Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 16)

#ItStopsHere: Consent Matters

Content warning: This blog explores themes of sexual violence.

Dhara Brahmbhatt, Interim Strategic Initiatives Project Coordinator at King’s, has recently completed the Consent Matters course offered to all students & staff at King’s College London. Dhara offers her reflections on the course and encourages others to complete the online module; to better inform yourself of your rights and to support others. 

Did you know that 70% of female and 26% of male students and graduates surveyed have experienced sexual violence? (The Student Room Report).  If you are reading this blog, you’ve probably experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, and almost certainly observed or heard of friends who have experienced this.

Sexual violence is unacceptable and the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) team at King’s College London is aiming to prepare students to be able to act in the moment when they see an unacceptable situation, and / or to recognise when their own behaviour crosses lines of acceptability.

When I joined the EDI team to help promote the Consent Matters course, my colleague Helena Mattingley (Head of EDI) encouraged me to enroll on the online training created by Epigeum so, I could encourage others to complete the course based on my own experience of Consent Matters. The interactive course is promoted to students and available to all staff for free. To learn more and to complete the training visit our Consent Matters webpages.

Prior to taking the course I believed that consent comes with common sense. I mean, how difficult can it really be to say ‘no’? Or to hear ‘no,’ and act accordingly? But it wasn’t until I started going through the course that I recollected personal experiences where I had been in similar situations and how uncomfortable I had felt at the time. After completing the course, I feel confident and have a better understanding on not only how I can be an active bystander but also what my legal rights are and what I should have expected from support services.

The Consent Matters course is extremely informative and educates individuals on why consent is important, when consent can and can’t be given, and the legal context in which we study, work and live. It provides a foundation for acceptable behaviour in relationships, and uses stories that spoke to me which helped convey the importance of respectful relationships.

Consent Matters debunks misconceptions and teaches us how we can overcome these misconceptions and apply consent in practice.

There are a few different ways of being an active bystander, including non-confrontational options, and all which offer support. Some examples are (which the course further expands on):

  • Offer support
  • Shift the focus away from the remark or situation
  • Step in after the event
  • Talk to others
  • Confront the person directly

Finally, the course has several useful signposts and pieces of information in the ‘resource bank’, here you can find a wealth of links for different support services. These links are extremely handy to have for yourself or your friends in case of unforeseen circumstances. After all, more than half of the readers of this blog will have experienced unacceptable sexual behaviour – and knowing where support is available is so valuable.

Sexual violence unfortunately isn’t uncommon; however, this does not make it acceptable. Consent matters is a course designed by Epigeum and promoted at King’s for students and staff to take to help equip them with the tools needed if these situations were to arise in their own lives or of their friends and families. It also educates these individuals on whether their own behaviour under these circumstances is acceptable. The course addresses key factors in details regarding acceptable behaviour in relationships, misconceptions, and different manners in which one can be an active bystander. The course also highlights key links and information in the ‘resource bank’ for various support services available.

 Therefore, as the saying goes ‘knowledge is wealth’ take the course today and better inform yourself on your rights and how you can support those in need.

KCL students & staff can complete the course now, by visiting our Consent Matters pages!



King’s Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Annual Report 2020-21

Jennifer Hastings, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at King’s has been working on the university’s EDI annual report. The report explores King’s progress over the last 12 months and looks ahead to the next steps on the journey to creating a truly inclusive university. In this blog Jennifer explores the key takeaways from this years report. 

I am excited to share King’s Equality Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) annual report 2020-21. King’s has a legal duty to comply with both the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty that sits within the act. This report fulfils our responsibility to publish our equality objectives and demonstrate our compliance.

I joined King’s as its EDI Manager during the summer and compiling this report was a great introduction to what has been happening across the College, from our progress towards key performance indicators (KPIs) to the work taking place in faculties. I hope you’re able to read the report in its entirety however I have picked out some key highlights and shared below.

EDI at King’s

We are grateful to open the report with forewords from Evelyn Welch (Senior Vice-President Service, People & Planning) and Zahra Syed (KCLSU President). Evelyn is our senior sponsor for Athena Swan and has EDI in her new remit. Zahra is one of the elected representatives for KCL students and so her input is integral to King’s work on inclusion. Sarah Guerra, King’s Director of EDI brings the report to a close with reflections on the year and what is needed moving forward.

The report includes an outline of our strategic aims and progress towards the EDI key performance indicators (KPIs) used in Council’s balanced scorecard, shared below. You will see that progress has been made, however we know there is more work to be done to meet all of our targets.

Data is an important part of our decision-making process and provides an evidence base for all King’s EDI activity. At the end of the report you can see the key data for our KPIs, workforce demographics and student demographics (including comparisons to our benchmarks). You can find this data on PowerBI, except the data on trans status and sexual orientation, which was obtained from People, Data & Analytics.

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at all levels, for Academic and Professional Services staff

Year King’s Target % % BME staff at King’s % BME staff at London Universities
  Academic PS Academic PS Academic PS
2020/21 21.0 22.4 21.4 23.2    
2019/20 20.7 21.8 20.9 22.7 19.4 21.4

This in an improvement on last year’s figures and we exceeded our targets.


Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Female representation at all levels, for Academic and Professional Services staff

Year King’s Target % BME female staff at King’s % BME female staff at London Universities
  Academic PS Academic PS Academic PS
2020/21 11.0 13.5 10.6 13.7    
2019/20 10.5 13.3 10.5 13.6 9.5 12.4

This is an improvement on last year’s figures and we have exceeded our target for professional services staff (but not academic).


Gender representation in senior levels, for Academic and Professional Services staff

Year King’s Target % senior female staff at King’s % senior female staff at Russell group Universities
  Academic PS Academic PS Academic PS
2020/21 41.6 49.9 39.3 49.4    
2019/20 37.7 49.2 38.1 48.7 32.4 49.7

This is an improvement on last year’s figures but we did not meet our targets.

Progress Towards our Strategy

The Annual Report outlines the progress made in each area of our strategy.

Governance and Accountability

There are two EDI governing bodies; the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee (EDIC) and the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Forum (EDIF). There are also groups that focus on particular areas of work, such as the Athena Swan Delivery Team. EDIC and EDIF have provided direction to a number of EDI matters, such as King’s pandemic response and our disability inclusion work.

King’s EDI function provides a King’s-wide service, operating directly within seven faculties through the EDI Projects & Partnerships team as well as having practitioners deployed in our largest operational areas.

King’s developed three new policies last year; Religion & Belief, Menopause and Menstruation, which are all available in King’s governance zone. The EDI function provided new guidance on Equality Analysis (EA) so that King’s staff can systematically analyse the effects of policies, practices, projects or services on different groups in its community.

Workforce Development

King’s continued our commitment to tackling bullying and harassment by updating the Anonymous Disclosure Form, which now includes an option to disclose microaggressions, delivering Active Bystander training and supporting a newly formed Research Task & Finish group for Bullying and Harassment.

Learning and development is an important part of King’s EDI offer and delivering this online enabled us to reach more people. A total of 1185 members of staff attended a centrally organised Diversity Matters session and over 300 attended a Trans Matters session (including King’s Senior Leadership Team).

