Diversity Digest

Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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Black Pride 2021

As Pride Month draws to a close Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s, reflects on ‘love and rage’ the theme for this weekends UK Black Pride event. 


Picture: KCL LGBT+ Staff Network ‘Proudly King’s’ attending a pride march 


I am currently reading Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez – its been on my list for while and it is a happy coincidence that I am reading it during Pride Month here in the UK. I haven’t finished it yet, but its central character is a black, gay man in his early 20s.  Its set in the early 80s and he is from the Black Country (that’s in the Midlands for those not familiar with English geography). Jessie was raised within a Jehovah’s Witness community. I am finding it both fascinating and also feel quite detached from it. I have had to reflect on this as it is unusual for me. I generally feel absolutely immersed in these kinds of personal narrative novels. I love Zadie Smith, Bernadine Evaristo, Andrea Levy and Meera Syal novels for example – what’s the difference? I am assuming that the stories and characters in those books spoke to me more directly. I felt like I was the characters or knew them. I feel more like a spectator or tourist in Rainbow Milk – maybe that is the writer’s objective? It is something that has caused me to really think deeply as I write to support our King’s College London Pride Month and in particular UK Black Pride.

To honour this particularly difficult year for so many in our communities, UK Black Pride’s 2021 theme is “Love and Rage”.

Why has that theme been chosen?  I feel it is because for so many their identity and their love have to be hidden. That being black or brown in this world – certainly in this country is hard. You then layer other intersections into someone’s identity – different forms of gender expression, loving within the same gender and those challenges multiply – unless we do something to stop that.

UK Black Pride says “We are also raging, disappointed and tired. Our communities continue to be overlooked and undervalued, tokenised and discarded. From constant gaslighting to this country’s steadfast refusal to address and redress structural and institutional racism, we have a lot to be mad about.

Our anger is righteous. Our love is righteous.”

2020 and 2021 has seen many find their voices in a far more determined and collective way. It has opened the eyes of many who have allowed themselves to be sleepy in relation to discrimination and exclusion.

Pride has become, for many, synonymous with a big party, glitter, dancing, music etc. Certainly, when I had the pleasure of going to Mardi Gras in Sydney many years ago, I know I didn’t consider the deeper meaning and messages. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate why my friends felt so happy and free at this event. I, as someone who has only relatively recently understood the breadth of my own sexual orientation and bisexuality have lived my life with the protection of heterosexuality. Living as a heterosexual I never really had to explain my choices of partner or expect any backlash.

This month and every day we all need to challenge our selves to hear and understand other people’s stories which is why I am grateful to Paul Mendez and many others for writing books like Rainbow Milk. We need to examine our own behaviour and consider how we react.  As always Shonda Rhimes (one of my absolute heroes) has recently given me the perfect words (Station 19, Season 4, Episode 10) Travis (has recently discovered his father is ‘in the closet’). He and his father are gradually working through understanding this about themselves and each other.

“Travis: Did you know that for most of my life I thought that it was my fault that you hated me, that I had done something wrong. For you to never come to any of my wrestling matches or meet any of my friends, not coming to my wedding and making mom follow suit. I just I couldn’t figure out why you hated me so much.

Paul: Travis, I could never hate you.

Travis: I know. I mean I know that now. You actually hate yourself. I just wish it didn’t take you so long to figure that out because that night with the soup, I could have used a dad that loved me, who loved himself, but instead, you just walked away.

Paul: I didn’t know what to say.

Travis: You should have said, ‘You’re loved. You’re supported, and the way you feel and how you love is valid. It’s important. You are important. And whoever you love or whatever path you take, I’m gonna be here for you without question or pause or judgment. I’m here for you, and I love you.’”

This short but powerful scene captured the complexity of the society that we are all contributing to that prevents people being able to be themselves and the levels of impact that has for individuals and families and helps explain the ‘Love and Rage’ theme.

I can’t say it better than Shonda Rhimes –

for everyone –

Please know that you are supported and that your love is valid. I work every day to create an environment where you can feel that without question or judgement.

Happy Pride Month everyone.

 


Resources;

  • Visit our EDI pages and explore our LGBT+ work & policies here.
  • You can learn more about and get involved with UK Black Pride here.
  • Find out more about our LGBT+ staff network Proudly King’s here.
  • Get involved with King’s LGBT+ student society here.

