A year on from George Floyd’s murder, we have asked our community for their reflections on this seismic event and the impact it has had on them and their work. This is the first in a series of blogs where we will be sharing your reflections.
This week we hear from Evelyn Welch, Provost & Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences).
Three weeks ago marked the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death, a moment that resonated around the world and prompted King’s to consider how racism impacts on our own community. You will have all received Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion’s note asking for your reflections on what this anniversary has meant to you. Thank you to those who have responded thus far. We have published a blog of Sarah’s own reflections which you can read here. Over the coming weeks contributions from our community, including yours will also be featured in King’s Essentials & our Diversity Digest Blog. There is still time if you would like to send some reflections. We are all busy, there is so little time – yet this is so important. You can send your reflections to email@example.com
My own reflections come from a deep discomfort that I, and those who feel safe in our skin every day, still have such a limited understanding of the lived experience of racism. There is a great deal of learning and listening to do. At the same time I am proud that we are willing to address this and move beyond words to action in order to openly address the endemic challenge of structural inequalities and bias.
We are very aware of the strength of feeling in our community around the need to proactively tackle racism – especially in light of the racial and ethnic inequalities such as the differential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, health service provision and access, and the academic award gap. It is time for us all to reflect on how we can continue to listen and learn about these issues. Even more importantly, it is time to take concerted action around these challenging topics in an open and honest way. I encourage you all to talk about progressing anti-racism and real action in your team meetings this week. Please do take the time to share your thoughts as we remember George Floyd’s death.
This year we celebrated Interfaith Week with a series of interactive virtual events bringing together students and staff from across King’s. The aim of Interfaith Week is for all our students & staff to feel safe and welcome on campus, regardless of their background. Religion and belief can be fundamental in shaping our identities and worldviews and promoting diversity and inclusion can start with understanding each other’s cultural and religious backgrounds. The celebrations were curated by student interns Nakul Patwa & Maksim Vassin, who have written a blog reflecting on the highlights of the week.
King’s College is a unique educational institution that embraces the diversity of its student body and strives to be a place that welcomes everyone regardless of their background. Diversity does not only mean racial diversity or diversity of opinion but also religious diversity — giving representatives of all religions an opportunity to practice and experience their faith.
For many of us, religion defines the way we view the world, it defines our values, traditions and cultural affiliation. Keeping that in mind we can safely say that understanding other people’s culture and worldview often starts with understanding their religion or lack thereof. To support the diverse and incredible student community, King’s, in cooperation with the Office for Students, launched Interfaith Week from May 17th to May 31st that celebrated diversity of our religious communities and promoted dialogue between them.
Interfaith Week was brought to our student community thanks to tireless efforts of the King’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Department, Chaplaincy, as well as two student interns: Nakul Patwa, final-year BSc International Management student and Maksim Vassin, first-year BA International Relations student.
Interfaith Week included four captivating and eye-opening events: COVID Heroes – Community Talk, Student Community Talk, Interfaith Quiz and Faith Crawl – A Talk with Faith Experts.
The ongoing pandemic has greatly affected our way of living and how we interact within our own communities. For this Community Talk, we had an opportunity to hear from community volunteers and about how they stood up to the challenge, aided their local community and protected the vulnerable during these challenging times. We had an honour to welcome Karim Ali, King’s Pharmacology student, and Adam Hoosa, who are members of the Funnel Network. Funnel Network is a food security charity that was established during the COVID pandemic to help the local communities dealing with food insecurity.
The event was opened by Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The Community Talk set the theme for all following events — being a member of the community, helping your loved ones in the time of need and standing up to the challenge. Social change and community engagement became the key words — if we feel we are privileged, we must use this privilege to engage with the community and foster social change. It is essential to teach young people what it means to be a member of the community to ensure that community-focused mindset keeps living through generations.
Student Community Talk
For the Student Community Talk, we welcomed Gurbaaz Gill, ex-VP of KCLSU and Sikh Society Member, and Samyak Pandey, ex-KCL Hindu Society President and member of National Hindu Student Forum. This event was all about gaining a student perspective on religious dialogue at King’s. If we want to foster understanding within the student community, it is imperative to ask students what the ways of promoting it might be.
The event really helped us understand what faith means for students — something that makes us a part of the community, a spiritual connection with other people that helps us understand their suffering in the time of need. It beautifully contemplates everything said in the first event that set community engagement as one of the priorities, especially, during the COVID pandemic. It was a time when humans needed each other the most but we couldn’t physically be there for each other.