Beyond training, we have supported staff development through various initiatives. 20 King’s staff attended Stellar HE, 42 were matched in our Mutual Mentoring scheme and 133 were welcomed onto our More than Mentoring scheme. scheme.

The importance of digital accessibility has only increased in recent years. Last year, around £154,000 was spent on captioning teaching materials and 129 people enrolled onto our Digital Accessibility baseline course.

Workplace Representation

King’s has five equality-based staff networks: Access King’s (disability inclusion), Elevate (gender equality), NEST (parents’ and carers’ network), Proudly King’s (LGBTQ+ inclusion) and the Race Equality Network. These networks worked exceptionally hard to deliver lockdown-friendly activities, from the REN Show to Proudly Pod. Over 100 people attended Elevate’s new event series (“In Collaboration with…”) and around170 people attended a Q&A session with Evelyn Welch and Steve Large on managing caring responsibilities, organised by NEST. Access King’s fed into the Ways of Working project by analysing the Flexible Working Survey data and are contributing to the development of a Neurodiversity Awareness E-Learning module for staff.

Our approach to gender equality is guided by the Athena Swan accreditation and the UN’s Sustainability Goals. Our work is not limited to London; last year we received a £25,000 grant to collaborate with Indian higher education institutions to introduce a gender equality framework that takes into account its Indian context.

We are in the process of implementing our race Equality Action Plan (REAP). Many areas of King’s have developed a tailored approach to tackling racism, showing that King’s commitment to being proactively anti-racist is embedded throughout the university.

Part of the EDI function’s purpose is to equip others with the resources needed to create an inclusive environment. We have updated our Trans Matters guidance and worked with various services to improve the process for trans staff and students to update their personal details. We have also launched a Disability Inclusion Hub Sharepoint.

Evaluation and Recognition

External recognition provides helpful frameworks, as well as additional accountability. We are proud to hold a bronze Race Equality Charter award and a silver Athena Swan award. We are a Stonewall Diversity Champions member and submitted our Workplace Equality Index entry in October 2021.

Addressing Differential Student Outcomes

This strategic objective is delivered in partnership across a number of areas including the Student Outcomes Team and is a significant feature of King’s Race Equality Action Plan. The Students and Education Directorate awarded £96,386 of the Race Equity & Inclusive Education Fund (REIEF) across 16 different projects. Student Outcomes appointed 18 new Inclusive Education Student Partners and helped facilitate 12 Conversations About Race sessions.

EDI Progress across King’s

EDI is everyone’s responsibility and so it has been heartening to see how embedded efforts are within faculties, directorates and the connectivity of our amazing staff networks. Below are some examples of the achievements across the faculties:

  • The Faculty of Arts & Humanities introduced a new module on ‘Investigating the Colonial past of King’s College London’
  • King’s Business School explored its Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic attainment gap through the work of their Inclusive Education Partners
  • The Faculty of Dental, Oral and Craniofacial Sciences developed a staff-facing training series called ‘Culture Change’, which included being an active bystander, the Equality Act, Equality Analysis and Microaggressions
  • The Dickson Poon School of Law launched a bullying and harassment working group
  • The Faculty of Life Sciences & Medicine delivered a series of Promotions workshops (and, since 2018, has seen a 11% increase in female professors)
  • The Faculty of Natural, Mathematical & Engineering Sciences held online celebrations for Women in Science week
  • The Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care held race equality events for staff and students, which generated actions for the EDI Committee and faculty leadership
  • The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience launched their Year of Learning, which encouraged people to demonstrate their engagement with race equality and share their learning. 71 people signed up
  • The Faculty of Social Science & Public Policy launched its EDI strategic plan. Over 100 people attended their launch event

My Reflections

When I first started putting together the annual report, I underestimated how long it needed to be. It was only as I progressed that I realised how much space was needed to do everyone’s work justice. And these areas of work are only expanding. As new initiatives make their way into our ‘business as usual’ offer, we become more and more ambitious. For this increase in work to be sustainable, we need to embed it into existing practice and not view it as an ‘add on’. It’s therefore imperative that everyone sees EDI as their responsibility. Whilst the EDI team can provide expertise and leadership, we need ownership at every level of the organisation for lasting, impactful change. We saw this approach in action through the range of contributors to the annual report. I’d like to thank our contributors for their words, as well as their actions over the past year.

I hope that you find it an insightful and inspiring read. If you have any questions about the report, please contact Jennifer.hastings@kcl.ac.uk.









Challenging Fatphobia

As the festive period begins, Jennifer Hastings, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Projects & Partnerships Manager at King’s College London, explores our relationship with food and fatphobia. 

At this time of year my social media feeds tend to be full of advice on how to handle food and diet culture during the holiday season. In a way this is progress; growing up I was more likely to come across magazine articles listing low fat Christmas pudding options than carefully worded support for those with a difficult relationship with food. On the other hand, it does beg the question of how diet culture has managed to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the parts dedicated to rest and relaxation.

I am obsessed with food. When people were searching for Black Friday deals, I was checking if my favourite bakery was doing any discounts. Whilst I like to revel in this source of joy (there isn’t a quicker dopamine boost than a freshly baked brownie) it, unfortunately, exists against a backdrop of capitalism and fatphobia.

We receive conflicting messages around food. Food is the centre of many scenarios and indulging is often encouraged. We show someone we care by cooking for them and we have second helpings to demonstrate our gratitude. We indulge in treats that reflect the change in season and theme celebrations around communal feasts. However, when a body begins to evidence an enjoyment of food, it is suddenly seen as flawed or a disappointment (both by the person inhabiting it and onlookers). In the book ‘Gone Girl’ there’s an infamous monologue where the main character laments the existence of the ‘cool girl’ and her requirement to display a carefree attitude to food whilst maintaining a thin physique. I’m sure this quandary isn’t limited to fiction.

A person’s weight may not be a protected characteristic but being fat (by society’s standards) certainly results in differential treatment, from spaces that only accommodate smaller bodies to life threatening medical discrimination. People can be horribly cruel to those they deem too heavy, often attempting to disguise their judgment as concern for their health. Interestingly the same people conveniently ignore the fact that fat shaming is more likely to result in weight gain than weight loss.

We also know that fatphobia intersects with other forms of oppression, such as racism and misogyny. BMI (body mass index) figures are relied on in many medical settings despite being a tool developed with only white, cis men in mind.

Access to an abundance of food is certainly its own form of privilege. However, even in the UK, the type and quality of food people can access varies greatly. If you’re juggling work and childcare on a minimal budget, a cheap takeaway may well be your best option. Jack Monroe has written extensively about the realities of food poverty (content warning for suicide), highlighting the factors that contribute to someone’s dietary choices.

It would be amiss not to reflect on the diet industry itself, which has the sole purpose of making a profit. Whatever euphemism we use (I believe ‘wellness’ and ‘lifestyle change’ are both currently in vogue), companies selling you weight loss products are not invested in their long-term outcomes. Not least because they want return customers.

