Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Author: k1926302 (Page 1 of 2)

Let’s keep talking about race

About 18 months ago I stood before the SMT at their inaugural structural inequality development session, a programme I had designed. I was terrified. This was my big chance to put into action all that I had learned as an activist and as a more junior member of staff.  Meaningful and sustainable change starts with leadership commitment. Why was I so frightened? This was exactly the job I had been asked to do. But, as I think any person of colour will tell you, it feels like you are a flashing beacon when you stand in front of a group of (mostly white) people and tell them that there is inequality all around us, that there is racism around us and, as the leaders of the organisation, that it is their job to act. I was pleased that day that the response was overwhelmingly positive. There was a real thirst for knowledge and an appetite for action.

Since then, we have seen gradual changes and improvements. However, the brutal murder of George Floyd has shown us that we don’t have the luxury of time. Our community need us to do something now. Our steady strategic action plans move too slowly for the toxic, pervasive and all-consuming virus that is racism. Our Race Equality Chartermark self-assessment tells us we have a lot to do. Our recruitment processes are not operating fairly, the BME attainment gap shows not all our students are provided with the opportunity to attain according to their academic potential. Crucially, while we have a lot of ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff and students, we have far too few black staff and students. Recognising and naming this is important if we are going to progress.

I have a friend, an amazing black man of Jamaican heritage, who is an activist and a leader Rob Neil OBE (Order of the British Empire or Obviously Black Everyday – you take your pick!)  Rob talks about his journey – that it was only some 10 years into his career that he ‘became’ black, having formerly perceived himself to be ‘colourless’; that merit had no colour; that if he worked hard enough, he would succeed.

I feel the same. Here I am not far off my half century. Little, old, Sarah Guerra, the brown girl that started life in Edmonton Green on the Joyce Avenue Estate. That I find myself as Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at King’s College London is improbable. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been bright and capable. My Trinidadian dad schooled me in arithmetic and letters from the earliest age, and I arrived at school way more advanced than the others in my class. But I, like many others, went through school, college, and university being passively or actively discouraged and urged to lower my ambitions and expectations. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true, that in parallel to that, I had the constant refrain at home – ‘you’ve got to be twice as good, Sarah’. At the same time as all of that coded and not-so-coded messaging – what we today know as implicit racism –  hardly ever did the fact that I was brown-skinned figure out loud in a conversation or, for many years, in my own mind.

A photograph showing the Joyce Avenue estate. A tall block of flats dominates the scene. There are a few trees in front of it, and a few cars on the road as well.

It was there as clear as day, but not something to be mentioned. I became a ‘black’ woman maybe in my early twenties when I started to build my own race consciousness and fought off the imposter syndrome demons.

Today, as, arguably, a firmly middle-class woman, a mother of dual-heritage children, and an EDI practitioner, I have to continuously reflect on how to tackle racism without perpetuating, for my daughters, that same imposter syndrome.  Supporting King’s on its path to equality improvement, I carry with me the many years’ experience of ‘the fight’; of the anger and disappointment, but also the joy of hope and the energy that comes from having been able to make a difference.

A photograph of the author smiling sat on a yellowish chair.

I’ve been at King’s for 3.5 years now. I find us to be an organisation of enormous heart and ambition. We are also complex, and can be slow and ponderous much of the time. I am proud to work here and to contribute to our staff, students, education, research and vision for the world. As a woman of colour, and a human being, I can also attest to being regularly exhausted by the need to second guess how I might be received or interpreted, by the need to have the conversation, and by the overwhelming task that is dismantling structural inequality. As a senior leader, I recognise I am in a position of privilege and am buffered and deferred to in a way that many more junior colleagues are not. Yet racism – or the fear of it – still touches me most days.

These last few weeks have been some of the most intense of my life. We always talk about ‘what’s the burning platform’ – and never in all my years has the heat been so strong. The eruption of world feeling and attention to anti-black racism has created a window of opportunity for a step change.

King’s, without a doubt, still has a lot to do and has made mistakes. But, personally, it was utterly refreshing in my conversations with our Principal and Provosts (and many others) to not be faced with the task of having to persuade them and instead to be met with their demand and determination to tackle the roots of inequality.

I am proud that we have responded so substantially and fully, recognising that you all want and need more commitment to anti-racism than words on a page.

The following resources were suggested and requested by our amazing Race Equality Network colleagues, a network that had its first birthday very recently. They wanted to show solidarity with staff and create a safe and supportive space for us to discuss various topics around race. To give people ‘permission’ to say what’s on their mind and share their feelings and resources. They and I would like to hear from you and offer any support you need.

A clear message from our recent leadership summit was that there is a difference between not being racist and choosing to be actively anti-racist. One way we are enforcing that commitment is to include EDI-related issues in every issue of King’s Essentials, to continue to build our EDI work into the DNA of King’s. That is what we must all strive for.

