Erasmus+ Collaborators Visited the GRÓ GEST Programme

21 April 2023
From left: Dr. Josephine Ahikire, Guðrún Eysteinsdóttir, Anna Guðrún Aradóttir, Dr. Dalea Bean, Dr. …
From left: Dr. Josephine Ahikire, Guðrún Eysteinsdóttir, Anna Guðrún Aradóttir, Dr. Dalea Bean, Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir, Dr. Sarah Ssali

GRÓ GEST had the honour to welcome representatives from three of its partner universities: Dr. Josephine Ahikire, the Principal of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University, Uganda; Dr. Sarah Ssali, the Dean of the School of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University; Dr. Dalea Bean, Senior Lecturer and Graduate Coordinator at the Institute for Gender & Development Studies Regional Coordinating Office, University of the West Indies, Jamaica; and Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, Director, Title IX Office & Senior Fellow, at the Institute for Migration Studies and Intersectional Gender Studies program, Lebanese American University in Beirut. The visit was supported by the Erasmus+ grant scheme and created an important platform to further strengthen the collaboration with these respective universities in terms of student and faculty exchange, research collaboration and knowledge production.

The visitors’ main activity was their participation in the seminar titled “Decolonisation of Higher Education: Perspectives from Postcolonial Contexts”, that was hosted by GRÓ GEST and RIKK, and took place at the University of Iceland on 13 April. Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir, the director of GEST and RIKK, opened the seminar by emphasising the importance of active collaboration with international universities. Following her welcoming remarks, the moderator of the event, Dr. Giti Chandra, Research Specialist at GEST and RIKK, briefly introduced the seminar, as it is a part of the research project “Decolon-Ice: Towards Decolonising Curricula in Nordic Higher Education”.

Dr. Dalea Bean and Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss started by presenting their thought-pieces focusing on personal and political contexts impacting actual practices in their respective universities. Dr. Bean spoke of the various steps, pedagogical, structural, and epistemological, taken at the university towards decoloniality. She emphasised that decolonialism must take into consideration the deep-rooted legacies of colonialism in the economic structure of the university, globally and locally. Language accessibility was a central concern for all speakers. Dr. Bean asked how we can teach students critical thinking that challenges colonial legacies if we do not allow their local languages into the classroom and course evaluation. Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss echoed the complexity of the issue and emphasised the need for local and structural specificity when discussing decolonisation. Using the example of the Lebanese American University, Dr. Skulte-Ouaiss urged the audience to resist “simple narratives, and emphasise interdisciplinary methods, support domestic vocabulary, and seek out unlikely travellers in the journey towards decolonisation of higher education”.

The second session focused on a specific postcolonial location: Makerere University in Uganda. Dr. Josephine Ahikire emphasised that decolonisation should happen in every human sector. She said that “we have to protect the spaces in the humanities that allow students to think critically and learn that the challenges of this work take place within a university system dictated by neoliberal orthodoxy.” It is important to ask what decolonising feminist pedagogy could look like in a space that resists the global hierarchies of knowledge production. Dr. Sarah Ssali emphasised that the central question to decolonial approaches should be on how knowledge is weighed, that is, whose knowledge is considered pure science and whose knowledge is categorised as folklore or anthropological data? She urged the audience to challenge how colonial legacies dictate hierarchies of knowledge through which African Universities struggle with being internationally recognisable. She explained that still today, the Global South is marketed as the consumer of knowledge while the Global North is the knowledge producer. European standards of knowledge production cannot continue to be the global standard.

In addition to the seminar, the activities of the week consisted of fruitful meetings where further collaboration was discussed such as how the universities can better engage with the GEST alumni network, and a strategic planning for nominating students from the partner universities for the joint GRÓ GEST/Erasmus+ scholarship programme. The visitors also enjoyed Icelandic culture and nature as they visited the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, the Women’s History Archives at the National Library, the Blue Lagoon, Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir hot spring, and Þingvellir National Park.

The visitors with the GRÓ GEST fellows at the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi
GEST fellows and visitors with the painting Þjóðfundur (e. National Assembly) by Gunnlaugur Blöndal
Dr. Josephine Ahikire, Dr. Dalea Bean, Dr. Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss, Dr. Sarah Ssali
Presenters at the seminar Decolonisation of Higher Education: Perspectives from Postcolonial Contexts with GRÓ GEST Research specialist Dr. Giti Chandra and Dr. Irma Erlingsdóttir, Director of GRÓ GEST
Dr. Giti Chandra, GRÓ GEST and RIKK Research Specialist moderated the seminar on Decolonisation of Higher Education