I joined King’s 2½ years ago, and am seeing the end of my third academic year. It has always made me laugh how many people ask if I get the holidays off –  if only! As much as a long summer holiday would be attractive, one of the main reasons I wanted this role was that it brought together the staff and student focus. I believe D&I applies to everyone everywhere in our organisation, and making and sustaining improvements requires looking at King’s as a whole.

An intrinsic part of my role is understanding our student body and forming good working relationships with the Students’ Union (KCLSU) elected Officers. Recently, I was privileged enough to attend this year’s outgoing Officers leaving party. I was astounded when I joined King’s and learned what was expected from student Officers. Taking a year out from their degrees, they are responsible for overseeing the work of the Students’ Union as a democratic charity, making collective decisions with other KCLSU Trustees, championing change and student activism, and supporting and empowering King’s students to influence change. This often involves them sitting on some of the College’s most senior or influential bodies like Council and Academic Board. It’s a steep learning curve and the stakes are high.

I found the leaving event really moving. Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal) both gave lovely speeches recognising the Officers’ achievements and contributions. Then each of the Officers made a speech reflecting on their year; their election, the highs and lows, how they had formed and performed as a team and are clearly, now, close friends.

Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal)

I was particularly affected by Jessica Oshodin’s speech. She was overcome with emotion and gave a living, breathing exposition of imposter syndrome and the isolation that comes with being the only black and female team member. She had been surprised to be elected. Each of her peers had clearly recognised, in their speeches, her hard work, her leadership, her competence and her legacy. While in post, Jessica ran the She Should Run campaign to encourage more women and those that self-identify as women to run for part of KCLSU’s elected positions. This hard work has resulted in two women winning elected positions in the 2019/20 KCLSU Officer team.

Jessica was brutally honest about how hard she had found the year and it made me cry.

Cry for so many reasons; because I was proud to know her and have played some small part in her journey. I had seen her in action and know her to be a woman of integrity, intelligence and effectiveness.

Because so much of what she said had personal resonance. I have often been the first or only woman/brown person somewhere and know well the feeling that I’m not good enough or worthy.

Because, even now, I believe she is still self-questioning, having completed her degree at King’s and been the Vice President Postgraduate officer in a pretty tough year. As someone with a Masters in exactly what she wants to do, she still holds a heap of self-doubt that is to do with her identity, not her capability.

It may surprise readers to know that I am often felt not to be a very empathetic person. Empathy, Google tells me, is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Simply, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It is a difficult thing to admit as core to my role is enabling others to develop and practice empathy. It’s an element of my personal development that I have worked on consistently over the years.

I believe myself to be and have been told that I am a good listener. What I am not is patient or good at listening without ‘helping’, which is what real empathy often requires: being able to listen and show that you understand and, in some situations, just allow the other person time and space. I am a ‘fixer’, I love to problem solve and act – so believe I am helping by advising and chivvying. I have had to learn to stop myself and I continue to try but know it’s not something that comes naturally.

Another area of improvement that I have recognised is that I need to stop immediately thinking about how I would feel or what I would do in a situation, but to step back and really make myself focus on understanding how the other person is feeling in the situation they are in. The more I have reflected, the more honest I have had to be with myself and know that I am not good at that particular element of empathy.

Being able to imagine myself in a situation is not the same as understanding how someone else is experiencing something. At the leaving party, l was truly able to see things through the individual Officers’ eyes and understand – I had an empathy epiphany! Their storytelling really stopped me and made me listen. Their stories also made me want to work harder to prevent future Jessicas and Mohammeds from feeling isolated and othered simply because of who they are and instead allow them to revel in their talent. So, as we face a new academic year, I will commit to redoubling my efforts to build my empathy skills and to more proactively supporting our newly elected KCLSU Officers.