My friend and I often say that it’s too late for us to dismantle our body image issues as we have already absorbed a series of patriarchal messages about how we should look. On an intellectual level we reject fatphobia however we have also (inadvertently) internalised it, using it as a lens through which to view our own bodies. This is why I am a fan of the body neutrality movement. There’s no quick fix to loving a body that diet companies and media outlets are intent on criticising, however we can shift our focus onto other things.

This approach does have limitations. A level of privilege is required, which makes body neutrality a luxury not extended to everyone. In her column Aubrey Gordon makes a distinction between how fat people feel about their bodies versus how they are treated by others. She says: ‘To be sure, self-love and body neutrality are powerful things. But they aren’t so powerful that they can divert or erase others’ harmful actions or make unjust systems more just.’ Sophie Hagen also talks about ‘Fat Liberation’ and the importance of targeting those that weaponize people’s bodies in the first place.

What does this mean for the festive season ahead of us? I am going to echo the advice I alluded to at the start of this blog- look after yourself. Where possible, fill your time with the things that bring you joy and, if you need to talk to someone, Beat (the eating disorder charity) has a daily helpline you can call. And if you feel able, challenge fatphobia when you witness it. In his book ‘The Promises of Giants’, Dr John Amaechi defines culture as ‘the worst behaviour that you tolerate’. Of course, we need a societal shift and systematic change but, in the meantime, we can at least stop tolerating behaviours that are complicit in the marginalisation of people’s bodies.

Diversifying Leadership – StellarHE programme

Dr Margaret Kadiri is a Lecturer in the Geography Department here at King’s College. In Margaret’s blog, she shares some reflections on StellarHE – a programme providing strategic executive development for diverse leaders in higher education.

As an academic, I experience professional struggles and challenges that seem to come with the territory. However, as my career has progressed, I have realised that some of these challenges are particular as I navigate the professional academic space as a professional from an ethnic minority background. I was motivated to participate in the StellarHE leadership programme because it is uniquely designed to equip ethnic minority academics like myself with leadership competences and strategies to navigate the particular career barriers that we face, so that we can develop and effect change.

The StellarHE leadership programme is distinct from other leadership programmes that are designed on a deficit model which suggests that ethnic minority academics need to be fixed as a way of addressing the obstacles hindering leadership progression. There is a lot of publicly available data identifying some of the obstacles that have inevitably resulted in the persistent under-representation of ethnic minority academics, particularly black academics, in leadership roles across the Higher Education sector. Wider data indicates that a leak exists in the academic pipeline for the ascension of black academics in the sector, with their representation declining drastically as grades increase – only 0.67% of the 19,285 professors in the UK are currently black. We cannot grow the pool of ethnic minority academics in senior roles if there is no impervious pipeline of ethnic minority academics in lower and mid-level positions that can grow to fill senior roles.

In my view, the StellarHE programme is innovative in the way it equips ethnic minority academics and professional services staff in Higher Education institutions with the competences to draw on our diversity as a leadership strength and to implement strategies that reflect our unique challenges and experiences in navigating our environments to enable us optimise opportunities and fully realise our leadership potential. To this end, it provides transformational leadership training, networking opportunities and target capacity building.

The programme is one of self-discovery, development and growth. Personally, it has enabled me to become more aware, as an ethnic minority academic, of the additional distinctive qualities that I bring to my profession, and this has empowered me to move forward in my career journey while remaining authentic.

I would like to share two of the many key learning points which I gained from the programme drawn from the danger of a single story and the urgency of intersectionality, two exceptional TED conference talks that are pre-workshop preparatory materials for the programme, and I would encourage everyone to watch them in their spare time. The first point is on the importance of diversity for building our experiential knowledge of people and communities, and the second, is the need to emphasise that under-representation is not a blanket or homogenous phenomenon but exists across different planes.

Each year, the College funds a number of places on the StellarHE programme as part of its commitment to race equality and to provide a valuable opportunity to develop racially diverse talent. Professional services and academic staff can apply, and places are awarded on a competitive basis. More information on the programme, the eligibility criteria and how to apply can be found on the King’s StellarHE intranet page.

Menopause and Menstruation at the Intersection: The Importance of Inclusivity

This weeks blogs has been written by LC [she/they] a Proudly King’s Committee Member, who has worked in King’s Libraries & Collections since 2012. LC explores the importance of  inclusivity when thinking and talking about menopause & menstruation. (Our new guidance can also be found below).


Menstruation and menopause can still be taboo subjects – given their effects on both personal and working life, an increased understanding is beneficial for both public and private arenas. It is vital conversations are inclusive, and education about these functions is available to all, regardless of personal experience.

A lack of research about menopause and menstruation, particularly about how these functions affect trans, non-binary, intersex and gender non-conforming populations, means there are common misconceptions. Note:

  • Neither function – nor the absence of either function – is restricted to gender. There are plenty of cisgender women who do not experience menopause or menstruation – these functions cannot be assumed based on perceived biological sex.
  • Both menstruation and menopause are extremely individual to each person. It is commonly known age varies for menopause/menstruation start or end; other variations are seen in the number or intensity of symptoms, and preferred methods, products or medications when experiencing these functions.
Benefits of inclusivity around menstruation and menopause

This post focuses on work-related benefits around an inclusive understanding of menstruation and menopause.

By understanding common requirements, line managers and those facilitating or organising office setups, can help maximise employee wellbeing and productivity. Employees can feel more comfortable suggesting adjustments to working space (e.g. desk fans, provision of additional bathroom equipment amongst others) and raising related medical issues where necessary. With a wider understanding, the onus is removed from those experiencing menopause or menstruation to explain what can be a deeply personal topic, and focus is instead shifted to actionable adjustments.

Whilst it should not be expected for employees to explain bodily functions, they should feel comfortable and empowered to raise issues or request adjustments. By inviting all those who experience, or are about to experience, menstruation and menopause, to relevant conversations, it ensures viewpoints are not excluded due to an assumption someone does not experience these functions.

Ways to help

Learning about menopause and menstruation, and in particular, how these can affect people differently, is key to building a supportive and understanding environment. Some resources are linked in the short references.

Allowing flexibility in the workplace creates an accommodating environment, not necessarily restricted to medical issues or human functions. For example, air conditioning, desk fans, or allowing staff to work in different areas, where practical, during hot weather, improves the workspace. Variations in uniform options, and private places to change during the day, increase staff comfort.

Being open to suggestions is most important; menstruation and menopause may have other intersections. I have focused on gender here; however, age, race and disability are amongst other characteristics where menopause/menstruation research has traditionally been sparse. As we increase our knowledge and inclusiveness around these widely experienced functions, we can help to ensure colleagues feel supported and accepted here at King’s and beyond.

References & Resources:

Proud to Be Me

This blog is part of a series celebrating Black History Month 2021 and the theme ‘Proud To Be’.

Aysha Nasir Rao, a third year History Student and Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive of the KCLSU, reflects on this years Black History Month theme of ‘Proud To Be’ and her experience studying the module ‘Investigating the Colonial Past of King’s College London’.

I am proud to be a Muslim.

I am proud to be Pakistani.

I am proud to be a woman.

I am proud to be the child of immigrants.

When I think of what I’m proud to be, these are the first that come to mind. The list could go on and on, but I think the things about myself I carry the most pride in are the things I was taught to be ashamed of, my heritage and faith being two of them.

