LSE should be reshaped by bell hooks’ teachings

By Natasha Porter

From the late nights to the extreme schedules and pressing deadlines, the university experience is certainly not an easy ride. With an increasing number of students reporting high levels of stress and anxiety, it is understandable that many have become disheartened with education as a whole. Under the haze of sleep deprivation and stress, it can be difficult to imagine the educational experience as one of joy, discovery, and excitement. However, the work of the late scholar bell hooks challenges us to do just that. 

The death of bell hooks in December 2021 led to an outpouring of both grief and gratitude from her fans. Her contribution to scholarship on feminism, race, culture, and politics led to her status as a trailblazer and titan of the feminist movement. Throughout her 40-year career, she penned around 40 books including Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism and Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Her commitment to her scholarship even extended to the stylising of her name with lowercase letters, reportedly so that readers could focus on the content of her writing, not who she was as an individual. The work of bell hooks can be found on many syllabi, namely in the fields of gender and sociology, though her work has relevance for students and educators regardless of discipline. Her contribution to feminist discourse and cultural commentary is immense, but remembering her scholarship on pedagogy and education is equally as important. Her work can provide comfort and solace for those struggling to find their place at LSE.

Stereotypes about LSE students being competitive, elitist, and hyper-ambitious are often the subject of memes and jokes, but there is an unfortunate element of truth in them. It is true that LSE students can be consumed by an ivory tower mentality, and this is not necessarily our fault. It is easy to become self-important and convinced of our own inherent excellence when at an exclusive university. However, bell hooks challenges us to think less about ourselves and focus on our contribution towards the education of others. Notably, hooks’ style of writing is clear and accessible, using everyday vocabulary to ensure that those without academic training can engage with her work. Part of her skill and charm as a writer was her ability to explain and analyse the complexities of race, feminism, and gender, in ways that are not needlessly complicated. bell hooks offers us a significant lesson. As LSE students, many of us will go on to be the next generation of educators and thought leaders and it is imperative that we don’t lose touch with those outside of our ivory tower. We should always remember that accessible and clearly communicated work allows for a much larger and diverse audience than work with pretentious and verbose language, which is often riddled with elitism. Though we study complex ideas at university, hooks’ commitment to making knowledge accessible to all is an important message to students. We must be humble, reflective, and ensure that the work that we do here benefits those outside of our overly-educated academic bubble.

In addition, there is a tendency among students to overlook the opportunities provided by an education that introduces us to a wide variety of people and opinions. LSE’s large international community is often hailed as a sign of greatness and success. However, what does it truly mean to live and learn in such a diverse community? In her book, Teaching to Transgress, hooks explains her approach when it comes to teaching in a multicultural environment. She writes, “As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence. The professor must genuinely value everyone’s presence.” While this is from a professor’s perspective, it is also a useful lesson for students. The diversity of our community allows us to truly recognise each other and to value our similarities and differences. We must not overlook how special our time at LSE can be. Appreciating our differences and learning with and from people that we would never have met otherwise is what makes an international education so beautiful. hooks challenges us to overcome the daily stress of student life to find joy and excitement in our diversity.

When she wrote that “the classroom remains the most radical space of possibility”, hooks draws on the power of imagination in a place that is imperfect. Educational institutions are rife with oppressive practices, but within the classroom, we can find ways to disrupt and dismantle them. As students, we are very much aware of issues of racism, ableism, and elitism embedded into the education system. Inequality often stares us in the face, but many of us feel compelled to use our knowledge to create positive change. From The Beaver bringing attention to a lack of diversity in LSE’s history curriculum, ongoing activism to improve LSE’s treatment of disabled and neurodivergent students, to student support for striking staff, it is clear that there is a desire to imagine a better university. It is no coincidence that many movements that fundamentally shifted society began with discussions in universities. For example, the Gay Liberation Front held its first meeting at LSE in 1970. Universities can only be engines of change if we can imagine them to be so. hooks reminds us that learning gives us freedom, and that this collective freedom can be used to transgress the oppressive practices that take place both in educational institutions and in our wider society. 

Although being a student can be stressful and the university system is far from perfect, the possibility for change is always on the horizon. bell hooks’ legacy and contribution to feminist thought is special, and there is so much that we can do as students to honour her legacy. To honour the legacy of bell hooks is to understand that the university, despite its flaws, is a place filled with possibility and opportunity. hooks believed that “learning is a place where paradise can be created” and that paradise can be created right here. Her work challenges us to see the university not as it is, but to imagine the possibility of what it could be and what it could provide for its students and for society as a whole. There can be, in fact, excitement and love that can be found in learning, despite everything.


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