In 2016, I set up the campaign Raising Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education, as this is a big issue, particularly for international studies in the UK.
As part of this campaign, I feel there is an urgent need for universities to rethink the contents of their curriculum to ensure that learners are empowered as individuals rather than embedding a system where teachers trigger mental health symptoms among university students.
The RAMHEE campaign is advocating a rethink of stereotypical language and racial power dynamics that are deep-rooted in the UK curriculum.
I am referring to the systematic and indirect institutional racism where teachers show only poverty in Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) countries to make it look like there are no hungry or poor people in the UK.
”It may lead to low confidence, low self-esteem, shame, rejection of identity and poor mental health among some BAME students”
This creates a false impression and promotes a class and social class distinction where some students may believe that they are superior to their peers, and their peers may feel inferior.
Worse still, this racially constructed curriculum is taught from the first year, and it may lead to low confidence, low self-esteem, shame, rejection of identity and poor mental health among some BAME students because of negative views of themselves.
As a mental health nurse, it worries me that rather than embed mental health into the curriculum, some lecturers embed self-doubt into the subconscious of the learners and trigger mental health problems among students from BAME groups.
As a PhD student and lecturer, students have complained about the negative impact of module content, which disempowers them in the class, making them voiceless in the presence of their white lecturers and white classmates.
Let us not forget the negligible diverse workforce at most UK universities, with a ridiculously low percentage of BAME lecturers.
Not only do these students have to deal with the white lecturer standing in front of them, but they also have to watch as the lecturers show only videos and images of poverty in BAME countries.
Is this a case of academic slavery? Next time you prepare your teaching materials, I want to think about the consequences of your actions before you include those videos and images that portray BAME countries as poor.
It is important that teachers examine the contents of their learning and teaching resources, to ensure a global learning resource, rather than the one-sided view, which stereotypes a group of people.
Teachers in higher education should think local first, by using examples that are relevant to the UK, alongside other examples. This will help learners to contextualise and position the UK among other countries.
“It is important that teachers think about the implications of their curriculum content on the mental health of students”
As the negative mental health experiences among university students increase, it is important that teachers think about the implications of their curriculum content on the mental health of students.
In my opinion, this will be a very useful early intervention strategy which will enable students to value themselves and where they come from.
For some university students, mental health experiences may have started from as young as 10 years old, when the person who was supposed to teach and enable a positive learning experience chose to embed images of poverty, lack and self-doubt in their young minds.
Any teacher who makes some learners feel like they are less than others because of the colour of their skin or where they come from is guilty of race crime.
In the absence of positive mental health, the student experience is hindered, and academic achievement may be limited.
Josephine NwaAmaka Bardi is a mental health nurse, ESRC PhD student, Mental health and wellbeing, University of Nottingham. Founder of Raise Awareness of Mental Health in Higher Education