Being a 90s baby, my formative years took place in a post 9/11 world (I was 5 years old) in Canada where it was definitely not a good thing to be a proud Muslim or Pakistani. This was made abundantly clear to me and my family living in a very small suburban town in Ottawa, where my family’s faces were some of the only brown ones I saw.

Some of my earliest memories are of beautiful Canadian winters, playing in the snow during Christmas time, lights and snowmen lining the streets. But this handful of memories are some of the only happy ones I can recall. The moments that I remember surprisingly clearly over twenty years later are of me in class being taunted by other students, of my teachers not stepping in when this happened, and of this tangible feeling that almost overnight people in my everyday life no longer liked or trusted me or my family. Even as a child I noticed how differently strangers would treat us, and worse how those in our own lives did.

It’s funny the things that leave such a lasting mark on us and affect us years on. That moment for me took place outside my family home. My neighbour was also my closest friend at school and who I sat next to everyday. It used to be a routine for me on the weekends to take my toys to her house and sit and have lunch with her family. This one particular weekend, around a month or so after the attacks, we were talking about her birthday party. She said to me, in the nicest way I think she thought she could, that her parents no longer felt I should be coming over to their house or playing with their daughter anymore. I remember not understanding why, I mean her family knew me so well and had only ever been nice to me, I spent more time at their house than I did at my own most weekends. She mumbled something or the other about what her parents thought of my family, which I assume was shared by the other parents at school because the same thing happened every time a birthday came around in class. Eventually I stopped taking the bus to school, I’d walk to my seat and spend the day not talking or being talked to. I started to learn to be quiet and slowly a sense of shame grew in me.

I think if my parents hadn’t made the decision to leave, I wouldn’t be writing about my pride right now. I credit a lot of this change to the community we made in Manchester. Though I was surrounded by so many different cultures, faiths and faces it was the first time I felt embraced and comfortable with people outside of my family (at the age of 7). I eventually got back in touch with my faith and my culture. I tried to re-learn Urdu, I started praying and proudly wearing my cultural dress, and it felt as though I unlocked another part of me. Like I wasn’t fully me because I wasn’t accepting all of me. And now that I’m in touch with my roots, I’m knowledgeable of my heritage and the incredible shoulders I stand on, I am so proud of who I am and what I represent. A brown Muslim woman.

Now as an adult I’ve reflected on how these events shaped me. Though it’s given me a great deal of resilience, once I got to KCL I noticed how much it was still affecting me in a negative way. King’s was certainly a culture shock. Though at the heart of the most diverse city in the world, Strand and more specifically for me the history department, was far from it and I found myself feeling alone and out of place again, a feeling I hadn’t felt at this level since I was a child. It’s not like those in my classes weren’t welcoming or kind, but looking back the last time I felt this out of place and was in a majority white space, I was five years old living in Canada.

I really found it difficult to feel the sense of community others felt and began to look for this at other universities where I felt more comfortable to express myself and where I was surrounded by more black and brown faces. This lack of comfortability was cemented in my first semester for my ‘Worlds of the British Empire’ module. When discussing the significance of Robert Clive’s statue, otherwise known as Clive of India, I shared what I felt his memorialisation represents especially when someone from my background is to walk by and see it. This was met with barely an acknowledgement, a sigh or two and was ultimately brushed off easily by the other students and not touched on again. By the time I was in second year, 2020 finally brought some much needed attention to the Black Lives Matter movement. Though this was brought about by instances of horrific police brutality with the death of George Floyd, and dozens of other black men and women during the summer alone, the world was forced to stop and listen to the conversations that have always been had within family homes and black and brown communities the world over.

Here in the U.K, people were also forced to confront the histories of some of their most celebrated figures, Nelson and Churchill for example, who have deep ties with the slave trade and colonial legacies. I saw some changes being made past appearances at King’s, the creation of the ‘Investigating the Colonial Past of King’s College London’ led by Dr Liam Liburd being one. I again debated the presence of another statue, but luckily to a much more empathetic class.

Part of the assessment for this module was to create a poster based on our own research into King’s colonial past through King’s extensive archive (though we were limited due to COVID). Mine, which is attached below, went with a Star Wars theme and likened the British Empire to that of the Emperor Palpatine’s Imperial Army. It serves as a summary of some of my key learnings from the module.

King’s: An imperial story poster

Though it’s only scratching the surface, I wanted to highlight what King’s stood for at its inception but to end on what King’s legacy and what it aims to be now, especially since I am now a tiny part of that legacy. With an institution as old as King’s, Oxford and Cambridge being the only two older English institutions, there wasn’t much doubt that the university I now pay a large sum of money to had a hand in subjugating my ancestors through empire and has its own links to the Atlantic slave trade. Looking at the poster again, it raises the question for me of if we can ever achieve a fully decolonised curriculum at King’s or if those two things are in conflict with one another. It’s an interesting question for all of us to think about.

Being a history module, the class was not the most diverse (to be expected), but Dr Liburd and the other students created an encouraging space for us all to share our thoughts which were respected and not belittled and where empathy was always present. Though Dr Liburd this year has gone on to a great position at Durham University, the module is continuing with Dr Jean Smith. Speaking with Dr Smith earlier this month, it was lovely to hear how committed and determined she was to making this classroom space just as safe and comfortable for students.

For any single or joint honours history students on the fence on selecting this module, I can definitely say you won’t regret it, even if colonial history isn’t your main area of focus. The debates we had in class opened my mind to new ideas, I learnt the histories of abolitionists that were never taught to me in school, I learnt how to conduct research on my own which we don’t get a chance to do until third year, and most importantly, my beliefs were challenged regularly in a way they haven’t been in other classes. And as a bonus, it’s also a welcome break from writing the longform essays we’re unfortunately too used to.

Change always happens slower than we would like, but on the brighter side the History department is in the process of redesigning the first-year curriculum and have just met this week to discuss the second-year curriculum, both with decolonising themes being at the centre of these talks. For me this means in a few years, the history degree will be more attractive to those from minority backgrounds, and they will have a chance at studying a more honest view of world history. On this subject, I was able to have an open conversation with Professor David Brydan about decolonising the History curriculum, what challenges there are and what he sees happening moving forward.


Aysha Nasir Rao in conversation with Professor David Brydan

How do you define decolonisation it in relation to the curriculum?

It means different things to different people. The simplest strand is a deep diversification, that there is a diversity of voices in our primary sources, secondary reading and the geographical scope of the topics we cover. Then, on a level up, it is about challenging ourselves on what we teach and the perspectives we teach from. For example, I teach the global Cold War. One of the easiest things to do is to have load of primary sources from all over the world, but the more difficult thing to do is saying that the Cold War is a Western construct and thinking about the second half of the twentieth century as “The Cold War” is a very narrow, western-centric view of that period of history in which the Cold War was one of lots of different strands of things going on, of which decolonisation was one. Thinking about how and to what extent, even if at all, we can think about the Cold War beyond the western lens is not something easily done but is something you must embed into all of the conversations we have in our teaching. And finally, I think with conversations surround decolonisation you have to think of anti-colonialism as well and people who fought against it. Sometimes I worry that the language is a bit too neutral in a way and instead what we should be talking about is anti-colonialism in the same way we talk about anti-racism and an ant-racist curriculum, rather than a de-racist curriculum. And bringing it back to the Cold War, you can easily include a lot on the fight against colonialism in all of its forms and anti-colonialists in the source material.

