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Drew University Hosts Inaugural Lecture on Diversity and Inclusion

Featuring Dr. Ruchi Chaturvedi 

A recap and reflection by Eden Linton C’24

September 2023 – Drew University hosted an inaugural lecture on diversity and inclusion, featuring Dr. Ruchi Chaturvedi, senior lecturer at the University of Cape Town (UCT). She is a political and legal anthropologist who works on cultures of democracy, popular politics, and political violence in postcolonial democracies

Her talk was entitled “Fallist Movements and the Curriculum: Reflections on Teaching and Learning from the University of Cape Town.”

The event was hosted by the Arts & Sciences Dean’s Office, and facilitated and organized by Associate Dean of Curriculum and Professor of Political Science and International Relations Jinee Lokaneeta.

Lokaneeta recalled her first class at Drew in 2006 where there was one student of color in a class of 25. “I want to celebrate that we have now welcomed one of the most diverse classes at Drew. The diversity at Drew has led to a reckoning with our own institutional practices regarding equity and inclusion, both within and outside the classroom.”

Drew has recently welcomed one of its largest and most diverse population of students. Drew, as a community, has embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion, even as challenges remain.

Chaturvedi shared the politics in Cape Town, South Africa, and how they provoked constructive responses regarding university curriculum in the U.S. and other post-colonial societies with the goal to “create a more systematic rethinking of how we teach, who we teach, who we are, who teaches.” 

Chaturvedi recounted the Rhodes Must Fall protest movement that took place on the campus of UCT on March 8, 2015, directed at a statue commemorating colonist Cecil John Rhodes. The movement, which garnered global attention, sparked larger student movements against legacies of colonialism and apartheid that persist in South African higher educational institutions.

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Dr. Chaturvedi, center, flanked by Dean Ryan Hinrichs and Associate Dean Jinee Lokaneeta

Today, race and class largely coincide in South Africa. “The legacy of colonialism and apartheid mark the city vividly,” she said. “Post apartheid, political equality came, but economic equality has not, making South Africa the protest capital of the world.”

Chaturvedi recounted countless examples of segregation at UCT. “How do you grapple with such a legacy, how do you get past it?” she asked.

The protest laid the foundation for the decolonization of curriculum with higher education in not only South Africa, but also in other parts of the world. The curriculum at UCT began transformation also inspired by the work of professor Mahmood Mamdani, who was appointed the first chair of African studies at the university in 1996. This started a foundational and reconstructive change to remove its apartheid makeup and curriculum.

Courses at UCT and other South African universities attempted to do this reconstructive curricular work by training students to examine and reimagine the ways in which democracy, justice, and freedom have been taught and lived. She pointed out how a false binary is set up between excellence and transformation. “The two go hand in hand,” Chaturvedi noted. 

This lecture is a symbol of this change. In attendance were representatives from the College of Liberal Arts, Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, and Drew Theological School. Segregation and higher education, in a lot of spaces, are synonymous with each other. Dr. Chaturvedi shows us that “things need to be erased in order for something to be built” by using Cape Town as a model to educate us on segregation, and a community coming together to exercise shared beliefs.

This lecture prompted members of the Drew community to look at colonial models of education and remember that representation is now more important than ever. We would really like to thank Dr. Chaturvedi for reminding us that restructuring is always ongoing, but we need to be conscious so it continuously moves forward. It is important to talk about not only social change, but also curricular change by allowing syllabi to evolve as the students change, especially in a university that has diversity as part of its educational mission.

The event concluded with a spirited Q&A.

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