King’s reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder – Part 3

In the third installment of our reflections a year on from the murder of George Floyd we share the personal reflections of Rabia Harrison - Director of Administration in The Dickson Poon School of Law.Walso hear from Stephen Bach and Suzanne Marcuzzi from King’s Business School.


Rabia Harrison , Director of Administration in The Dickson Poon School of Law.

The past year has demonstrated an institution wide commitment to bringing the race conversation to the fore.  We have held town hall meetings, student led conversations about race, an openness to hear different perspectives and a real recognition for the disparities that the organisation still has when it comes to representation and employment.  I have taken very seriously my own personal duty to reinforce conversations relating to race and have taken a much greater lead in highlighting specific instances where the relevance of race has either been overlooked or been overtly denigrated.  King’s has proven that it is ready to listen.  It is time to respond. 

A month ago I decided to share my personal story with my faculty.  It was an emotional piece about my lived experience as a British Muslim Pakistani girl growing up in an overtly racist area and my observations and encounters during my career.  I shared the piece because I knew that there were many colleagues in the same position as me who have for such a long time buried the hurt they have experienced and because there are also many colleagues who simply do not know the lived experience of a person of colour.  I was struck by how shocked the latter group of colleagues were upon hearing the reality of the day to day challenges a person like me has experienced.  Certainly, the power and significance of conversations such as these should make a change.  And yet, the experience of sharing has left me exposed with a vulnerability and open wound that is calling for a much greater commitment than simply being heard.  The more we speak about the race issues that exist, the more we surface the painful and intolerable encounters our BME community have suffered.  We are now at a crucial intersection and our next steps will not only define our position in the race debate but will also demonstrate to our community that we have listened, understood and are ready to make the right change.

 

Stephen Bach & Suzanne Marcuzzi, King’s Business School. 

While it has been a year since the death of George Floyd, the impact and immediacy of his killing have not faded. We could feel the legacy of his violent death, and the racially-motivated violent deaths of so many others before and since, permeating many aspects of our lives and the lives of those in the business school community of staff, students and partners over the last twelve months.  

Within the business school we have sought to listen, supporting conversations on race for our staff and students and hosting a panel talk ‘Business is Black’ to celebrate black voices in education and academia, but also to hear about the challenges our colleagues face because of explicit and implicit bias. We are now moving from conversation to action, having introduced a widening participation programme for students from our local boroughs, reviewing our hiring practices and the language in our adverts and on our website, exploring development and mentoring opportunities for our black and minority ethnic colleagues, and participating in the excellent More than Mentoring scheme ourselves.  

There remains much more to be done, and one important step is the recruitment of a Reader in Diversity and Inclusion to help us to draw upon the latest research to shape our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion. Our hope is that the Business School is a place which not only tolerates but celebrates diversity, in all its forms, and provides the appropriate support for staff and students to achieve their goals and to be their authentic selves at King’s.   

The Legacy of the Windrush generation

On the 22 June 1948 the ship Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks bringing over 500 people from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom. 73 years on Sociologist & Civil Servant, Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall (PhD) reflects on the impact and legacy of the Windrush generation on Britain.


Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of the SS Windrush arriving at Tilbury Docks.

When the England football manager, Gareth Southgate, and his team walked out on the pitch for their opening match of the current UEFA Euro 2020 tournament, they were already part of an ongoing controversy.  The manager had announced that his players would continue to “take the knee”.  This is the gesture that many sportsmen and sportswomen have been participating in, which is kneeling for a few seconds before the commencement of their game(s), in support of racial equality.  Started by Dr Martin Luther King and his colleagues during the civil right movement in the US and revived by Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, in 2016, it has now been fused with the BLM movement, since the murder of George Floyd.

As this event unfolded, I was reminded of the birth of the UK Black power movement of the 1960s when people such as Frank Critchlow, Darcus Howe, Olive Morris, Farrukh Dhondy and many others were forced to stand up to multiple injustices that they faced at the time (whether from the police or their neighbours), particularly when they were wrongfully charged with inciting the Mangrove “riots” and rightly acquitted by the courts.  Some of those people were among the group of immigrants who set sail on the SS Windrush in 1948, leaving their homes, their families and their loved ones, thinking that their journey would take them to the Motherland for a better life but they were not prepared for the challenges of injustice and inequality that awaited them.