Do you see or feel that there any roadblocks to having that open safe space within a classroom to discuss conversations such as this?

I don’t think it’s necessarily about specific roadblocks and I haven’t found situations where there are individuals who are hostile to having these conversations. There are a lot of people who don’t care that much and there are people who see these conversations through a hostile lens, but I’ve never experienced that in my classrooms.

I think it’s more about what we have been discussing before where it’s the wider political environment makes people reluctant to engage in the conversation because they fear that they will be misinterpreted or create difficult situations in even raising these topics. It’s such a difficult thing to target because it often comes down to the dynamics of the group and the institutional dynamics and you can’t just pretend it’s like having an open conversation amongst friends where you won’t necessarily be judged. I think working out how we create these kinds of environments is really hard but one if the things I was struck by the other day was the importance of dialogue, not just amongst students, but staff-student dialogue and I was interested by what you said about having these conversations with staff members made you feel more comfortable and changed your perspective as well. I think if everyone was able to have those detailed conversations with us and vice versa, then we would be able to create those environments where people are more comfortable. We’re limited with the time we have with students in a group setting so what we need to do is find a way to almost shortcut that process, for lack of a better word. So dialogue is what I would put the most emphasis on, but I’m not entirely sure how we would create those environments for all students in the little time we have with them in each class.

How would you tackle apathy to these issues within the King’s community?

Again, I would emphasise the process of dialogue. I think if you were to throw the question of decolonisation in with no preparation, then those who are inherently interested in it will already have ideas and those who haven’t thought about it before won’t have a clue what you’re talking about. And so, for the people haven’t been exposed to these ideas before, I think we really need to embed it in the formal conversations we have throughout the year so that people in lots of different classes covering a variety of periods and topics have had these important conversations about what a decolonised curriculum means and what a decolonised approach to their topics means. And through that people will develop. People will not be apathetic because they will gain a greater understanding if its importance, especially in a historical context. And this needs to be a long-term pedagogical process, not something that is just thrown in every now and again in isolation but discussed throughout the modules and built into the curriculum

And I would say, the only times I’ve had unsatisfactory conversations about it has been when I have just thrown it in there without giving students that preparation, and where it has worked well is where there has been an ongoing dialogue.

Are there plans for introducing decolonisation topics for specific modules that are compulsory for history students throughout the course for example, HSSA or History and Memory?

I think faculty members are doing that anyways because of conversations being had by a lot of people, especially more recently. There is currently a curriculum reform process going on in which these conversations re being had in the background, but I wouldn’t say there’s a set strategy where every module will have it set out this way. But I think one of the things we should do is talk to students about that, which is what we’re doing with the redesign of our first-year curriculum, and say ‘this is what we’re doing, what do you think about it, what reading would you like to see, are there any topics you feel we missed etc..’, and then thin king about decolonising the curriculum as part of those conversations would be really useful thing to do.

Do you know if there are any plans to include modules which directly deal with this subject matter, such as Black in the Union Jack or King’s Colonial Past?

We are reforming the curriculum year by year and we are in the process of reforming year 1 right now. We actually have our first meeting about year two this week and this is where students can be more selective in their modules choices and focus on their interests. I don’t have specifics about this, but this is why dialogue like this is so useful, so when it comes time for departmental meetings about reforms to be made all of these conversations can feed into those discussions.

In your time at the department (3 years) have you noticed any change with regards to embracing decolonising movements?

I can see that a lot has changed since the three years that I arrived at least in terms of the modules that I’m aware of being taught, but I also don’t think there’s been a grand transformation either. I think the process was already happening beforehand and it’s definitly an ongoing but slow moving. And so yes is my answer, but I don’t think by any means the problem has been solved. Going back to your first question, this is very much a process and it’s not something where we can do ten things and it’s not an issue anymore. Inherently this is something that must be embedded in our thinking going forward and we will naturally find new and different ways to decolonise the curriculum because the problems won’t always be the same. And we need to constantly be including students because it is a process of dialogue and people’s ideas around this and how to best tackle these issues will change over time, and I think partly changes in the department will come from constantly pressure and dialogue with students.

With regards to having a more representative student body, how do you think we should engage students from underrepresented backgrounds to be interested in history in HE, especially as there is this disparity compared to other faculties?

This is definitely a humanities problem, I think. Generally, History attracts people from higher socio-economic backgrounds whose university choices aren’t necessarily dependent on job prospects straight after graduation, as well as the perception that humanities won’t lead to as well-paid jobs which then feeds into the backgrounds of the students on our courses. But it also has to do with History and the way it is taught in schools and what is taught in schools.

So, with regards to what we can control I think working with schools is really important. I and other members of the department have done a lot of work like this and have these conversations that we’re having but within the school context as well, which is difficult because they’re more constrained by a national curriculum. For example, Toby Greene in the department designed an A-level module on pre-colonial West African history and put together resources for teachers to use with the intention that this is something that schools should be teaching and incorporating, especially since topics like this aren’t available for A-level students to do. So yes, if we can help to decolonise schools in regard to what they’re teaching then that will hopefully feed through to the backgrounds of the students who then come to study history at university. And if your experience of history is studying the Tudors over and over again in school, why would you feel like a history degree is relevant for you.

School teachers have more constraints that at university because they need to get their students to get good grades and they have a curriculum they have to follow and exam boards and so the desire to do this kind of work may be there, but they don’ have the time or resources to do so. I think in university we face fewer constraints and have more intellectual freedom so in that sense it’s easier for us. However, we do have institutional constraints. For example King’s at the moment thinks that we should have fewer modules and all modules should be run by multiple members of staff, so that for example constrains to some extent what we can do, but we still ultimately have the freedom to teach what we want. But also, for us I think the constraint is also a time constraint because it can take quote a long time for change to happen especially since it’s all very collegiate and there are processes to follow which ultimately delays things. Partly, there’s also a degree of institutional inertia in that it’s easier to teach things you’ve already had to teach and kept the same than it is to prepare new courses every year which teachers don’t always have the time to do that especially when a lot of staff are early in their career and people are on fixed-term contracts, they are normally coming in a picking up pre-existing courses rather than having the time to design their own.

The publication you were a part of in 2019 raised the problem of syllabi struggling to keep track of re-interpretations of history and thus teachers resorting to teaching the history they were taught at school. How do you think can we integrate new ideas and topics into these very familiar narratives?

The teaching and learning document we did was a collaboration between historians and schoolteachers, and it was written for the Historical Association for schools. It was published three years ago but the initial thoughts to do it started about five years ago.

I don’t think we talked a lot of decolonisation in this, but we certainly had thought about it. I had written about the Cold War, and I tried to write about the Global Cold War and introducing decolonisation topics into that.  But the interesting thing about this is that I think if we wrote it now, we would do it differently and I think both the academic historians and the teachers who contributed to it would have possibly put more emphasis on Black history, history of migration and on decolonising the curriculum generally because these conversations have been more prominent in the last five years.