Samyak and Gurbaaz shared their vision of King’s as a religion-friendly university. Visibility and accessibility was the key — King’s has an abundance of information yet many students simply do not know where to find it, especially those who just joined us here at King’s. Safe spaces should be established across all campuses and religious elements of societies should be kept separately to avoid a situation in which other students might accidentally damage religious attributes.
Interfaith Quiz was, perhaps, the most interactive event of the project. Staff and students alike had an opportunity to explore topics ranging from traditional foods to history and places of worship. The quiz was an essential part of learning about other faiths and understanding their traditions. Take a look at the questions below and test your knowledge of different religions!
Muslim hajj and umrah both end in Mecca, at Kaaba. How many times should a person circle Kaaba, to complete the pilgrimage?
This 180ft tall, 269ft long and 240ft building served as a place of worship for three different religions. It was converted into a museum in 1935, which was the most visited museum in the country in 2019, before being converted back into a place of worship last year. What building is that?
A poll conducted by Harris in 2013 in the US and five largest European countries has crowned the top-3 of most popular world leaders, along with then-President Barack Obama and Pope Francis. The current holder of the title is 14th in order and he has held this title since 1940. What title?
This Jewish holiday in English is called the Feast of Weeks. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, the other two being Passover and Sukkot. It is celebrated 50 days after the first day of Passover and it commemorates the giving of Torah to the people on Mount Sinai. This year, it was celebrated between May 16th and May 18th.
Answers at the bottom of the blog
Faith Crawl – A Talk with Faith Experts
For the last event of Interfaith Week, we were honoured to welcome:
Helena Mattingley, the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the opening address and the following speakers:
Harrie Cedar, KCL Jewish Chaplain;
Jim Craig, KCL Christian Chaplain;
Bhatsakorn Kota, KCL Buddhist Faith Expert;
Romana Kazmi, KCL Islamic Chaplain.
During the event we had an opportunity to explore the religious landscape of London and gain insight into perspectives of different religions. The question all speakers discussed was how the pandemic has affected their way of practising faith. The result was rather surprising — if earlier we discussed that in such difficult times we couldn’t be there for each other, faith experts mentioned that going digital helped reach more people. For many, the main obstacle is distance or time commitment — visiting the church, listening to the prayers and chants. Now, Zoom gave everyone an opportunity to join in without a camera and with a microphone off. It was especially beneficial for newcomers. Experiencing a new religion might feel intimidating and daunting. Without having to be physically present at a place of worship, it was possible to reach more audiences.
What speakers agreed on is that we are living through very difficult times, and faith and religion is there to guide us. It teaches us never to go into the area of despair, regardless of what happens. It teaches us that hope is not an emotion, it’s the way of thinking. It teaches us to feel peace.
With Interfaith Week now finished, what should we make of it? Here is a list of ideas voiced during the week:
King’s should be more encouraged and inclined to engage in tough conversations to ensure that all members of the community are truly welcome.
Promote student initiatives launched outside of university, such as the Funnel Network. A platform for all student-driven charities and projects.
Ensure information is easily accessible, especially for those who have just joined us here at King’s.
Setting up a faith fair, where each religion/religious society has an opportunity to share their traditions and activities with the student community.
We can safely say that King’s College London’s first-ever Interfaith Week was a success. It provided us with valuable insight into what religion means for students — an opportunity to feel a part of the community, connect spiritually with others. It was the first Interfaith Week but it will certainly not be the last.
We would like to thank all our guests and speakers, as well as the Chaplaincy and the EDI Team for making this possible.
King’s interfaith week has been an opportunity for us to work in partnership with the Office for Students to promote dialogue between different parts of our community. We see conflict around the world based on religious or racial inequality such as the recent increased violence in the Middle East or sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland, which are further reminders of religious intolerance and inequality that still prevails in society.
At King’s, we’re dedicated to ensuring that our community is actively anti-racist. In many ways, this journey is a difficult and uncomfortable one, as it forces us to confront harmful behaviors that are implicit and unconscious. Next week also sees the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in the United States, which together with murders of Breonna Taylor and Armaud Arbery, led to Black Lives Matter, one of the biggest anti-racist movements in the US and the world in modern times.
Over the past year, people across our community have stepped forward and made active changes to contribute to King’s anti-racism efforts. Some of the steps include:
Engaged in a series of Conversations About Race and Race Town Halls across our communities and with Senior Leadership
However, there is still more to do to ensure our communities at King’s and beyond are free from racism and discrimination. It is more important than ever that we’re accounting for the wellbeing of our Black community. Next week we have a special series of events organised by the Students and Education Directorate , which will serve as spaces of reflection for everyone across King’s. Here are a few other ways in which we can contribute, as Black people or non-Black allies:
This is the second of 2 blogs this week from The London Postdocs who have started a campaign The Lost Voices to address and raise awareness of inequalities that early-career researchers might face.
