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Being exposed to a diverse curriculum made me unapologetically be myself within an academic setting

Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro considers academia, anxiety, and the role of the African scholar…


I was recently invited to take part in a panel discussion that will be looking at Afro-Irish Cultural Dialogue: Voices of African Scholars. If you told me this time last year that I would be one day taking part in this much-needed conversation about Black scholar voices I would not have believed you. Past experiences have conditioned me to automatically feel like my voice when it comes to expressing my lived experiences or research expertise would be brushed aside due to the current political climate that views Black voices as unimportant. With this opportunity, I immediately knew without a doubt I wanted to explore the role of the Black scholar in Ireland; a topic that has been swirling around my mind for some time but was too scared to broach.   

I am currently a second-year PhD student researching Contemporary African Literature.  During both my undergraduate and master’s degree, I was blatantly aware that in most classes I was the only student of African descent studying English literature. Honestly, during my undergraduate, this never bothered me as I was merely just trying to survive college. I never really took time to understand how this singularity would one day come back to haunt me. 

I became confronted with the enormous pressure I had placed on myself as an Afro-Irish student in my undergraduate final year when I stumbled upon the module Contemporary African Literature. Being the only Afro-Irish student in a class, I felt this added pressure to constantly prove that despite all the stereotypes that are projected onto people of African descent, especially Black women, I could be as successful as anyone else. This task becomes quite tedious and draining but it is something that I have come to be used to. But when I entered this particular class all these added pressures seemed to disappear momentarily. It was the very first time I truly felt like a literature student. The Contemporary African Literature module changed the way I understood African history, the power of African voices in literature, my duality of being Afro-Irish, and most importantly how my future was going to be in academia.  I realised I could follow the career path of an Afrofuturist in the English department.

My Africanness was no longer seen as a weapon to use to point out my difference, it was something that gave me a nuanced understanding of the theoretical frameworks and books that were being taught in this module. I wished that I had been exposed to this class when I was in my first year and I had been unapologetically Black from that moment onwards.  Being exposed to a diverse curriculum that departed from the traditional route of everything being taught solely in a homogenous Western and oftentimes white lens made me unapologetically be myself within an academic setting.

The changing nature of Ireland, becoming a more multicultural and diverse nation, calls for the need to have a university curriculum that reflects this diversity. The re-emergence of Black Lives Matter in Ireland brought this issue to the fore, and paved the way to start conversations on what decolonising the curriculum and universities would look like. From my own experience, taking the African literature module in the fourth year proved how a diverse and inclusive curriculum plays an integral role in an individual’s sense of self and understanding of social issues such as politics of body and race.  

These conversations of decolonising universities and curricula make me question why there is such a resistance to change. Studies and statistics have continuously shown how Ireland is constantly changing and is now a melting pot of multiculturalism, yet this is not reflected in the university curriculum. Why is this change only left to students who want to push past this old age debate of all their recommended readings only being written by white western scholars? The Black Lives Matter movement in the Irish context has truly provided us with a chance to reconsider how to approach these questions and move towards understanding the importance of providing diverse modules where non-white students can feel truly represented and connected to the materials that they are reading. 

  Ever since starting my PhD, I have had  to confront my anxiety of being an African scholar in a predominantly white field. This is something that I knew would always be a challenge, but the anxiety got heightened in the last year with the backdrop of BLM.  I found myself researching and tutoring, organising various webinars, and creating new artistic outlets that delved into the issue of race, identity, and the future. I was confronted with the realisation that I would never just be solely academic. My passion for social issues and representation slowly saw me taking on the role of activism. I have a deep appreciation of how activism impacts our lives in so many ways. Writing is one of the most potent forms of activism that provides an artistic platform which mirrors marginalised voices.  

Although I am determined to make a positive change I am still unsure of how to approach this all.  I am left thinking about my role as a young African researcher in this political climate regarding race. Time and time again I am reminded of how articulately and well-mannered I carry myself as a PhD student.  This level of scrutiny and micro-aggression proves to be an indicator of future treatments as this is something that I will always be subjected to. 

My hope for Ireland in the field of academia is to mirror the multiculturalism and diversity that are visible and have proven to be a positive attribute of contemporary Ireland. Afro-Irish dialogues like the event taking place on the 25th of May showcase the vast amount of talent and discussion happening amongst African scholars. Voices that are oftentimes brushed aside and viewed as unimportant have immense power to contribute to ongoing discussions as their lived experiences and research expertise are unique.  

In the future, I will be able to look back at this conference as the moment that I faced my fears and anxiety of the future head on; a day that allowed me to showcase the importance of providing platforms for marginalised scholars to be centre stage and steer much-needed conversations such as the role of the African scholar in Ireland.


Afro-Irish Cultural Dialogue: Voices of  African Scholars. Tuesday, May 25th at 3PM.
This webinar is organised and curated by PhD student John Nutekpor as part Limerick’s Africa Day celebrations. The webinar will feature UL PhD students Funmi Jinadu, Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro and John Nutekpor who all highlight the current African-Irish research. Register here.