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Intersecting Oppressions in Higher Education

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

In response to the white feminist movement in the USA which excluded black women’s unique experiences of racialised sexism, Kimberly Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to describe the ways in which various forms of social oppression can intersect. According to her:

“if you're standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you're likely to get hit by both.”

So, if you face racism, xenophobia, a precarious immigration status and ableism all at once, your experience of disadvantage (or absence of privilege) becomes exponentially greater than someone who may experience only one form of social oppression. Such has been the experience of Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe, a blind Nigerian parent of four, facing deportation after the University of Dundee cancelled his student status following a lack of academic support.

As anti-racist educators, we shouldn’t forget the multiple identities that privilege us. For example, not having any physical impairments makes you privileged. As an able-bodied woman of colour, I know that even though I face racism and sexism at once, I am benefitting from, and thus complicit in, the systems which privilege me, such as ableism. With the hope of using our privileges to empower those who are marginalised, I would urge you to sign the petition demanding a stop to Bamidele’s deportation.

As a black, blind, migrant Nigerian, Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe was enrolled for a PhD programme at the University of Dundee. His research supports the education of blind people in Nigeria, a crucial development that could improve the lives of many, while empowering a marginalised academic. Bamidele experienced several problems during his research:

  • A lack of supervision for several months on end, forcing Bamidele to submit a draft without any feedback from a supervisor

  • Inadequate technology provided to support his visual impairment, making it impossible for him to carry out work

  • After requesting for better technological provision, he was informed that his request for an extension had been declined, even though he hadn’t asked for one.

  • When he asked for support from the Equality Advisory Service, the University Complaint Unit got involved, even though he hadn’t asked them to.

  • While the complaint investigation was ongoing, the University informed him that his study had been terminated and it informed the Home Office that Bamidele, his wife and four children would have to leave the country by the end of this month.

The lack of support and quick escalation of disadvantages and punishments Bamidele is experiencing are evidence of disability, racial and migrant discrimination. The delayed progress in his research, partially caused by inadequate technology for his visual impairment, was used as an excuse to terminate his studies and disrupt the lives of his wife and children. His oldest son was planning to sit SQA exams in Dundee in two months.

The University of Dundee reported that the termination of his studies was merely a result of not satisfactorily meeting the academic requirements. However, how can anyone meet the academic requirements when they are being disadvantaged by mutliple forms of oppression that prevent them from reaching their full potential? The near absence of black academics in the UK is not, as racist rhetoric constantly tries to teach us, because of an inherent lack of intelligence. Rather, it is because of the institutional barriers which privilege white able-bodied people and make black disabled people like Bamidele feel alienated and completely disregarded, despite the tens of thousands of tuition fees the university was receiving from his sponsored research. As outlined by the Macpherson Report, institutional racism amounts to the lack of appropriate support for people of colour, regardless of intent. No single employee of the University of Dundee may have intentionally wanted to make Bamidele’s life harder, but as a whole, the institution’s support system failed him and is therefore responsible. The series of incidents and university decisions reflect how institutional racism and ableism intersect and hit Bamidele and his family the hardest.

Bamidele’s case is disheartening. How can we strive for the decolonisation of education when researchers most disadvantaged by colonial histories (not to forget the British colonisation of Nigeria) are still facing precarious situations that come with visas and hostile environments? Bamidele’s experience of a hostile environment is magnified by racism and ableism – the least we can do is sign the petition.

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