Author: Dr Shaakir Salam, King’s College London
Editing contributions by Dr Jemima Ho (The London Postdocs, King’s College London), Jumani Yogarajah, Kailey Nolan (NIHR ARC North Thames), Dr Morag Lewis (The London Postdocs, KCL), Dr Rui Pires Martins (The London Postdocs, QMUL), Dr Sarah Jasim (The London Postdocs, NIHR ARC North Thames, UCL, LSE)
2020 turned many things on their head for all of us, but one thing that stood out for me, was the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. It brought to light the reality of ‘the talk’ that black parents must have with their children. I have experienced ‘the talk’ but through the lens of an Asian Muslim, which has shaped and impacted most, if not all, my decisions when trying to pursue my career as an early career researcher,
For me, ‘the talk’ ranges from regular comments and suggestions such as: ‘your name will cause you problems’, ‘you will have to work twice as hard just to get to the same positions as your non-Muslim peers’ and ultimately ‘you are currently the enemy in this country’. Unfortunately, for many of us, these microaggressions have been imprinted on us from a young age.
Growing up in the North of the UK, in a post-9/11 world, I encountered countless instances of overt racism from secondary school onwards. When this happens from such a young age, it becomes so internalised that you begin to hate anything about yourself that makes you different. In secondary school, my peers asked why my dad does not own a ‘paki shop’ (a corner shop and a common stereotype synonymous with South-East Asian heritage), and I was also regularly asked if I loved the country I was born in? At university, the overt racism became more subtle (although the jokes about being a terrorist continued), and by this age I had become so accustomed to the looks and the questions, I began to let most things slide.
Entering the academic world, I hoped to leave behind the attitudes that I had been surrounded by growing up. However, whilst I wanted to fully immerse myself in my degrees and later my PhD, I became conscious that my extended family support was lacking compared to my peers. Additionally, I held, and still hold, a hidden pressure that my academic degrees must lead to success as, unlike many of my peers, I have no financial fallbacks. At the time, I had never heard of the concept of intersectionality – the notion that one person has a multitude of identities and their experiences of oppression and inequality can relate to one or many of these interrelated identities, including race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity. It just felt like challenges compounded further challenges that I had to face by myself.
Although my name is Shaakir (pronounced Shark-ir), I gave up trying to get my academic peers to pronounce my name correctly. I have now become accustomed to the nickname ‘Sharky’ as the half-hearted attempts ranged from ‘shaky’ to the funny white boy at school calling me Shakira. As prominent members of society have recently reclaimed the correct spelling, origin, and pronunciation of their names, it has caused many of us to reflect on how much of ourselves as early-career researchers we dampen down or reshape to fit in with the academic environment?
I know I must shave my beard before I interview for academic roles to avoid any negative connotations with my religion. The mention of Ramadan brings a confused expression to most, with some asking me ‘but do you actually believe in it?’ Throughout my academic career I have known that embracing my religion and culture may hinder my progress, and that ironically being myself may be detrimental to my career prospects. These experiences have stayed with me as I have progressed to a postdoctoral researcher and have cumulated into a form of internal hatred towards myself, my culture, and my religion. Am I a brown Muslim struggling in an academic system, or just another Geordie living in London working as a postdoctoral researcher? Can I be both and succeed in my career?
I am now working in a system that makes me feel too white to be ‘brown’, and too ‘brown’ to be white. Throughout my time in academia, I have seen and acknowledged that attitudes towards British Muslims and others from a minority ethnic background change. However, the lack of cultural and racial inclusion to this day makes me question whether I want to continue this career path. If becoming the leader of a laboratory has less than 5% chance of success for white students, what chance do I have? As I write this, I am unsure if these issues will change in the lifetime of my career. However, I am hopeful that new awareness, initiatives and strategies, and more diverse voices and representation, will ensure that the next generation will not face the same struggles that some of us have endured.
The Man in the Mirror: Shaakir’s Story
Can you relate? Share your story
The Lost Voices is a series of three initiatives aiming to collate stories on inequalities faced by the early-career researcher (ECR) community, to help empower us all and enact institutional change. It is led by The London Postdocs and the NIHR ARC North Thames Academy, and funded by a UCL Researcher-Led Initiative Award.
