The Racial Justice Student Collective and Critical Urbanisms' commitments to Racial Justice

by Critical Urbanisms and the Racial Justice Student Collective (RJSC)

1 September 2020

As Critical Urbanisms students and faculty at the University of Basel, we are committed to supporting and uplifting the core principles of the global Black Lives Matter movement in our own program, as well as across the University. We believe that a decolonial perspective must include acknowledging and dismantling the systemic racism embedded within all institutions, including the University.

Higher education – in Basel, Switzerland and beyond – maintains a white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative, and classist order of operations. It prioritizes knowledge making from white, cisgender, male bodies and rewards them accordingly, while continuing to profit from centuries of colonial plundering that place people of color, and Black women and transgender people especially, at a disadvantage in accessing the benefits of academia. This knowledge is then often prioritized over non-academic community knowledge.

As our program boasts a curriculum that includes “the study of the urban by examining today’s social struggles and global conflicts in relation to the legacies of empire and alternative practices of world-making and knowledge production,” we should be particularly committed to begin the long but critical process of unlearning racism and building antiracist practice within academia, starting with our own program. Despite positioning ourselves within a discourse of disrupting colonial legacies, the program maintains a logic of colonialism within itself. While our program invites academics from a variety of backgrounds for lectures and seminars, the on-site faculty is still predominantly white. Critical Urbanisms began with the aim of studying legacies of colonialism in the Global South, but also profits from white supremacy in many ways, for example, by utilizing resources like the Basel Mission archives, which contain colonial records since 1815, and sending students to study the Global South without any possibility for students from the Global South to study Switzerland.

As we evaluate our alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement, our program’s commitment to addressing racism, in particular anti-Black racism, includes:

1) Placing antiracist analysis as a methodology at the center of our pedagogies through a focus on the after-effects of colonialism, not just in the global South but also in Europe and Switzerland specifically. Addressing racism and racial capitalism as systemic factors is deeply relevant to critical urbanisms at all levels, internally and externally, in program and module design.

    a) Learning about systemic racism and building antiracist theory and praxis, where we explore alternative truths, into all levels of the program including program and module descriptions, public events, fieldwork and every taught course.
    b) Addressing the “why” in our materials, including an explanation for our focus and commitment to Southern cities at a European university and an explanation for each component of the program within an antiracism context.
    c) Conducting ongoing collaborative research on structural racism within our own university institution, the city of Basel and in Switzerland, and publishing this research on our website and in other relevant media.

2) Systematically revising the curricula with an antiracism lens to ensure that the material that is disseminated in our lectures and seminars does not reinforce racial and class hierarchies and trains students to use racial power analysis in their own work.

    a) Encouraging critical reflection of students as well as faculty throughout seminars and before, during and after field work.
    b) Creating a critical discourse around knowledge production and students’ and faculty’s roles therein. Providing means for accountability and feedback on this culture and curriculum in the program, whether by a student commission or a paid consultant from a local antiracist organization.
    c) Examining past syllabi to take stock of which voices and worldviews are prioritized. Revising to include more scholars of color, and Black scholars in particular, as well as more antiracist scholarship.

3) Improving the relationship of the faculties and departments at the University with BLM and other local, national, and international organizations and grassroots movements that engage with antiracist and anti-oppression politics.

    a) Implementing a long-term platform for collaboration with antiracism organizations in Switzerland and mobilizing resources where organizations deem relevant.
    b) Co-designing collaborative student research projects with antiracism organizations in Switzerland through regular conversation about where the program and its resources can aid in their agendas.
    c) Providing fair compensation via research, platform, payment, or other means to outside organizations who engage with the department.

4) Placing an intersectional ethics of antiracism, resulting from collaboration with research partners and grassroots organizations, at the centre of our pedagogies.

    a) Revising ethical guidelines concerning field trips and research. Teaching ethics alongside power and antiracist analysis, embedded into every phase of the research process-- from proposal formulation to fieldwork to publishing-- rather than as a single workshop or unit.
    b) Co-creating sets of ethics with research partners and antiracism organizations on the ground.

5) Increasing the presence of Black and POC faculty and guest lecturers in the Urban Studies program.

    a) Prioritizing the hiring of diverse faculty and guest lecturers, specifically regarding race. This means also hiring Black and POC academics coming from Switzerland who can speak to local anti-racist practices and knowledge production.
    b) Prioritizing Black and POC scholarship in the design of coursework and bibliographies.
    c) Fairly compensating the expertise of Black and POC academics who support the program, including PhD and Masters students. Crediting and valuing the work they bring to the table, rather than tokenizing.

6) Providing sufficient resources and support for Black and POC students.

    a) Directing students towards safe anti-racist spaces in the University, i.e. Black and POC student bodies, international student associations.
    b) Providing visa process support and a collaborative welcome book for international students.
    c) Redistributing program funds to support UCT Southern Urbanism students to come to Switzerland in the spirit of exchange.
    d) Committing to transparency about how funding works in the program and across the university.
    e) Providing a space for Black and POC students to reflect on their own positionalities in the fieldwork process.

7) Designing accountability processes to uphold these commitments.

    a) Creating a committee made up of students and faculty, prioritizing Black and POC membership, to monitor accountability to these commitments and make space for regular reflection, criticism, and revision to be heard by program leadership.
    b) Developing evaluation tools for ongoing assessment of these commitments.
    c) Students and faculty reviewing these commitments as peers, breaking down existing hierarchies in the program.
    d) Making university and program hierarchies more visible, including who makes decisions and who is included in the decision-making process, especially in terms of questions around program funds, salaries, and hiring. Involving students in decision making where possible.
    e) Using our work as an example for other programs and learning from other university antiracism initiatives.

We recognize that a true commitment to racial justice requires sustained reflection about our own complicity in white supremacy, and the embeddedness of racism in our own cities, the program and the University at large. It requires critical action to repair harm done where possible and center antiracism throughout all aspects of our ways of knowing and the ways in which we proceed to produce knowledge. We hope that, in addition to being a pledge of accountability for our own program, this document inspires and challenges other programs within the University of Basel to critically reflect. Answering the call from Ananya Roy and others, the commitments above are attempts to step towards a decolonized imagination of what is possible for the academy and to build the foundations for a more just and inclusive future.

In solidarity,
Critical Urbanisms
& Racial Justice Student Collective