I think reading it, it was quite ahead of its time but also so much more has changed especially with what has been brought up in the world with the BLM movement and so on. It suggests how fast things can change and how slow some of these processes are because when this was published it was thought to be cutting-edge research to give to schoolteachers but now the world has changed so much and suddenly doesn’t seem so cutting-edge and needs to be re-evaluated.

And we don’t know what’s going to happen in the world in the next five years and the way we understand history is always shaped by what is going on around us and so this is very much going to be an ongoing process.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think I would just emphasise the dialogue point. I think it’s easier to think that this is something for academics to do and that it has to be a top down process but if we’re talking about decolonising the curriculum as a shift in power dynamics that extends to the classroom as well, it has to be partly about democratising the curriculum to a certain extent and integrating the views and ideas of the students in dialogue with academics, a kind of partnership model of education and curriculum reform. This might sometimes be quite difficult to do practically but I think that dialogue and collaborative working is so important.

The opposite of colonisation

Our latest blog in a series to mark Black History Month is brought to us by Chenée Psaros.

Chenée is a Learning Developer at King’s Academy and Co-chair of Proudly King’s, the LGBTQ+ staff network. She is South African, the daughter of immigrants, the decedent of settlers and an immigrant herself. Her forefathers were white colonisers who benefitted from colonial conquests in South Africa and then, when it became a republic, benefitted again from Apartheid. It is through the lens of a white South African she explores the discourse about decolonisation in higher education in the UK.

As questions of identity, race and inequality are becoming more prevalent and strategies to address social inequities are sought, British universities are endeavouring to ‘decolonise’ their institutions. From the University of Bristol’s Decolonising Education course to our own Voices of Decolonisation KED Talk, you would be hard pressed to find a university in the United Kingdom that has not prioritised decolonisation in the last few years. George Floyd’s death catapulted systemic racism to the forefront of our focus and universities were quick to commit to anti-racist rhetoric and support for marginalised groups. However, much of the discourse around decolonisation and systemic racism are used interchangeably, we should approach the use of these terms with care, because although they are inextricably linked, they are not synonyms.

The opposite of colonisation is not decolonisation, it is repatriation. If universities gained wealth from Britain’s colonial past, we should be asking how repatriation of what was lost should take place. Settler force erased entire indigenous cultures, languages and epistemologies; these are lost forever. The act of the former imperial power trying to ‘decolonise’ for the indigenous populations they oppressed is deeply uncomfortable. ‘Decolonisation is not a metaphor’, and in their seminal text of the same name, Tuck and Yang (2012) argue that decolonisation situated outside of the indigenous context is another form of settler appropriation, used to alleviate white guilt and in doing so undermines the indigenous voices that are key to the discussion.

Much of the debate of decolonisation has focused on statues. Recently, the University of Cambridge made the decision to return a Benin bronze statue to Nigeria (Khomami, 2021). Similar acts have occurred throughout Europe. However, the most concentrated focus on decolonisation and HE is the 2016 fight to remove the statue of Cecil John Rhodes which looms over Oriel College at the University of Oxford. The pinnacle of the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford movement coincided with the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 (Mohdin 2021). Students who led the movement called for the statue to be removed because they wanted to address ‘the toxic inheritance of the past’ (Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, 2018) and bring attention to the underrepresentation of students of colour. To date the statue has not been removed (Badshah 2021).

This was not the first statue of Rhodes students demanded be taken down. The Rhodes Must Fall Movement in Oxford gained momentum after a less well known, but more successful campaign at the University of Cape Town in South Africa (Chaudhuri 2016). In 2015, students protested about the lack of transformation more than twenty years after Apartheid fell – out of two hundred, there were only five black professors, and the university was not actively diversifying their staff (Peterson 2015). Students wanted change, they did not want the statue of the person who was responsible for the loss of their tribal lands and the rape of their ancestors to hold a place of honour. They protested, the fight was ugly, but the students won. A symbol of oppression was removed and the university reviewed their practices.

It hard to imagine in today’s times who is comparable to Cecil John Rhodes. His wealth and influence in Africa were vast, he had not one, but two countries named after him, a monopoly on Southern African diamond mines, the British Army and his own police force at his disposal. His power was great and far reaching; his forces sequestered native land, pillaged tribal property and raped indigenous women. He might well have been a man of the times but his single-mindedness to expand the British Empire was unparalleled. His legacy lives on. Beyond the statues that honour him, the wealth he gained in Africa allowed him to bequeath vast endowments to Oxford University and establish one of the most famous scholarships of all, the Rhodes Scholarship.

The Rhodes Scholarship was established in 1903 to promote unity between English-speaking nations and when it was set up only white men were eligible to apply. It was slow to diversify, women only qualified in 1977 and black people from South Africa only in 1992. It has since gone on to support people like Bill Clinton, Rachel Maddow and Naomi Wolf. It was in 2018 that the scholarship was opened globally. However, in that same year, of the ninety-five scholarships available fifty-five were awarded to students from the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, only ten were awarded to students who were from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana and Malawi (Rhodes Scholar Database 2021). The demographic data about the students who were selected was not available, but it is doubtful that many indigenous students won the scholarship.

The inequalities that have shaped South Africa from the colonial past (Gebrial, 2018) and apartheid were violently acted out this summer. Riots and looting caused the destruction of businesses in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng. The unrest was catapulted to the forefront as Covid lockdowns had so adversely affected people. South Africans, unlike people living and working in Britain, were not able to participate in furlough schemes or apply for social security payments to help them out in times of need. The access to vaccines that might have allowed people to return to work sooner was limited because the UK and other wealthy nations stockpiled it. When South Africa asked for Oxford Astrazenca patents to be made available to produce vaccines locally, they were denied (Nocera 2021, Stone 2021, Watney 2021). When the South African government purchased vaccine from Pfizer they were subsequently charged more than their European counterparts because they had not invested in the development (Thanbisetty, 2021). Universities were at the heart of developing vaccines, can those who claim they want to decolonise, work with companies who exploit countries with less global capital?

There is much rhetoric about how higher education can decolonise its institutions, its practices and its curricula. How we move forward to being more culturally competent is at the heart of the discussion. While universities have histories intertwined with wealth from slavery and occupation, we need to acknowledge, living in a former imperial power, that individually we do too. We are not blameless. Regardless of our nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, if we currently reside in the United Kingdom we benefit, to different degrees albeit, from the legacy of the power and positioning modern day Britain inherited from her colonial past. Decolonial work cannot happen in the palace of the colonisers, the Global South needs to have a stake in how decolonial work should take place. If we are committed to decolonisation, we should acknowledge that it cannot take place without indigenous perspectives and contributions of those territories that were once occupied. The Oxford example demonstrates how the appropriation of a movement did not bring about change and how the settler perspective overshadowed the colonial one because of global power constructs. Universities should move beyond decolonisation and explore what repatriation looks like in an HE context. If we really want to make the world a better place, we could do it through scholarships, how we share knowledge and resources, and how we fund research.


