Bristol Conversations in Education - Black bodies in white educational spaces

17 March 2021, 4.30 PM - 17 March 2021, 6.00 PM

Dr April-Louise Pennant (Changemaker and Scholar-activist, Research Associate at the Nelson Mandela University) and Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr (Lecturer in Education and Social Justice, University of York)

This is an online event - please register and read through confirmation email for details of how to attend

This event is part of the School of Education's Bristol Conversations in Education research seminar series. These seminars are free and open to the public.


Dr Jessie Abrahams, Lecturer in Education, University of Bristol


Dr April-Louise Pennant (Changemaker and Scholar-activist, Research Associate at the Nelson Mandela University) 

Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr (Lecturer in Education and Social Justice, University of York) 

Dr April-Louise Pennant will speak on the following:

“I was raised to understand that you have to work twice as hard to get half as far”: Critiquing the narrow understandings of educational ‘success’ through the experiences and journeys of Black British women graduates

This paper employs Critical Race Theory and Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice within the context of Black Feminist epistemology, to illustrate some of the insights that were generated from PhD research about the educational journeys and experiences of 25 Black British women graduates. Reflecting on their educational trajectories from primary school until university, many participants shared the various struggles they had overcome in the pursuit of educational ‘success’, as symbolised by their graduate status. However, it emerged that despite successfully navigating the English education system, many of the graduates in the study expressed frustration that their educational ‘success’ did not always translate in ways that they expected within and beyond the education system. Based on the frustrations shared by participants within interviews, understandings about educational ‘success’ were critically examined and deemed to be limited in terms of its narrow, meritocratic and neoliberal definitions. It is hoped that this paper will contribute to critical conversations in an age of COVID-19 uncertainty, controversial exam testing algorithms and the move to online learning- all of which has already exacerbated existing educational inequalities, and which will also inevitably reshape understandings of educational ‘success’. 

Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr will speak on the following:

Black British men in elite UK universities: The use of third objects prompts when researching their counternarrative experiences.

At [university name] I’ve been through that and I know I’ve heard statements like that my entire life and I suspect that, like with most things I try and talk through them. (Alex, Middle Class, British African, Russell Group Grad)

I just laughed it off even though it wasn't really that funny. I shrugged it off at the time. (Damien, Working Class, British Caribbean, Russell Group Graduate)

I haven't got time. I'm trying to get a degree. (Edmund, Working Class, British African, Russell Group Graduate)

These quotes are a few examples of Black male student’s responses to discriminatory experiences they encountered at University from my ESRC funded PhD that explored British African Caribbean males’ experiences attending elite UK institutions. It is uncontested that there are minimal numbers on Black British students attending most Russell Group universities. And although recent Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) data indicates that the numbers are finally beginning to increase at some of these elite institutions, there is a long way to go in terms reducing inequality and widening participation – particularly in most of the Russell Group. The journey for the few Black students who are admitted and decide to attend can be precarious and problematic – as admission does not necessarily equate to acceptance and welcome-ness by students and faculty. Black male students are often the mark of subtle verbal and racially influenced slights and offenses. This presentation discusses the benefits of using third object prompts while listening to the counterstories of Black British males’ experiences in elite UK universities. Critical Race Theory, intersectionality and Bourdieu’s concepts of field, habitus, and bodily hexis were used to unearth these Black men’s experiences with microaggressions/symbolic violence, othering, double consciousness (moderate blackness performativity) and also gain an understanding of some of the capitals these men identified as beneficial to them in managing their verbal and physical reactions to stigma and discriminatory offences in order to ensure that they could ‘get on’ and ‘get through’ elite universities and pursue their future goals. 


Dr April-Louise Pennant is a firm believer in the importance of “lifting as you climb”, as well as the transformative power of education- but only if the education system is understood, navigated and utilised effectively. She recently completed her ESRC-funded doctorate in Education at the University of Birmingham where her research focused on the unequal underpinnings and structure of the education system and the educational journeys and experiences of Black British women graduates within it. She passionately uses policy, research and consulting to transform [educational] spaces and places in her policy officer role and as a Research Associate at the Nelson Mandela University.

Since June 2019 Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr has been a lecturer in the Education Department at the University of York where he is the Programme leader for BA in Sociology and Education. He also supervises undergraduate and postgraduate students. In 2019 he developed a module on Race, Equity, Equality in Difference which is now a requirement for all Social Justice Masters students to complete. As a member of the Centre for Research on Education and Social Justice (CRESJ), he employs Critical Race Theory and Bourdieusian concepts as primary theoretical frameworks in his research. He has an ongoing interest in developing transparent and comprehensive understandings of how the intersectionality (Crenshaw) of ‘race’, class, gender and faith impact Black and Minority Ethnic young people’s secondary and higher education trajectories. Inequalities in these areas are routinely reproduced over time yet are seldom acknowledged or addressed. He uses social theory, social justice concepts and visual methods to expose and inform his analysis and understanding of BAME young people’s perspectives. Dr Constantino Dumangane Jr is a member of the staff student group Decolonising Education Collective that works to decolonise curricula while actively improving inclusivity and recognition of BAME contributions to education. He has previously held research appointments addressing inequalities in secondary and post secondary education in domestic and global contexts at Cardiff University and the University of Newcastle, Australia and Pearson plc, UK. 

This event is hosted by the Centre for Higher Education Transformations (CHET)


Contact information

Christie Smith

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