I originally wrote this piece to accompany the Race Equality at King’s Splash page. I was at that point advised it wasn’t suitable, so I am publishing here as a blog instead as I wanted people to read it. We will be holding further follow up summits with Heads of Department, BME ECRs and PIs in the autumn to deepen and extend our anti-racism work. Look out for details on those.

In the meantime, you can get involved in the efforts we’re sharing with you here. Join our incredible staff networks and get involved in the wonderful, intersectional work they’re doing. Engage with the training opportunities we have on offer, including Diversity Matters. Have conversations, commit to self-education, and play your part in making sure King’s is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Are you a budget holder? A hiring manager? You can take direct action to examine how these things are supporting our ambitions to tackle racism. Everyone can also pay attention to who is speaking, notice who is around you, choose to disrupt your social media or reading with different voices, and call out racism and microaggressions when you see them.

Most of all, as you read, please ask yourself: what is my contribution? How do I contribute to the problem? What power do I hold?  More importantly, how do I contribute to the solution?

I’d like to thank Jenny Agha, VJ Sidhu and Rob Neil for supporting me in writing this and helping reinforce my courage to say what needs to be said.

#WBW20

World Breast Feeding week (#WBW2020) passed me by! It only came to my attention on Friday, meaning this is a bit belated!

#WBW2020 focused on the environmental impact of infant feeding and the need to promote and support breastfeeding for the health of our planet and its people.

Breastfeeding protects the health and well-being of mothers and babies. There are also economic and social benefits. Increasing the rates of breastfeeding worldwide will help us meet the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—including Goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women have the right to bodily autonomy, meaning they have the right to make decisions about their bodies with accurate information, free from fear, external pressures and discrimination, including whether to breastfeed and for how long. People who wish to breastfeed should have the right to do so—whenever and wherever they choose—with the full support of their families, communities, employers, and governments.

While my main focus is on breastfeeding cis mothers (ie. mothers of my own experience), I thank Nicole Robinson (who alerted me to #WBW20) for the intersectional and inclusive resources she shared with me. Many trans men, transmasculine and non-binary people chestfeed. You can read about one experience here: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/08/chestfeeding/497015/

Plus, it is also possible for trans women and non-binary people to feed their babies through relactation, with the first successful documented case in 2018: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/transgender-non-binary-parents/

This can also support adoptive parents in feeding their babies and is especially helpful for allowing little ones who have previously been breastfed by a birth parent to continue doing so.

There is a popular misconception that breastfeeding is free and easy. In fact, it requires access to trained counsellors and time to breastfeed or express milk. This misconception initially provoked this blog. Women face multiple barriers to breastfeeding in the home, community, health care system and workforce. Indeed, millions of mothers around the world stop breastfeeding before they want to because they do not get the support and time they need to continue.

The reasons why women avoid or stop breastfeeding range from the medical, cultural, and psychological, to physical discomfort and inconvenience.

I will never forget those early hours when Kaela (now 16) was born, and how internally terrified I had become about whether I would be able to breastfeed. It took me several weeks to get competent at it. I remember being at my wit’s end when my health visitor visited one day. I had basically become welded to the sofa, with baby, pillow etc in arms, never being sure if she was getting any sustenance, ultimately feeling exhausted and unable to see how this could be sustained for 6 more minutes – let alone 6 more months.

A photograph of Sarah Guerra (the author) smiling with her daughter Kaela, who is one day old, in a hospital bed.

Kaela, a day old

A photograph of Sarah Guerra (the author) in side profile with daughter Lyra, just born, covered with a yellow blanket.

Lyra, just born

My health visitor, Juliet, was patient and trained. She sat with me. She supported and comforted me and, most of all, she advised me expertly. I never became one of those mums that were able to breastfeed in any circumstance, who seemed perfectly comfortable walking around, or just ‘popping baby on’. I always needed to sit down. I always needed to feel comfortable and have my ‘stuff’. But I was very pleased to successfully feed K for just over 6 months (and Lyra after her) and had every intention of continuing beyond 6 months, when she decided she had had enough.

I also remember many horrible hours of expressing. I hated the whole experience for a few trickles into the little freezer bags. I was also so paranoid about all the storage requirements. Kaela actually refused to ever drink from a bottle, so it was also an utter waste of time! I was really struck when I read Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women; about Janica Alvarez’s experience trying to raise money to finance a new kind of breast pump and being treated with disdain.

So much of my experience was marred by the horrid nature of the breast pump itself! I am joyous for those women who come after me and get the joy of Elvie’s silent wearable breast-milk pump (which also made it into the 2019 Oscars’ swag bag). It an example of the difference that can be made if women are included in product design.

A diagram showing the different parts of a breast pump - the bottle, spout, valve, breast shield, and seal.

The parts of a breast pump

Society and HE needs to invest in programmes and policies that put women’s rights, dignity and choice at the centre. Supporting a woman’s right and ability to breastfeed is a measure of gender equality—and building a breastfeeding-friendly society is everyone’s responsibility.