In the first phase, we are inviting early career researchers to share their story. So if you have experienced inequality, bias or prejudice in any form, please let us know by:
Sending us a short video (maximum length: 2 minutes 19 seconds) via WeTransfer (see our Youtube channel for examples) detailing your experience. We are offering £10 vouchers (Lifestyle/ Amazon) via e-mail for your time.
Shaakir and The London Postdocs will be interviewing senior academics across different disciplines and institutions who have also faced inequalities in their careers – so we can all learn from their experiences. If you are a senior academic who has faced or overcome inequalities during your career, please get in touch with us at or contribute your anonymous views via The Lost Voices senior academics survey
We will then collect both early-career researcher and senior academic stories, and discuss and debate these issues with institutional decision makers on Monday 24th May, with the aim of illuminating these experiences and inspiring further initiatives that drive change.
This is the first of 2 blogs this week from The London Postdocs who have started a campaign The Lost Voices to address and raise awareness of inequalities that early-career researchers might face.
Editing contributions by: Dr Jemima Ho (The London Postdocs, King’s College London), Jumani Yogarajah, Kailey Nolan (NIHR ARC North Thames), Dr Morag Lewis (The London Postdocs, KCL), Dr Rui Pires Martins (The London Postdocs, QMUL), Dr Sarah Jasim (The London Postdocs, NIHR ARC North Thames, UCL, LSE), Dr Shaakir Salam (The London Postdocs, KCL)
What’s for lunch? So how was the food? Were there free drinks afterwards? These are common questions asked by early–career researchers (ECRs) during and after academic events and conferences. Not to say that we are all about the food, but it’s common knowledge that this is where a key part of vital academic networking occurs.
So, what if your diet excludes you from joining in? Too many conferences do not cater for dietary restrictions, resulting in feelingoverlooked or left out. Meeting new people is awkward enough; such instances of exclusion make it harder still to put your best foot forward, limiting the networking opportunities that are so vital for our careers.
What happens in this situation? People are left to spend their lunch time hunting outside for a shop that can provide for them where the conference organisers have not, rather than participating in the conference with the rest of their peers. It seems like a small thing, but it is profoundly unwelcoming to be told that there’s no lunch for you in the middle of the day, and no snacks during tea breaks. Bringing food is a common coping mechanism, although fielding all the questions that provokes is not fun. Alternatively, you can go with whatever looks like it will be safe, and hope you guessed right, but conferences should be places for engaging with your peers and their research, not for worrying that the food you just ate may be hiding an unpleasant surprise.
The whole situation suggests a deeper problem. If a conference can’t manage something as simple as a dietary requirement, how do they cope with other accessibility accommodations? We recognise that there has been a global push towards inclusivity – not just of dietary requirements and restrictions, but of accessibility in general – but has the academic sector caught up? From conference organisers, to peers, to the way networking is designed – are we all being as inclusive and considerate as we should be?
Can you relate? Share your story
The Lost Voices is a series of three initiatives aiming to collate stories on inequalities faced by the early-career researcher (ECR) community, to help empower us all and enact institutional change. It is led byThe London Postdocs and the NIHR ARC North Thames Academy, and funded by a UCL Researcher-Led Initiative Award.
In the first phase, we are inviting early career researchers to share their story. So if you have experienced inequality, bias or prejudice in any form, please let us know by:
Sending us a short video (maximum length: 2 minutes 19 seconds)via WeTransfer (see our Youtube channel for examples)detailing your experience. We are offering £10 vouchers (Lifestyle/ Amazon) via e-mail for your time.
The London Postdocs will be interviewing senior academics across different disciplines and institutions who have also faced inequalities in their careers – so we can all learn from their experiences. If you are a senior academic who has faced or overcome inequalities during your career, please get in touch with usat or contribute your anonymous views via The Lost Voices senior academics survey.
We will then collect both early-career researcher and senior academic stories and discuss and debate these issues with institutional decision makers on Monday 24th May, with the aimof illuminating these experiences and inspiring further initiatives that drive change.
Food for Thought: An Anonymous Story
Enjoyed the read? The second blog from The Lost Voices Campaign will be published later this week
This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.
Often EDI is reduced to conversations about unconscious bias training, which was seen as a panacea when it first arrived. Like much in the EDI arena, it is a useful tool and mechanism, but is not in itself a complete solution to complex and interconnected structural issues.
The purpose of providing Bias training is to create awareness, in individuals and groups of employees, about the concept and reality of implicit bias.
Implicit attitudes are positive and negative evaluations that are much less accessible to our conscious awareness and/or control. Essentially, they are thoughts and beliefs that shape what we think and how we act, which we are unaware of.
