For Wellbeing Month, Race Equality Network member Mariam Ghorbannejad writes about being part of a network and affecting positive change. You can find out more about the Race Equality Network  as well as Proudly King’s,  Elevate: King’s Gender Equality NetworkParents’ & Carers’ Network and Access King’s: Disability Inclusion Network on the Diversity & Inclusion webpages.  

Being a Londoner of mixed (Persian/Scottish) descent, I am used to ticking the ‘mixed’ or ‘other’ box on equal opportunities classification forms, whether that be in medical registrations, job applications or employer monitoring processes. There is no box that I neatly fit into; I am in that grey space that is different but undefined. This can be frustrating, although, given I am in my thirties, I have become somewhat accustomed to this rather rudimentary way of categorising individuals into pre-defined recognisable and distinguishable groups.

Not only does this box-ticking exercise make me feel frustrated that in this day and age, in modern Britain, we are still being asked for this information but that somehow it is recorded and not much is actually done to address any imbalances that exist.

This has an impact on my life in numerous ways; it affects how I view my own identity and on my well-being. When the opportunity arose to become a core member of the Race Equality Network at King’s, I jumped at the chance.

The purpose of King’s Race Equality Network (REN) is to promote and advance race equality at King’s. It seeks to provide networking opportunities and support both the personal and professional development of all members. As a network, we aim to create a space for identifying and tackling cultural and diversity issues around university policies and practices through supporting the implementation of King’s Race Equality Action Plan.

Our objectives include: valuing the importance of building a community that embraces relational power, transparency, knowledge sharing, respect and equality, supporting the implementation of actions outlined within King’s Race Equality Action Plan and promoting and represent the interests of BME staff and students amongst others. We also aim to develop tangible and practical solutions for changing the way in which race is discussed at King’s. We engage and work collaboratively with both internal and external stakeholders who share our ethos. We would like to create a cultural shift within the university towards open and honest conversations about race.

I have personally faced many occasions in which my name has led to judgement of my command of English, something I found quite astounding in contemporary British society. As someone of mixed heritage, I feel compelled to be part of the REN team in order to address issues of equality of access to opportunities (for both staff and students), inclusion (a sense of belonging and everyone feeling welcome) and diversity of the student/staff body and curriculum.

Working alongside others whose vision for race equality at King’s is similar to mine is exciting, empowering and has a tremendously positive effect on my emotional, psychological and mental well-being. I am motivated by my core beliefs and am happy to share this passion with the team members who are all equally passionate about making a positive change.

For Black History Month, we organised a number of events including a tribute to celebrate the life of Harold Moody, a black Medicine graduate at King’s, who finished top of his class in 1910. Harold was a Jamaican-born physician who campaigned against racial prejudice. We celebrated his legacy in a panel discussion involving Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, current and former BME King’s students, chaired by Professor Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Provost & Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences). Another successful event, attended by over 300 students, was the rapper Akala who came to perform and responded to questions from the audience on race afterwards. He was able to give an honest and articulate account of issues that are still exist within society.

I have been inspired by the enthusiasm shown by REN core members who are all working diligently to bring about positive change within the university. I am also pleased that senior staff are taking notice and that recommendations are being drafted. My own personal well-being has benefitted enormously and I strongly believe any change will be positive for the entire student and staff population and that future generations will benefit, too.