As a university committed to Athena SWAN’s gender equality charter mark, we support policies and programmes that ensure breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents have access to good nutrition and can nurse their babies for as long as they want through our service strategy. We can use our platform as a world class research institution to ensure women’s and parents’ (whether mothers or otherwise) voices are heard and included in developing research and its findings. Breastfeeding parents make enormous contributions to the health and prosperity of families, economies, and nations. Still, the benefits of breastfeeding remain largely hidden and undervalued. We can change that, but we must respect women’s and parents’ agency by treating them as partners, decision makers and rights-holders first and foremost. And obviously for staff and students who are parents we can provide practical support.  We have several parenting rooms, a parent and carer’s hub and a working family subscription for all King’s community to use.

Top tips for communicating whilst wearing a face covering

Vector set of persons, avatars, people heads of different ethnicity and age in protective masks. Men and women in flat style following recommendations for the prevention of coronavirus.

Twelve million people across the UK have some form of hearing loss. Many people who are Deaf, have hearing loss or work in noisy environments rely on lipreading to communicate, and face coverings make this impossible.

Here are some tips for communicating with a face mask:

  1. Write it down – If speech isn’t working, write what you want to communicate down or send a text message.
  2. Use an app – There are mobile apps that can translate speech into text, or you could use the built-in dictate feature on iPhone notes (no need to download an app for this).
  3. Keep it clear – If you can, use a face mask with a clear panel or a clear face visor so your face is visible to lip-readers. You could make  your  own  or  purchase one online. There are plenty available on Etsy (such as here and here).
  4. Find a quiet place – This will make it easier for people to hear, especially if they are using technology to support their hearing.
  5. Use Microsoft Teams for video calls -Use Microsoft Teams for video calls – If you don’t need to meet face-to-face, a video call with captions or British Sign Language interpretation may work just as well and you won’t need to wear a mask to it. Remember that visual cues are lost when the camera is off, and for those that lip-read, being able to see the speaker makes a big difference. So, if you are happy to, put your camera on when you are speaking where possible. We recommend using Microsoft Teams, which comes with in-built live captions (other platforms, such as Zoom, do not have this feature as standard). Highlight this feature at the start of the meeting so that everyone is aware. Don’t make assumptions – hearing loss is invisible, and you don’t know who this might benefit! Find out more about choosing and using video conferencing platforms.

For more information, visit:

This list has been adapted from the National Deaf Children’s Society recommendations, with input from the IoPPN Disability Inclusion Working Group.

Cultural identity and insecurity: Growing up South Asian in UK schools

Michaela Tranfield is a final year English undergraduate at King’s. She discusses how a normalised culture of racism in UK secondary schools made her disconnect from her cultural identity. Michaela also has her own blog where you can find some of her other writing:  https://michaxlawrites.wordpress.com/

The culture of racism in UK schools has undoubtedly been normalised. Racial abuse and throwaway comments have been condoned by British society and either ignored by teachers or worse still, orchestrated by them. It breeds a culture of racist attitudes and biases weaponised against young Black, Asian and Latinx people for the comedic satisfaction of others, making them question themselves and feel ashamed of their identity.

Despite growing up in London, I went to a white majority school where any form of racial difference was consistently mocked. Secondary school ‘banter’ is something that is part and parcel of your teenage years, but there is a very fine line between friendly teasing and clear racist insults that use a veil of humour to deflect from intentional prejudice.

In the past few days I’ve been talking to some of my friends about racism in our high school. A common factor in our experiences was that any kind of difference was always made to seem weird or unnormal. If your skin, hair and culture strayed away from the status quo, it was pointed out in the most negative way possible. My friends had their traditional sarees and lehengas laughed at, with someone even asking them why ‘their people’ wear bedsheets for clothes. When one of my friends went to music classes near our school in traditional Asian clothing and maliha flower (jasmine strands) in her hair, she always feared she would be spotted by kids from school and become the target of their jokes for the next few weeks. I was told that I didn’t smell like an Indian or wasn’t like other Indians, as if it is something I should be thankful for. Our body hair was laughed at as people pointed out our upper lip hair and some found it incomprehensible that we could grow hair on our hands and arms, one even calling me a monkey because of how hairy they thought I was.

We also found that people showed a real disregard for our individual experiences and ethnic backgrounds. People were intentionally ignorant. It didn’t matter where you were from in South Asia to them, whether it was Sri Lanka, Nepal or Bangladesh, because to them if you had brown skin you must automatically be Indian. If you tried to correct people for mistaking your identity, they arrogantly remarked that all brown people were the same so what did it matter, even though our histories and experiences were vastly different. These occurrences and many more are specific to the British Asian experience, but for most ethnic minority students who attended UK secondary schools our difference was always seen to be humorous. Our culture was seen as a joke, something obnoxious people could pick up, use against us and then dispose of at their whim.

My friends and I could all relate to being conditioned into thinking that we were overly sensitive if we spoke up about how the racist comments and actions made us feel. Somehow even though we were being mocked or insulted we were the bad ones for ‘taking it to heart’ or ‘not understanding a joke’. This is exactly how a cycle of prejudice continues – racialised people are made feel as though they are the issue. Our feelings were never validated. Truthfully, they were never considered in the first place.

