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Antiracist Praxis

"Decolonizing" Syllabi and the Classroom by George Koors

There is a range of thought about what true decolonization is from giving indigenous peoples their land back and tearing down settler colony structures all the way to teaching in a manner that situates the western tradition in the imperial conquest of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Outside of that, our syllabi need diverse voices and perspectives. Attempting to do that risks tokenization if we only include a few Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) voices and mostly adhere to the canon. How then can we decolonize the syllabus and make it more representative in a meaningful way? Appleton does well to synopsize this in a blog post on moving beyond progressive language, noting that the following is not decolonization in and of itself, but are alternatives that can be employed:

Diversify your syllabus and curriculum 

Digress from the canon

Decentre knowledge and knowledge production

Devalue hierarchies

Disinvest from citational power structures 

Diminish some voices and opinions in meetings, while magnifying others 

Following this process, we can free our syllabi from contractions such as “The Canon” and the power structure related to it. Likewise, when we do this, it shows our students a fuller breadth of knowledge. This work is complicated, especially when we hold onto the items and ideas we were taught, but is important to elevating the voices of our students. Making the classroom accessible to all means, as Appleton puts it, “decentering knowledge” and in doing so allowing the students to build their own community of learning and understanding.

This list extends nicely into the classroom as well. What do we require of our students in our assignment documents? Do we encourage students to use sources that fit the context of their writing, or do we require peer-reviewed research? By sharing a reading list with our students that has been decolonized, we then encourage our students to divest their own thinking and writing from problematic structures of power. 

Works Cited

Appleton, Nayantara Sheoran. “Do Not 'Decolonize' . . . If You Are Not Decolonizing: Progressive Language and Planning Beyond a Hollow Academic Rebranding.” Critical Ethnic Studies, 4 Feb. 2019,