Mathematics, the Racial Integrator

This Blog first appeared in the August 2021 edition of ‘Mathematics Today’, the official publication of The Institute of Mathematics and its Applications and can also be viewed on their website here.

As part of our series of blogs celebrating Black History Month we share with you Dr. Howard Haughton‘s reflections on representation in mathematics. Howard is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow at KCL.

As a child if someone had told me that later in life, I would be writing an editorial for the Mathematics Today magazine, to celebrate Black History Month, I would have laughed and looked for the hidden cameras. Black children, like me, were often misclassified as having special educational needs. Moreover, the chances of me going on to obtain a PhD in a mathematical subject was much less than 0.1%.¹ However, this is exactly what I went on to achieve.

Dr Howard Haughton

Dr Howard Haughton

My love for mathematics was insatiable and I was not prepared to let other people’s view of me become my reality. I recall reading books on calculus (even before being formally taught the subject) and setting myself problems to solve even though I did not know the solution. I was keen to find someone that looked like me who also loved mathematics, but I found none, not even in the books provided to me for my studies. Was it that Black and Brown people had made no significant contribution to the development or application of mathematics? Surely, this could not be the case.

As a teenager, I took inspiration from what I had read about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan FRS. Those that chose to shine a light on the work of Ramanujan, perhaps including Ramanujan himself, could have been dismayed by critiques of his early work. One such critique came from Micaiah John Muller Hill FRS (see [1]) who found technical flaws in Ramanujan’s work, made suggestions for his further reading but also suggested that he lacked the educational background to be accepted by mathematicians. Notwithstanding this, Ramanujan went on to state numerous theorems (most of which have been independently proved by others) such as the Mellin transform [2] that has contributed to the evaluation of definite integrals. Ramanujan also went on to work with Godfrey Harold Hardy FRS, a person with whom he had very little in common except for the love of mathematics. Differences in colour, religion or ethnicity seem to have played no part in their relationship and although their ‘mathematical dialect’ was different it proved to be their integrator.

After completing my PhD in mathematical computer science my first job was as a research scientist working on the application of category theory and logic to defining computer program semantics. Out of 60 research staff, only three were Black. This statistic made me reflect on whether I had made the right choice for the start of my career. None of the key figures in this field of applied mathematical research were Black. Once again, I had no role model in my own image. Notwithstanding, my love for mathematics proved to be the integrator and I successfully co-authored the publication of more than a dozen papers and three books. Looking back on my choice of studies at university, I believe I chose well since my skills are applicable to a host of areas including:

  • Finance e.g., quantitative researcher, exotic derivatives trader/structurer
  • Data scientist
  • Accountancy
  • Research scientist
  • Software engineer
  • Mathematical modeller
  • Statistical/quantitative researcher in public/private sector

Despite the successes I achieved as a scientist there were numerous barriers to navigate as a Black person. Institutional racism made it difficult to scale the corporate leadership ladder and no matter how many papers I wrote, this issue appeared to be persistent. This situation was the catalyst for a period of self-reflection. It also led to my desire to better know the contributions of Black and Brown people to the development of mathematics. My hope would be that I could use this to spread the news to others with a view to using this as an integrator for racial equality.

Nearly all textbooks in calculus (or university courses) will refer to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Isaac Newton as being the people who, independently, developed the subject. However, it is known that many aspects of calculus were developed many years before the birth of these individuals. Notable contributions include the Arab mathematician Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham [3] and Archimedes of Syracuse [4]. Whilst it is true that these contributions were aimed at solving specific problems, might lack generality and did not formally recognise the fundamental theorem of calculus, they influenced the direction of travel for its development.

The awareness that various aspects of what we now call calculus were not solely developed by Europeans gave me the desire to do further research. After all, a common application of integration is to calculate areas and volumes and it might be that such calculations even predate Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham and Archimedes. The answer was to be found in papyri: the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus (RMP) and the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus (MMP). Both RMP and MMP provide evidence that the ancient Egyptians were able to solve problems that we would now write in the form of linear algebraic equations as well as to calculate the area and volume of various shapes. This provided me with my aha moment.

This, as well as other mathematical competencies is very likely to have influenced many Greek scholars such as Thales, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, and others to study in Egypt and possibly other places like Babylon. Unfortunately, whereas the contributions of the ancient Greeks are well known, little credit seems to have been given to the Egyptians or Babylonians who may have provided much of the foundation for such contributions.

For example, the Berlin papyrus refers to a specific example whereby the area of a square of 100 square cubits is equal to the sum of the areas of two smaller squares with the side-length of one being 1/2 + 1/4 that of the other. This can be formulated as

x2 +y2 =100, x = 3y/4

with solution x = 6, y = 8. As with other historical ancient Egyptian calculations this example is not general, but this does not suggest they did not know that the relationship existed for all square values on the right-hand side of the sum of squares, for a right-angled triangle.

Both Aristotle and Herodotus [5] give credit to the Egyptians for the birth of geometry despite disagreeing on the reasons for its existence. Nonetheless, this acknowledgement provided the basis for mathematics to be used as an integrator between diverse cultures. Today, there are those who would seek to use mathematics as a differentiator suggesting only Europeans have advanced the state of mathematics and science. It is, however, evident that this is not true.

In this month’s Mathematics Today, there are several contributions by a diverse group of mathematicians. Nira Chamberlain provides details on building a powerful mathematical identity in his Presidential Address. Nira explains that his quest to build this identity arose from a discussion at an IMA event in 2004 during which a delegate stated, ‘They would not call themselves a mathematician at a cocktail party’. Nira’s response was to ask, ‘Who among you would defend mathematics live on a radio station if the DJ had earlier declared that mathematics is boring?’

In his piece, Nira speaks about the perception of mathematics, as portrayed by some in the media or public, as being disliked, unattractive and less relevant than other subjects. To counter this, Nira suggests that mathematicians should proudly position themselves as those that lead by action or example in this era of mathematics. As Nira observes maths is the glue which supports several other disciplines such as information technology, engineering, economics and other sciences. Through his personal mathematical journey, Nira provides a reminder that mathematics is for everyone, and that age should not limit one’s ability to make contributions to this discipline.

Mark Richards describes his use of the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem to aid in the recovery of a signal (a continuous function of time) from a sequence of discrete sensors. Mark demonstrates the use of this theorem in assessing the feasibility of replacing a dense network of static air pollution sensors with a smaller number of devices fitted to buses.

In his piece, Mark remarks that his use of sampling theory was due to serendipity arising out of a discussion with fellow scientists Stephon Alexander and Bill Massey about the under-representation of Black scientists and researchers in the US and UK. Although perhaps not the focus of Mark’s work, it is likely that the results could help to support urban planning, in particular transportation. Given what we now know about the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 and their disproportionate impact on Black lives, remedial action could be taken to reduce pollution and improve the well-being of many people.