During adolescence so much of your life is spent at school, so when your peers use your culture as a tool to create humour, you also fail to see anything positive in your culture. As the ridicule of our culture, negative stereotypes and unwarranted ignorant comments continued, I became more and more disengaged with my South Asian culture. Although many of the people who mocked racial difference will fall back on the excuse that it was not their intention, it seems to me that this deflection is used to protect themselves from criticism. People always talk about intentions, but they forget to consider impact. Whilst they could take pride in their culture and wave their flags high without having to consider the consequences, my friends and I were made to feel ashamed of ours. We had to question if we were mentally prepared to take on the mockery, judgement and insults that came from taking pride in our cultural differences. We were made to feel insecure about our ethnicity and our heritage, having to try to forget our culture and do the most to fit in.

As new generations of young people grow up and move through the secondary school system, I really want consideration and accommodation to be the new norm. For people to learn about other cultures before mocking them. To see who Black, Asian and Latinx students are before marking them with racial stereotypes. Rather than difference being thought of as intrinsically bad, more people could take the time to learn about other cultures or at least show interest rather than ignorance.

Thankfully, things are vastly different for myself and my friends now. As I rapidly approach my 21st birthday, I can honestly say I’m incredibly proud of my cultural heritage. It’s taken a few years to be unapologetically myself but we’re here now. Instead of having my culture shrouded in negativity, I found much more positivity through more British-Asian female representation on social media, through safe spaces and my circle of friends. Rather than trying not to express my culture, I love reading about South Asian history, going to cultural events and listening to all kinds of South Asian music. Where I would try to hide my cultural identity before, you can catch me belting out Bollywood bangers at any occasion I can find.

South Asian Heritage Month is an event that I am so thankful young South Asians have a chance to experience. In a society where our history and heritage are downplayed through anti-immigrant policy and sentiment, a month dedicated to exploring our culture and dismantling hegemonic ideas of Asian identity is so special. I hope that it will also help others who are not familiar with our culture learn some more and avoid passing ignorant attitudes and beliefs onto future generations. To any young British Asians who are going through identity struggles and have been made to feel as though their ethnicity is a problem, I hope that this month can help you realise how important your being, your culture and your history is to the country we live in today.

“Classy, bougie, ratchet (yeah)”

Hands up who knows what ‘Savage’ is or what Tik Tok is?

The coronavirus pandemic has had many, many impacts on all our lives. Many of them are or feel negative, constraining, or frightening. But not all. There is less commuting, less juggling of work and life balance, more time with family – things I am very grateful for.

It has caused me to think about how I and others react when faced with new challenges. When I feel embarrassed or bad at something, or when it feels hard, am I led to give up or try again?

Years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I love all his books and if you haven’t read any, I would highly recommend them. Outliers is mind-blowing. It turned on its head much of what I had grown up being encouraged to believe. His main premise is that natural talent is a myth; most success comes because people work hard and practice, though they need to have had the opportunity.  I always believed that people are born able to do certain things or are not. This perspective is so crucial as we examine how racism shows up and how we define merit and talent.

The Tik Tok craze is something my two daughters are into. Social distancing and lockdown meant I felt a greater responsibility than normal to ensure everyone was happy and content. I felt like we should consciously try and do more stuff together. So, in my bonding efforts I suggested we do some Tik Toks together.

What does it involve? Basically learning short dances based on those already on the platform and recording them either on your own or in a group.

I’ll share a secret with you – I can’t sing a note and, whilst I love dancing, my movements rarely bear any relation to the music. I have real trouble coordinating my limbs and lack spatial awareness. As all my friends and the video evidence will testify, I am patently not ‘good’ at dancing.

So, we simply gave it a go. Most people seem to be able to watch the videos and mimic what’s on them quickly and easily. Not me. Lyra (13), after watching my first few performances incredulously, was extremely patient. She thought about how to break it down and how to show me in different ways. I never got good but each time I got a little better. I realised I needed to watch them a few times. I need to understand and memorise the sequence of the movements. Practice each individually and then together. What some people could do instinctively I had to learn as individual building blocks. I still was terrible by other’s standards. My family still found it hysterical – but each time I was an incy bit better.

A particularly interesting reflection was how I felt when they were all laughing at me. How I had a burning sensation inside. What shame and embarrassment feel like. The very physical and mental feeling of discomfort.

I realised I had seen others in my family reach this point (with other activities or situations), lose their tempers, or sulk or withdraw. I wanted to do all those things. Instead I told myself it is okay not to be great, okay to be hilarious to them. They love me and while they are ridiculing me it is with love. If I am enjoying this and enjoying being with them, I can carry on.

To grow, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone. No one is good at something first time and it takes dedication and practice. I talked myself into a scenario where I was role modelling ‘trying’ and being willing to try and go through the stages of early rubbishness.