Their activism of the 1960s and 1970s is widely seen as a template by their descendants, utilising some of those strategies to deal with similar issues that are still being faced some 60 years later.

As the awful events of the summer of 2020 unfolded, once again Black people took to the streets.  Like the Mangrove protestors, the descendants of those “Windrushers” – third, and in some instances, fourth generation – demonstrated that they possess the tenacity and determination to deal with new battles.  For example, the “Windrushers” dealt with hostility, direct discrimination and exclusion in all spheres of life, now we have to deal with subtle, indirect discrimination and micro-aggression, in the main.

Has nothing changed, then, I hear you ask, dear reader?  Of course, there have been significant changes. We have more anti-discrimination legislation than any country in Europe, we have Black history month, we have more Black people on TV, more MPs from diverse backgrounds in prominent roles in government, we have an Asian Mayor of London and a Windrush descendant as Mayor of Bristol.   The Windrush descendants are living a life that very few of those Caribbean passengers, who disembarked from the SS Windrush at Tilbury Docks on that June day in 1948 were able to.  But they laid the foundation for Black Britons today – from their service during WWII, the Bristol bus boycotts, signs reading “no blacks, no dogs, no Irish”, protests and challenging unfairness through the courts. Nonetheless, there are still challenges to be met, three generations on.  When England’s Black footballers walked out on the pitch for their first game in the Euro 2020 tournament, supported by their team-mates and manager, they were facing one such challenge, asking that racial justice be further advanced.  They were booed, booed by their own supporters in the friendlies leading up to the start of the tournament but the boos grew less at this game.  So what did the team do?  They won the match 1-0, the only goal scored by a Windrush descendant.

So as the Windrush commemoration starts we ask the question, what is their legacy?  I say, they have bequeathed their descendants the right to be Black Britons and not perpetually be regarded as “immigrants” and perseverance (among other things), even when the tasks seem insurmountable and the goal distant.  We may get weary, and some days it may feel like we are on our own, but we keep going and the goal of racial justice is within reach. That is the legacy of the “Windrushers”.

Carers Week 2021 – Slowly losing mum to dementia

Carers Week 2021 took place on 7-13 June. During the week our parents & carers network NEST hosted two lunch and learn workshops led by Lena Chauhan from Rise IQ on understanding dementia and how you can support loved ones through this. Links to the recordings can be found at the bottom of this article, along with resources provided by Lena.

To continue the conversation about supporting those with dementia, Seema Chauhan shares her story.


I’d like to extend a warm ‘Hi-Hello to all KCL colleagues. I hope you and  your family are keeping well in these unprecedented times.

My name is Seema and I work in Procurement Strategy & Services, within the Science & Research division. I am a carer for my mother-in-law and would like share my experiences to extend any knowledge, even if I can provide a small insight or any information to anyone beginning a similar journey past or present. It can be a rewarding and emotionally challenging roller coaster for sure!

It’s finally the weekend! Who doesn’t love a Sunday lie in!

I stretch, open my eyes, press snooze once again and say to my husband “it’s not even 7 o’clock, just a while longer, then I’ll get up”.

No sooner had I uttered those words, there is heavy thumping on the door.

“Seema, Seema where is it! Tell your wife to give me back my rings! I saw you take it and throw it out of the window! It was my mother’s ring..give it back, I saw you, you senseless girl, give it back!”

Hearing the increasing anger in her voice and now knowing from experience what may be to come, I throw the covers over my head, nudge my husband and declare “I think I’m going to have a duvet day!”

Mum prior to dementia

An energetic, very social and hospitable person (she still is, bless her! if you think you’re visiting and leaving without a full belly and a cup of lovely Indian masala chai, you are grossly mistaken!) She loved arts, netball, was an amazing seamstress, highly educated and is still a natural beauty at 78.

She is vegetarian but could make non-veg dishes better than any other restaurant for sure! Now I understand why hubby is armed with a spoon before I’ve even finished making dinner. He is the taste tester and has a better palate than me for sure.

Sadly, by mum’s early thirties, she had lost two children and also her husband and was left to bring up three young children single handed.

Dementia diagnosis and progression

Mum had driven to visit family and got lost on her way home. She stopped at a garage and asked for help. This worry stayed in her mind and she booked an appointment at the GP’s. After referrals and  assessments at the memory clinic, she was given a formal diagnosis of Alzeihmers disease and Vascular dementia.

