By Olivia Montes
The Washington College gender studies, Latin American studies, and Black studies programs, alongside the William James Forum Fund, presented the second installment of the Critical Series @ WAC entitled “What is Decolonization?” on Thursday, Oct. 28 at 5:30 p.m. on the Clifton Miller Library terrace.
Hosted by Assistant Professor of Political Science & International Studies Dr. Carrie Reiling, the in-person seminar addressed the concepts behind decolonization, significant examples of the practice throughout global history, and how acknowledging its complexity can help people challenge certain knowledges and histories that exist within the world.
According to the information pamphlet handed out during the talk — adapted from Autumn A Blackdeer at @AsherBlackdeer on Twitter — the term “decolonization,” rather than representing “a synonym for diversity, equity, or inclusion,” actually stands for “the undoing of colonialism; the decentering of Western systems and structures of knowledge; [and] the recognition of multiple ways of knowing and ways of being.”
“On the one hand, decolonization was a long political process experienced mainly by African nations that became independent from European rule well into the 1960s,” Associate Professor of Spanish and Director of the Black Studies Program Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho said. “On the other hand, decolonization is a praxis that aims to undo the intellectual, symbolic, epistemological, and ethical effects of colonialism and colonial structures in both the colonized and the colonizers.”
According to Dr. Reiling, while the purpose of the talk was to convey how the impact of decolonization is still felt by many today, she also wanted to point out that, rather than reject or despise societies because of their oppressive behaviors, people should instead try to expand our own worldviews to become more accepting, embracing, and understanding of one another.
“My primary point was not that Western forms of knowledge and ways of being are bad, but that they should be decentered and not considered the ‘best’ way of doing things, imposed on other regions of the world,” she said. “Instead, Westerners, North Americans, and Europeans should recognize the existence and value of other ontologies.”
Throughout the talk, both Dr. Deanda-Camacho and Dr. Reiling also addressed how students, staff, and faculty, as well as the surrounding community, can take steps toward not only recognizing decolonization, but how they themselves can take part in this process.
“We can recognize first, as many of these thinkers say, what are the contemporary remnants of colonialism; we can address these remnants by reevaluating our worldview and start by not paternalizing or diminishing the value of other worldviews, [and therefore] we can educate others by learning ourselves and dignify each other as we engage actively with the world,” Dr. Deanda-Camacho said.
As the talk concluded, Dr. Reiling expressed hope that the WC community will take these lessons and incorporate them into their own lives, both within and beyond the College campus.
“I hope attendees gained a curiosity about other forms of governance, other ideas of education and health care systems, other ways of thinking about human relations with nature, and other ways of seeing the world,” Dr. Reiling said. “While we are all embedded in our own experiences, we should recognize that everyone else has their own experience.”
Photo by Kayla Thornton