As we are asking our whole community to consider how we become better at being anti-racist, we are asking many to do something differently or that they haven’t done before. Please, let’s all remember what it is like to learn. For some, learning takes more practice and can feel more awkward than it does for others. And if you are someone accomplished in something perhaps think back to when it didn’t come so naturally to you, and think about how you help others move along the development curve. Happy Lockdown or whatever is now happening!

The Reality of Diversification Without Beginning the Process of Decolonisation

Lauren Blackwood is one of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Project Officers at King’s. Lauren has penned a blog post using her own personal experiences in Higher Education to highlight the importance of introducing inclusive practices as well as increasing diversity.

An illustration showing a lecturer teaching to a group of students, who are depicted with idea-lightbulbs above their heads, in a large lecture theatre.

Institutions across the UK are finally embarking on diversification projects, spurred by the Equality Act 2010, equality accreditations, and calls from those underrepresented and their allies. But it is important to ensure that the culture that we are inviting those underrepresented groups into does not hinder the broader goal of equality – this includes (but is not limited to) ensuring equal feelings of safety and belonging. In order to achieve this broader goal, we must, at the very least, start processes of decolonisation alongside diversification.  

In this blogpost diversification is understood as attracting underrepresented groups to an institutionThis often includes recruiting staff at all levels who are representative of the frequently more diverse student demographics. This serves to broaden the scope of teaching styles and taught topics and to introduce educational perspectives which reflect the personal experiences of, and knowledge produced by, marginalised individuals and communities. As highlighted by Louise Autar “power dynamics, inherent biases, and (micro-)aggressions [that persist in Universities] can become hurdles in the learning process” (2017a, abstract), disrupting feelings of belonging, and in more extreme cases, safety. Therefore, it is important that diversification efforts go together with beginning decolonisation to ensure we are safeguarding as well as welcoming our most marginalised students. 

Here, decolonisation is defined as positively changing the longstanding, traditional, and exclusionary norms and culture of an institution. This may be done by rigorously questioning the university “structures that produce inequalities” (Friedberg and Felix 2019)Prominent examples of calls for the decolonisation of universities internationally include the University of Cape Town’s #RhodesMustFall campaign and UCL’s Why is My Curriculum so White’.  It is important that the process of decolonisation begins alongside, if not before, efforts to diversify, as “[i]n diversifying the university, ‘others’ are added without decentring the norm” (Autar 2017b, 318), thus maintaining their experiences of marginalisation and inaccessibility of the institutions services. 

As described by Kavita Bhanot (2015, 1) efforts to diversify without attempts to decolonise invite marginalised groups to the institution, but do not give those marginalised a seat at the table. This is to say that power imbalances are still maintained as well as systems and experiences of oppression.  Without decolonising work, diversification exists as ‘tick-boxing’ and tokenism  work which does not listen to, or act on, the needs of those marginalised concerning equal and inclusive experiences within the workplace and the classroom.

Attempts to decolonise should start with listening to and collecting the experiences and recommendations of those marginalised within your institution, faculty, school, or department. It is important that, in doing this, data collection is in line with the Data Protection Act 2018. This is to advance the safety and confidence of marginalised staff and students, and to work in line with our legal obligations.  Secondly, critically observe who is teaching and what is being taught. In my previous experience as a student, my degrees were predominantly taught by white western men, covering predominantly white, Western, masculinist theories and perspectives. This effected the extent to which I could relate to the material presented to me and proved to be an obstacle against my colleagues taking seriously my critiques of the material, critiques which reflected and grew from my disparate life experiences and subsequent knowledge. Thirdly, recognise and normalise understanding of the fact that there are barriers within Higher Education which disproportionately effect marginalised staff and students. Without recognising these historical barriers, it is unlikely that we will move onto commit to effective and sustainable change, rather than tick-boxing and tokenism.   

An illustration showing a diverse group of students sat around a table conversing over course material.

Bibliography  

Autar, L (2017a) Decolonising the Classroom. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies. 20(3) Accessed at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/aup/tgen/2017/00000020/00000003/art00008 pp.305-320 

Autar, L (2017b) No Democratisation Without Decolonisation. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies. 20(3) Accessed at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/aup/tgen/2017/00000020/00000003/art00009# pp.321- 332 

Bhanot, K (2015) Decolonise Not Diversify [PDF]. Media Diversified.  Accessed at: https://www.academia.edu/39008909/Decolonise_Not_Diversify 

Felix and Friedberg (2019) To Decolonise the Curriculum we have to Decolonise Ourselves. WONKHE. Accessed at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/to-decolonise-the-curriculum-we-have-to-decolonise-ourselves/ 

Tips for inclusive leadership in the time of lockdown

Inclusive leadership rests on building relationships and trust – with individuals, within organisations and through diverse professional networks. An inclusive leader is someone who gets to know the individuals in their team on both a personal and professional level. This enables everyone involved to embrace a diversity of skills and thinking, and encourage and acknowledge individual contributions and achievements.

