended?
- Just ask us how to say our names
- Please spell names correctly on important documents
- Please check emails are going to the right person
Dion, K.L., 1983. Names, identity, and self. Names, 31(4), pp.245-257.
Marrun, N.A., 2018. Culturally responsive teaching across PK-20: Honoring the historical naming practices of students of color. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 17(3), p.4.
Kohli, R. and Solórzano, D.G., 2012. Teachers, please learn our names!: Racial microagressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), pp.441-462.
vom Bruck, G. and Bodenhorn, B., 2006. The anthropology of names and naming. American Ethnologist, 35
For more information contact Dr Nilufar Ahmed firstname.lastname@example.org