Lloyd Kilford discusses Magic Squares motivated by the work of the medieval Black African Muhammad ibn Muhammad al- Fullani al-Kishnawi who was a mathematician, astronomer, mystic and astrologer. In a brief review of a page from al-Kishnawi’s manuscript, Lloyd draws similarities between groups formed by the set of squares under rotation and reflection with those of dihedral groups and suggests the former could be used as a basis for discovering abstract groups like the dihedral group. Lloyd describes several methods, devised by al-Kishnawi, forthe construction of magic squares one of which exemplifies the type of perseverance al-Kishnawi talked about in his writings due to the exacting nature of its procedures.

Ejay Nsugbe discusses the design and application of an AI-driven pregnancy labour prediction decision support system. Ejay highlights the results of studies which reveal that obstetric outcomes vary by ethnicity and that preterm labour is higher for Black than for White mothers. Consequently, a key motivation for the development of this system is to be able to predict labour imminency more accurately by explicitly accounting for ethnicity. Such a system could be used to trigger the use of early treatment or other strategies to aid labour. Ejay describes the mathematical physics behind magnetomyography sensing and how such sensing data can be combined with the machine learning technique of a support vector machine to produce highly accurate labour predictions.

Finally, Snezana Lawrence discusses the work of the late American civil rights activist Robert Parris Moses. Snezana draws attention to the work Moses undertook as a mathematics educator and the important contribution of the Algebra Project which he started in 1982. The aim of the project is to develop high school mathematical literacy in students from under-represented groups, specifically Black/ethnic minorities and/or those belonging to low-income families, as preparation for higher-level studies. This project survives Moses and is implemented across several states in the USA. These diverse contributions further support the view that mathematics can be used not just as an integrator for racial equality but for other protected characteristics.


  1. This figure assumes a Black person obtains AAA at A-level, goes on to obtain at least a 2:1 degree and has a 1.2% chance of being funded for a PhD (not necessarily in mathematics) which they successfully complete.


  • [1] Robert, K. (1991) The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius, Ramanujan, C. Scribner’s, New York.
  • [2] Berndt, B. (1985) Ramanujan’s Notebooks, Part I, Springer-Verlag, New York.
  • [3] Katz, V.J. (1995) Ideas of calculus in Islam and India, Mathematics Magazine, vol. 68, no. 3, pp. 163–174.
  • [4] Boyer, C.B. (1959) The History of the Calculus and its Conceptual Development, Dover Publications Inc., New York.
  • [5] Macdonald, C. (1950) Herodotus and Aristotle on Egyptian geometry, The Classical Review, vol. 64, no. 1, p. 12.

Proud to be intersectional

Kirsten Johnson is the Student Experience Manager in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, and is proud to be a walking, talking, assumption-shattering work in progress. 

I am the child of a Black Jamaican mother and a white English father.
I am a cisgender bisexual woman from Derby.
I am married to a Hungarian woman. 

I am a representative. I am one face in a sea of faces to some, and a lifeboat to others.
I am a confident, intelligent perfectionist, always looking for the next thing to improve and always looking back at the things I didn’t get right.
I am introspective, extroverted, and fun to be around (but not always fun to be).
I am thoughtful, diplomatic, and hard to argue against. I am tired of sometimes being the only person being all three.
I am tall, strong, and imposing, with a deep, commanding voice that’s hard to ignore.
I refuse to minimise myself (and leave that to other people to unsuccessfully attempt).
I am shaped by the things I wasn’t taught, by the whitewashed misrepresentations I don’t have the headspace to process that impact our shared present and future.
I am looked down upon through no fault of my own.
I am privileged through no work of my own. 

I am always striving to use all of the above to leave the world better than I found it. 

We live in a world which tries to predetermine our lives before we are born. We are gendered, ethnicised and racialised before we come out of the womb. Our ticked boxes are dictated to us, and can assign us to spaces where we feel safe, but can also limit our opportunities and give others free license to discriminate without much fear of consequence. My own intersectional experience enables me to identify with a broad range of people, but can also make me unsure of whether I really “fit”.
This is something I struggle with. 

I am a human with characteristics. That should be boringly normal, and for me it is, most of the time. Most of the time I can be proud – of my blackness, my queerness, my body, my brain – without challenge. At the same time, I’m hypervigilant – as a woman, an LGBTQ+ person, a brown person, an ally. I’m vigilant as a traveller to other countries (including my wife’s and my mother’s), and other cities that are less accepting/diverse than London. I want that impossible world where no-one needs to feel vigilant.
I am proud to work every day to carve out spaces where people can feel safe as themselves. 

I put a lot of pressure on myself.
Because I know I can be part of the change. Because I know I can lead. Because “who will if not I?” When you are a marginalised minority, you feel the pressure to be the best representative you can be, and to open the door for others. When you are a multiple minority, even more so. Change has to come but isn’t freely given, so someone has to push harder on that door, and it feels like it kinda has to be you. I want to be one of many leaders of that change, but I also feel the pressure to do it. I see how things could be.
I’m proud to be persistently impatient and demanding 

I pull in allies who don’t share my characteristics but get (most of) it and want to work with me (and put in their own work to learn). I find sources of strength. I choose my own role models. I talk about my worries with my wife and listen to her to unlearn and reset. As a result I am kind(er) to myself and more forgiving. I am proud to use my intersectionality and to be strategically, strongly, vulnerable to make it that bit easier for the next person who has one of the same boxes ticked.
I realise I am far from alone, and we chip away at things a little bit at a time. I pull out a sledgehammer as needed. 

I am proud of who I am, and who I am becoming.
I am proud to create spaces that welcome, celebrate and accept people for who they are.
I am proud to do my bit to make things better for the current, and the next, generation. 


Kirsten’s blog is part of a series celebrating this years Black History Month theme of ‘Proud To Be’, visit our Diversity Digest page throughout October to read them all. 

Happy Black History Month

Helena Mattingley, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s reflects on what makes the cut into history curricula and shares her ever growing reading list.

Each October we mark Black History Month to  celebrate  the achievements and contributions of Black people now and throughout history, and noting the deliberate neglect or active removal of Black people from history.

British History as taught in schools is highly edited, not only in terms of historic periods, but who within those periods has the spotlight. History is produced in re-creating – who and what is chosen, how it is presented, and the selective memory and even more selective re-telling.

History is created from the pieces left behind, cherry picked and woven into a narrative by curators which typically matches their world view. It’s taught as being History, rather than curated evidence of the past – by which I mean it’s presented as Truth with a capital T.

My perception of what I was taught as history was like looking through a microscope and being told I could see the whole of UK History. To have a real understanding, we need to recognise the prejudice and bias of the evidence, of the historians, and what makes it into public consciousness is not a true reflection. I want to add more microscopes and more perspectives until I can see a broader representation of the past to continue my self-education.

This is why Dr Liam Liburd’s work to design a King’s Colonial History module is so important. Through inclusive scholarship, a cohort of talented students have uncovered and pulled silenced histories into focus. New voices and perspectives are bringing an important dimension of our past to life, and challenging the simplistic default white narratives.

Self-education is a powerful took, which is why I’ve been building a reading list. What would you add to this?

  • Black and British, David Olusoga
  • Black London, Avril Nanton and Jody Burton
  • Black Tudors, Miranda Kaufmann
  • Staying Power, Peter Fryer
  • Empireland, Sathnan Sanghera

You can use the comments section below to share your own inclusive must reads lists


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