Inclusive leadership is something we all need to pay attention to and practice, though it can be challenging at the best of times. And we are arguably not in the best of times! Successful inclusivity requires us to consider our physical environment and technical infrastructure.  These can hinder the building of relationships and give a false impression of inclusivity. At the moment for most the physical environment is our home and the technical environment has come to dominate our working time.

I came across this short video last week and felt it was particularly helpful at this time where most of us are working in new ways, remotely from our colleagues and with access to each other only via technology.

In an office environment, leaders and managers would encourage a team to engage with their colleagues, they create social spaces in the workplace and get the team together outside the office for work and social events. They try to encourage the use of  in person meetings, video conferencing and phone calls over more impersonal text-based platforms such as email.

What about in a remote working environment?

In a remote working environment, remote teams, or teams with a large number of remote workers, are at risk of a phenomenon known as fragile trust due to the lack of face-to-face contact they have with one another. Inclusive leaders and teams can avoid fragile trust in remote teams by creating virtual spaces where people can get to know each other.

We encourage this as an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion team at King’s by using a community organising technique at the start of our meetings, in which we ask ‘a round’ question. This ensures everyone answers and introduces themselves at the beginning of meetings to help build connections and put people at ease, as well as helping create focus and presence in each of us. At the Student Attainment Committee meeting this morning we had a great one – what have you started to value in lockdown? Reflecting on this question helped us all connect as human beings during this strange time. Inclusive leaders will be encouraging the use of face-to-face communication platforms such as video conferencing as well as scheduling regular catch-ups with the whole team to celebrate achievements and to share news and good practice.

We would love to hear your ideas for how to help build and maintain trust and relationships throughout the COVID crisis and whether you find the video helpful. Please feel free to share widely.

 

‘I am my mother’s child!’

The following blog is published anonymously. It contains discussion of hopelessness, intrusive thoughts and suicide.

I have asked for this blog to be published anonymously. It is not particularly because I want to remain hidden, but I don’t feel it is fair to my friends and family to tell a story that involves and identifies them without their consent.

It is trite to say we are in unprecedented times. The lockdown and complete change in circumstances have given me lots of time to reflect. I have been noticing my own stress responses and those of others. It has taken me back to things from my childhood.

As I have grown up, I have come to understand my parents have a dysfunctional relationship. My mother has anxiety and depression – both to my knowledge undiagnosed and untreated. My dad exhibits what I can now name as coercive behaviours.

We grew up in a home that was comfortable materially and met our needs, food, shelter etc. What we also had was a house with many, many things unsaid and all sorts of undercurrents and coded behaviours.

For me, it means I have a tendency to takeaway a lot more from what someone says than their words. I automatically intuit a set of unspoken thoughts – and, in general, they are negative and assume the worst intent and motives.

Over the years, in response to my environment, I developed all sort of protection mechanisms. I am so determined to not be like my mother. If someone compares me to her I feel insulted. I have had countless therapy and read innumerable self-help books.

Lockdown has made me really dig deep into this.

When someone says something straight forward – do you want x ? Why do I consider are they really offering x? Is there a right or a wrong answer? What’s the catch? And what about how I approach others.

I have, in less stressed times, managed to train myself to directly say what I mean, to take responsibility for my own thoughts, feelings and reactions. I am someone who most describe as strong, outgoing, together, assertive! The isolation of lockdown, the removal of my usual supports and vents has seen me descend fairly quickly into someone who sees loaded statements all around and acts in a passive aggressive way. I want to be noticed, want appreciation, but find myself unable to say so. All the time getting really resentful of everyone around me.

The person I am these days finds their moods yo-yoing around and regularly tears up. I have thoughts like “what’s the point?” and “maybe it would be better if I just wasn’t here.”

I have had suicidal thoughts in the past. I have learned to notice my thoughts and recognise the signs that I am having an irrational reaction to a set of circumstances.

But in the current circumstances what is rational and what isn’t?

Each year that passes I develop more empathy for my mum, and feel increasingly ashamed at how unsupportive I have been. Without a doubt, she is a domestic abuse survivor – though we don’t talk about it. She is someone who has lived with mental illness and health issues without support or medication, but we don’t talk about it. This is the part of my childhood I do not want to repeat. The creation of atmospheres where everyone feels like they are walking on eggshells or waiting for a landmine to go off.

There is a lot of talk about wellbeing and the current pandemic’s impact on mental health. I have realised is that I am not so different to my mum and that is nothing to be disgusted by or ashamed of. I am in a different and better position than her. Society’s understanding and my education, contacts and socialisation mean I can recognise all these things and, whilst this doesn’t stop the moods or thoughts coming, life has given me tools and sources of support.

One of my behaviours is to close down when my head is more and more full of sad thoughts. In the moments of rationality where I do reach out, without fail there is someone willing to listen or help.

Please anyone reading this who has felt low or alone, reach out. If you work at Kings you have the Employee Assistance Programme and Big White Wall. And there are all the wider ranging sources of support or in fact just talk to someone you know.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. It has helped me enormously to write it.

‘Yes, not even water!’

