Ben Spanton-Walker, BA Geography student, talks about his contribution to the ‘Conversations on Race, Racism and Anti-Racism’ series.
3 min read.
My name is Ben Spanton-Walker. I am a third-year geography student at Oxford Brookes and on 28 May 2021 I had the honour of contributing to Oxford Brookes’ series of anti-racism talks, with my contribution being included in a talk about anti-racist teaching and how geography can adapt to this at uni.
I was invited to do this talk by Professor Helen Walkington, for two reasons. The main reason was that I had done some work in a module called independent study on how geography can decolonialise itself and how the values that geographers hold are different.
Another reason that I was asked to come to contribute to the talk was that I have had an unusual student experience. I grew up in Hackney, a borough in East London that is extremely diverse. The school I went to was diverse as well and it meant that being white would mean you stand out and I would often be the only white face in a classroom. When I joined university, I realised how unique this was and that my experience at school was very different to what many others would have experienced. For example, my school consistently celebrated black history month and would celebrate role models from a variety of cultures.
The content of the talk that I did was largely like this blog. I spoke about my experience at school and uni and how they have differed, and I spoke about the study that I had carried out. I also added that I think that confidence to say what you think and open-mindedness to being corrected is important. I stressed that students need the confidence to say what they think without being boxed into a label for one mistake. How else will people learn if they do not make mistakes? Confidence is not something many students have at uni around these conversations because many are sheltered from them at school, where as I was kind of thrown in the deep end because of the demographic of my school. I said that confidence to have open conversations was important because something that shocked me about university is how often people say something racist or follow the status quo without realising but also that these people are often willing to change with new information.
While our institutions do not help, with the education system and the media often perpetuating these biases, the fact that people who know no different can change with new information is a source of great encouragement to me.