For her own and other road users safety, we sold the car. Out of sight out of mind, but not out of memory of course. She was deeply hurt as it was a large element of her independence.  It marked the start of a constantly evolving journey for us all.

Since then there have been many changes over the years. She is very repetitive, no longer cooks, is always recollecting past memories and safety is a now our new concern. Our beautiful mum is slowly disappearing in front of our eyes.

COVID-19

Working from home proved to be good company for mum, reducing our 10 times a day calls to being on ‘call’ and being better able to respond in person. In reality, despite my being with her more she has deteriorated a substantial amount.

Delusions are now part of life and I have transitioned from being her third daughter to being the ‘thief’. Bangles, rings, earrings, clothing. She constantly hides things and can spend hours wandering and searching. As a result, she can become quickly angry and frustrated demanding that we explain what she has done wrong for God to have given her dementia. Sometimes we can distract and divert her focus. Hold and stroke her hand and give reassurance with a smile.  Other times its best to leave her to express her anger and move away for a while.

Then there are happier days we treasure when she is laughing, talking to the flowers in the garden as she’s watering and dancing around to music. Games are really good to stimulant to occupy and help mum feel empowered. We have a box filled with wooden puzzles, colouring books, waterpaints, bright personalised match cards, Jenga, and a brilliant conversation game named call-to-mind. She even has her own I-Pad, though she sweetly she calls it her ‘facetime book’.

Working full time, caring and being at home has been different for sure. There are times when my husband and I are in a meeting and mum will walk in and start talking. One of us will say “mum, I’m in a meeting, I’ll come in a minute”. Two minutes later she has re-emerged, is now standing behind me in my zoom meeting. I only realise when colleagues in the meeting look over to the edge of my screen and then she continues talking.

I have written names of contents in English and Gujarati on all containers, from the kitchen to her bedroom cupboards. Perhaps trying different colours may be another consideration, or possibly photos of contents as she progresses?

There is so much to consider now and in the future. Attendance Allowance, Lasting Power of Attorney, Blue badge, Admiral nurses and Age UK to name a few. As a caregiver, it has been emotionally challenging, and I manage my own well being by accessing carer support groups and listening to talks on YouTube. Sometimes I’d like to just leave the house on a whim and visit friends/ family. It’s not always possible to and we need to forward plan to make sure she is not left alone.

It’s important to always remember the person with dementia just has a condition, caused by the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around their brain cells. We can only manoeuvre around her triggers and behaviour changes, recognising that  memory processing is much slower and sadly sometimes just not there.

There are highs and lows, laughter and tears for all persons involved in the journey. It is a constant learning curve and it’s about stepping into her reality rather than being in your own. The ‘real’ mum that I remember first meeting is still there, now she is an adjusted version of her previous self because of this cruel condition.


The Bookcase Analogy 

A useful insight to to the dementia brain (similar to the album analogy)

Imagine your brain is a bookcase. your earliest memories are at the bottom, while your most recent memories are at the top. Your bookcase contains all of the facts you know, the memories you have and skills you’ve acquired throughout your life.

Now imagine dementia is like a storm that hits the bookshelf and rocks it back and forth.

When the bookcase rocks, the top moves more than the bottom, so the newest memories call off first, while childhood memories which are on the bottom of the bookcase are most likely to stay intact.

when the storm ends, the person may try to put the books on the shelves but the books on the top shelves are particularly hard to reach and some of those memories may never be replaced.

additionally, the memories of things that have happened are rocked off the bookshelf very readily. However, memories of the way these events made the person feel are not so easily moved. this is why feelings and sensations (taste, smell, sound/music) are an important way of bringing back memories for a person living with dementia.

 


Resources & Recordings;

King’s reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder – Part 2

In the second installment of our series of curated reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder, we share the reflections of Ellen Clark-King, The Dean of King’s College London.


Reflection on Genesis 21:8-13

In March 2020 I was in Montgomery Alabama. I was there as part of an annual pilgrimage that addresses the legacy of slavery and enduring racial inequality in the US and beyond. It was a mixed group – racially, religiously, some very middle class, some unhoused. We visited museums, talked about our experiences, sang together and also wept together.