Jayada Begum, Programme Officer from King’s Business School, pens a blog about the meaning of Ramadan and shares personal reflections on the Holy Month.

 

‘Deeper meanings’

With the month of Ramadan under full swing, and approximately 1.8 billion Muslims around the world currently fasting, this holy month comes with its fair share of questions and annual chuckles.  Muslims around the world are always asked by their non-fasting colleagues ‘What! not even water?’.  Yes, that’s right! Not even water! The look of shock and awe on their faces when they learn of this, is rather entertaining.

So, you may be wondering, what exactly is Ramadan and why is it important to your Muslim colleagues? Is it just a month where Muslims are required to abstain from food and drink from dawn till sunset? The answer is ‘no’, it is much more than that.

There is a much deeper meaning than merely staying hungry.  In this act of fasting, Muslims from all over the world, from all ethnicities and financial backgrounds, leave aside their most basic needs and turn their attention to God, acknowledging that none besides Him can provide.  It is the time when the rich feel the pangs of hunger and thirst of the poor, and thus sympathise with millions of unfortunate people and increase their charity giving and their expression of gratitude to their Lord.

Fasting is truly an effective means for the purification of the soul, for strengthening one’s morality, self-control and deepening one’s consciousness of God. God states in the Quran:

“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God”. (Quran, 2:183).

The fact that fasting is a means to moral elevation is evident because God not only forbids his believers from eating, drinking and abstaining from other desires from dawn to sunset, but also exhorts the faithful to refrain from foul acts such as backbiting, indulging in foul speech, telling lies etc. It is almost like an annual training programme to refresh our mind, body and soul, where fasting provides us with discipline and training, to keep away from the many things that tarnish good conduct.  This inevitably allows us to strengthen our character and connection with God, and act upon His guidance.

The month of Ramadan is permeated with piety and devotion to God.  Muslims disconnect from worldly pleasures and exert their energy and focus on their prayers and increase their good deeds and charity. I personally devote this month to intense supplication and recitation of the Quran and reflect on the purpose of this life and our existence.

‘Man says, What? Once I am dead, will I be brought back to life? But does man not remember that We created him when he was nothing before? (Quran, 19:66-67).

‘The similitude of the life of this world is like this: rain that We send down from the sky is absorbed by the plants of the earth, from which humans and animals eat.  But when the earth has taken on its finest appearance, and adorns itself, and its people think they have power over it, then our commanded comes to it by night or by day, and We reduce it to stubble, as if it had not flourished just the day before.  This is the way We explain the revelations for those who reflect’. (Quran, 10:24).

‘A night better than a thousand months’

During this month, there is a night which is said to be ‘better than a thousand months’ and this night is called Laylatul Qadr (Night of Power), and it occurs during the last ten days of Ramadan. This night commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad and is a night of great importance; where Muslims dedicate the entire night to prayer and seek repentance of their sins.

Every year, in order to attain a spiritual epitome during these days, I usually travel to Makkah and Madinah or Al-Quds (Jerusalem) to spend these blessed days in devotion and away from the hustle of daily life. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this will not be possible this year. Below are a few pictures from my previous travels:

Ramadan in Masjid al-Haram in Makkah (Saudi Arabia) 2018

The Kaaba (House of God) is the first place of worship dedicated to the one God, built by Abraham and his son Ishmael.  Muslims all around the world, face towards its direction when praying.

Ramadan in Masjid al-Nabawi in Madinah (Saudi Arabia) 2018

The mosque was established by Prophet Muhammad, and is also his final resting place.

 

Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Masjid in Jerusalem 2019

Third holiest site in Islam and the place from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven during the Night Journey mentioned in the Quran.

Breaking of the Fast

In this special month, you will see the Muslim community burst into life.  The month brings forth beautiful moments, where Muslim homes are filled with a beautiful atmosphere of thankfulness, love and compassion, with families, friends and neighbours coming together to break their fast with dates and water in unison.  Below are a few images of the iftar meals that I have made and enjoyed with my family:


For those of you who are observing the fasts this month, I want to wish you a blessed Ramadan! May all your fasts and prayers be accepted! And for those of you who are not fasting, I would like to invite you to perhaps try fasting for a day and tell us all about your experiences!

Whilst writing this, it has highlighted the importance of promoting good communal understanding and sharing respective experiences.  Thus, if anyone is interested in learning more about the Islamic faith, please feel free to click on this linked PDF to access the translation of the Quran.

Ramadan Mubarak Everyone!

Akala’s Natives and white supremacy: what does ‘all that race stuff’ have to do with me/you/us?

Every so often I experience a seismic change of understanding about myself, the world and societal issues. This is often brought about by books. Way back in time, Mike Phillips’ Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain was a game changer. More recently, I was inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez’s Invisible Women. These books were amazing wake up calls. Reading them felt at once like a punch in the face, a hug, and something akin to the “ice challenge”. Reading them felt like many things I previously only half understood had come into focus, while other things I had never thought to think about were beginning to emerge. 

finally got round to reading Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by artist, writer, historian and educator, Akalaas I had been meaning to since he spoke at the sold-out King’s Race Equality Network Black History Month event last year.  