Bringing in the perspectives of others and creating self-awareness helps to highlight thinking and/or behaviour that is done unwittingly, provide ways of adjusting automatic patterns of thinking and eliminate discriminatory behaviours. It also highlights what behaviour is expected in the workplace. This training can take many forms, from e-learning programmes or PowerPoint presentations to in-depth workshops with interactive talks and exercises, the latter having the greater impact on building awareness and helping to change behaviour. At King’s this kind of training is a key component of our strategy. We have developed Diversity Matters and Trans Matters training which we deliver and tailor to staff teams of 5 – 20 people on request. In parallel, we support and build communities through our staff networks, which provide peer-support for staff with particular protected characteristics, and the More than Mentoring programme, which pairs staff members who share personal characteristics to enable a deeper understanding and connection between participants. Please follow the links above and get in touch if you are keen to engage with any of these projects!
For training programmes to be effective, they need to dovetail with other initiatives so that employees see training as part of an ongoing journey in changing behaviour and creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. This is why King’s has an ongoing programme of senior leadership development in relation to EDI and our management and leadership passports. To ensure that awareness continues long after training is completed, we encourage activities such as asking participants to share stories on social collaboration channels where we generate ongoing discussions. To join the conversation you can follow us on Twitter and our internal intranet pages or join a network.
Throughout the organisation we need to provide communication that helps all teams to build empathy for, and understanding of, the experiences of minority or disadvantaged groups. Success comes when the responsibility and accountability for diversity is clearly part of the organisation’s leaders’ objectives. This needs to be coupled with active encouragement and systemic support for people to share any instances of bias, and crucially for these to be followed up and dealt with effectively. At King’s we are doing a variety of things, these range from introducing cultural competency modules to ensuring we have an Anonymous Disclosure Tool which staff, students and external visitors can use to anonymously disclose incidents of bullying, harassment, sexual misconduct or hate crime.
Job adverts are an important area to consider when addressing bias. There are two types of bias in job adverts, explicit and implicit (as with everything else). Explicit biases are those that we can control or be clear about, such as levels or types of qualifications, particular audiences and types of candidates. In contrast, implicit biases are unconscious perceptions, stereotypes and beliefs that have been developed from past experiences and influences. These can be very powerful and are much harder to pinpoint.
Much work has already been done at King’s to make job adverts more inclusive. We have tried to address gendered words, remove jargon and ensure straightforward titles that specify the role, skills and experience required.
Like many organisations we are taking major steps towards becoming a more welcoming and inclusive place to work. We take the opportunity to demonstrate this in our job adverts by stating our commitment to be an equal opportunity employer. This positive step shows our commitment and the importance we place on it.
Another tool for reducing bias is a name-blind recruitment process. This removes information, such as age, gender, name, education and even the number of years of experience from CVs, which might otherwise prejudice an application. This is a proven way to overcome unconscious bias and promote greater diversity. It has increased in popularity over the last couple of years after a series of studies, including one by Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation, showed that people with ethnic names needed to send out 60% more applications than job seekers with ‘white’ sounding names before they got a call back . Name-blind CVs encourage the recruitment of new employees without identifiable information, so that personal bias doesn’t creep in.
To implement a name-blind recruitment process well, an organisation should start by determining the absolute necessities an applicant must possess to fill the role and remove the information that has no bearing on a person’s ability to competently carry it out. If needed, the extra information can be collected but separated from the application process. The success of your name-blind hiring would be captured in diversity recruitment metrics by measuring the statistics for shortlisting, testing, interviewing, hiring and retention before and after blind hiring. When I first arrived at King’s the concept of name-blind recruitment was felt to be near impossible at a University. Whilst we have not yet implemented it, people now regularly ask me why we are not doing it – this shows how times change.
So, I’ll end as I began – training and awareness on unconscious bias is an important part of any EDI strategy, as is understanding where and how it shows up in practice. So please all take all the opportunities available to undertake training and build your awareness. But the critical difference is made when you a) apply that learning and b) use that learning to develop a real curiosity as to why inequalities exist and persist.
ABOUT THE DIVERSITY DIGEST
Equality, Diversity & Inclusion are about people and culture, and is grounded in law by the Equality Act 2010 which covers nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sex.
The Diversity Digest is our platform to showcase how these characteristics intersect and overlap to make up our everyday human experience, and to articulate the relevance and impact of D&I work through stories.
Most blogs penned by Sarah Guerra (Director of Diversity & Inclusion) and our wonderful community of guest bloggers.