The place we visited that hammered at my heart most was Bryan Stevenson’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This is a memorial to every person killed by lynching in the United States – over 4000 people, children as well as adults. It is both a beautiful and a gut-wrenching place, lives remembered and honoured with a beauty that condemns the ugliness of their deaths. And what hit me hardest was reading some of the names – the ones whose surname was the same as mine at birth – Clark. Not because I could claim them as my kin but because these were people who had been owned by those who shared my name. My personal Clark ancestors were white working and servant class, not slave owners, but that does not absolve me from the guilt of being part of a system that said that White lives matter and that Black lives don’t.

Sarah said to Abraham: ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ Here we are confronted with the reality of slavery at the heart of our sacred scripture. Here Sarah, herself part of a people who were liberated from slavery, stands on the other side. Here she speaks for slave owners across the centuries who have failed to see that other mother’s children are as valuable as their own. Here Sarah is part of my story – part of the story of privilege that belongs to women as well as men because of their race and economic status.

But I don’t want to focus on Sarah. I want to focus on the other woman in the story – Hagar the Egyptian, the one who was cast out into the wilderness, the one who lifts up her voice and weeps in despair. Hagar was the slave woman purchased by Abraham and Sarah to bear children for Abraham when Sarah was believed to be barren. She was, in other words, trafficked and sold as a sex slave. Her very name shouts out her ‘otherness’ and lack of value – Hagar in Biblical Hebrew means ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’. This is a name given to her by those who own her not by the mother who bore her. The wonderful Biblical scholar Wilda Gafney in her book Womanist Midrash tells us that this is not the only tradition of Hagar’s name. She figures prominently in the Islamic tradition and there her name is given as Hajar. This name has beautiful potential meanings from ‘Splendid’ to ‘Nourishing’. Here is a name that speaks of the worth that belongs to each human creature. Here is a name that says this woman is her own person, a beloved daughter of God, not a possession. This is what I will call her from now on.

I want to take us back a few chapters in Genesis to the place where we first encounter Hajar. At this point Sarah is angry with Hajar because she feels insulted by her attitude – she expects her slave to treat her with respect – and so she beats her viciously causing Hajar to flee to the wilderness. Here Hajar is again at the point of despair and here again God comes to her. God tells her that she and her son are in his care, that she will be the mother of a great nation – the first divine annunciation in the entire Bible. And even more extraordinarily than that – Hajar is the first human being allowed to name God. The first human being in the whole of our scripture who names God is a slave woman – the most powerless of human beings in every hierarchy of the time. And the name that Hajar gives to God is El Ro’i, God of seeing, interpreted by Gafney as meaning ‘Have I seen the one who sees me and lived to tell of it?’. God sees Hajar. God sees her as a human being of meaning and significance, as one who has the right to name the divine as it appears to her, as one strong enough to encounter the living God and to continue living. She is the one who is promised life not only for herself but for her children and her children’s children. And in the second encounter we heard today Hajar’s identity is affirmed as a beloved champion of God’s purposes: no one’s property, no one’s slave. The UK and the US ended slavery generations ago. They officially recognised that no human being should be another person’s property. But white society never took the next step. The step of seeing the children of freed slaves as equal to the children of those who owned them. The step of hearing hard truths and seeking reconciliation through justice. The step of making Black Lives Matter a reality rather than an essential rallying call. The step of racial justice.

And, especially relevant in theology and the academy more generally, the step of listening to the names that Black voices are giving to reality and to God. If all you read in theology or fiction or news articles are the writings of white men then you are not learning the full truth of our world or of God. If you are not hearing womanist voices naming God then you are not hearing a crucial part of how God names Godself. We need to know the God Hajar named – El Ro’i – the one who sees the reality of injustice and oppression; the one who reveals divine reality most clearly to those on the underside of power. We need to know Hajar’s God and we need to work with Hajar’s God to dismantle racial injustice and undo the long, painful legacy of slavery. And we need to do it now.

Reference: Wilda C. Gafney, Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.

King’s reflections a year on from George Floyd’s murder

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 diversity@kcl.ac.uk

 

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. 

Interfaith Week Round Up

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.

Recordings of all events are available here

COVID Heroes – Community Talk

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

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!

  1. Muslim hajj and umrah both end in Mecca, at Kaaba. How many times should a person circle Kaaba, to complete the pilgrimage?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

What next?