Akala, who was born in the 80s to a British-Caribbean father and a Scottish-English mother, grew up in a single parent, working class family dependent on free school meals. He is extremely bright and has used his knowledge about his heritage to articulately deconstruct much of our ‘typical’ British social context to reveal new insights – insights that those of us who are like me (also dual heritage, brown skin, a child of immigrantssort of knew but could never quite put their finger on. 

In an extremely direct and accessible way, Akala examines mixed race identity and the racism, reduced expectations and stereotyping he was subject to as a black skinned boy in 80s Britain. He explores the real threats to personal safety he experienced and the attitude of the criminal justice systemhow the achievements of people of colour are often detracted from and underminedthe unreality of what we are taught about the ‘British empire’; how stereotypes and media (mis)portrayals skew our perceptions of underrepresented groups; how money and class underpins so much of how people experience and perceive the world; how all these things link to politics and social identity. All in 350 pages or so.  

For some, what Akala says will be shocking – both the reality of the lived experiences that he relates and the intellectual concepts he promulgates. For others, like myself, there will be a lack of surprise and a degree of comfort to be found in the universality of the experiences he articulates – not because these things happened, but that they happened to others; that they are a ‘thing’; that I wasn’t imagining itwhy it took me so long to recognise the long term impacts on myself.  

“racist insults leave you feeling dirty because, even at five years old, we already know on some level that, in this society at least, we are indeed lesser citizens” 

I can’t possibly relate how impactful Akala’s book is without taking up thousands and thousands of words – and why would I do that when you can read the book?! Instead I am going to pick out a few things that stood out to me or really helped me hone my thinking.  

  1. How easy it is to be taken in by the current picture of multiculturalism and not realise how recently that was achievedhow hard thfight to achieve it was and how so much is still considered acceptable – e.g. racism in football.
  2. A key point I have internalised – know yourself and know your history. Check who is telling you what and think about what other points of view and versions of that story there might be. I was in Ghana last year and Japan the year before. In Hiroshima I was really struck by how the various choices America made in dropping the atomic bomb were portrayed with a very clear judgement of the abominable nature of this decision and how different the Japanese perspective on this was to anything I had learnt in school. In Ghana, where the ‘Gold Coast’ marked the beginning of the journey for many slaves, this history is well acknowledged locally. I was equally struck with how understated and sanitised this was in the various museumsHow there seemed to be no blame or acknowledgement of the power dynamics that created slavery or the legacy that power dynamic created, which lives on to this day.  
  3. What Akala refers to as White Supremacy. I know, as I write that, a lot of readers will find it difficult to read. Please do stop and examine your feelings and then carry on reading.  

It is important to remember  

“White supremacy was a mainstream and openly espoused legal, political and moral imperative until the latter half of the twentieth century so hardly ancient or remote history” 

and 

“modern British identity grew with and was shaped by the fundamentally and undeniably racist British empire” 

I have done a lot of thinking about this since reading the book and the best way I can help people think about it is in terms of how we have come to understand and accept ‘the patriarchy’.  

Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power and predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property.” 

While there are still people that argue against the patriarchy’s existence, it seems to me it is generally accepted and understood as a concept: a structure that actively maintains gender inequality.  

If you read that across and see the same sentiment in white supremacy and recognise that  

“even discussing whiteness can be uncomfortable for people who have taken their white identity for granted, who think of themselves as unaffected by all that race stuff, but there is now a good body of work on the history of ‘whiteness’ that we ignore at our peril. 

Alongside acknowledging 

Whiteness can usually be taken for granted by those that it protects; the absence of whiteness can literally be the difference between life and death  

and   

The concept of whiteness goes hand in hand with the concept of white supremacy 

Growing up I was very much brought up to know and believe  

British identity, despite all of the liberal rhetoric to the contrary, is obviously seen as synonymous with whiteness; 

My parents were clear that I would have to work twice as hard. My experiences at school and elsewhere showed that there were different rules and perspectives for me as a brown skinned woman. We didn’t have the language or understanding then but fundamentally my parents had been conditioned to understand their place in the world and were doing their best to help me navigate what they saw and accepted as the hostile road ahead of me.  

So, where does that take us? We can’t change history, but we can learn from it. We can work on how we want the future to be. We can only do that with honesty. We need to come to terms with the fact that 

“Despite all the rhetoric about meritocracy and equality of opportunity, Britain is still – like every nation on earth to some degree – a society where the social class and area you are born into will determine much of your life experiences, chances and outcomes” 

And  

“we are all influenced by what we are exposed to and experience; the best we can hope for is to try and be as fair as possible from within the bias inherent in existence”. 

That’s why I urge you to do what you can to educate yourself, consider your own positions of power and innate thoughts and challenge yourself to recognise what you have accepted without question and what that means for social equality.  

« Older posts

© 2021 Diversity Digest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