 With Interfaith Week now finished, what should we make of it? Here is a list of ideas voiced during the week:

  1. King’s should be more encouraged and inclined to engage in tough conversations to ensure that all members of the community are truly welcome.
  2. Promote student initiatives launched outside of university, such as the Funnel Network. A platform for all student-driven charities and projects.
  3. Ensure information is easily accessible, especially for those who have just joined us here at King’s.
  4. 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.

(Answers: 7; Hagia Sophia; Dalai Lama; Shavuot)

Anti-racism Reflections – what does our report card look like?

In this blog, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, reflects on the progress we’ve made in making King’s an actively anti-racist university, a year on from the murder of George Floyd. 


This last week I have been able to return to fitness classes at the gym (4 in one week to get my sluggish body moving again – go me!).  Most of my classes have been taught by Fiona – who has been motivating us by saying ‘success is finishing the class wanting to come back.’

This has really struck me as I reflect as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) practitioner on the anniversary of George Floyd’s tragic, very public and utterly preventable murder.

It is a cliché to say it has been two years like no other. A global pandemic that has seen us all in the UK, as far as possible, confined to our homes. A period where collective and social responsibility has meant that social contact has been fraught with danger. And then, if the pandemic was not already intense enough, we add to that the recognition by many that we have a similar level of dangerous toxicity in the form of racism.

2020 and 2021 has been a time when the world seemed to be collectively galvanised to address racism in a way that I have never seen before. I am still curious as to why the death of George Floyd, whilst horrific, was so catalytic.

What was distinctive about this event that motivated people so differently?

The systemic racism that enables everyday violence and exclusion of people of colour – particularly Black people – was not news to those of us that make up the Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority community or, in fact, the global majority!

It is something that those of us who experience racism have been highlighting forever and an issue that many professionals and activists have been seeking to address for a long time. Whatever it was – something about the confluence of events and experiences in 2020 and 2021 – it led many more people in the world to realise and accept that as a global community we were moving too slowly to combat the toxic, pervasive, all-consuming virus that is racism.

That eruption of world feeling was felt very strongly here at King’s. On June 9th 2020 , we held a powerful leadership summit where we made a commitment to being an anti-racist university. This, alongside the growing access to educational resources and increased attention, created a window of opportunity for a change in pace in achieving anti-racism outcomes. At least, that is how it has felt to me.

Now, in my 4th year at King’s as Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, I experience almost daily a mixture of conflicting feelings that fluctuate between pride and shame, pragmatism and ambition, fear and frustration. I am proud that we, collectively at King’s, are taking our equality, diversity and inclusion ambitions and particularly, our commitment to being anti-racist, seriously. Yet, I am frustrated with the pace of change. I am vexed that the good work we do often rests in siloes and isn’t something enough people are aware of or involved in.

I know that there is a widespread lack of trust, general suspicion and dissatisfaction amongst many, particularly those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. People tell me that they don’t believe there is a real commitment to King’s being anti-racist. They tell me that progress is too slow or non-existent. This is very understandable but also upsetting and demoralising.

I find myself questioning and second guessing myself? Have I sold out? Am I institutionalised? Am I too lenient on those around me in senior leadership? Am I out of touch? Do I even know what I am talking about? Am I letting people down, particularly people of colour? I know it’s not about me and that no one person can make the difference needed by themselves, but as the lead professional in this space, I feel the weight of responsibility and take our lack of progress and the resulting community feeling very strongly.

What I have witnessed here at King’s tells me that we are an organisation of enormous heart and ambition, but that our complexity and desire to be collaborative also makes us slow and ponderous. That can be perceived as resistance.

I have worked with many organisations to get leadership to pay attention and act, being forced frustratingly frequently to prove the point that race, and other inequality exists; laboriously and repetitively identifying the evidence of inequality and its impact. I know many individuals, practitioners and networks still face this daily, and maybe it is what many at King’s are experiencing.

As we continue this battle against racism, it is more important than ever that we all proactively support and prioritise our personal wellbeing, especially in this week that might be particularly traumatising for the Black community. You can find some links to wellbeing support here, these resources having been researched for Black people and for non-Black allies.

However, for me it is still – disturbingly – refreshing and frankly surprising when those in power at King’s don’t require repeated proof. Where instead they are willing to examine and tackle the roots of all inequality, and they take on the work themselves – something which in 2020/1 seems to have shifted us significantly forward. For example, every area of professional services has taken forward activity to tackle racism, and every faculty has an EDI committee and set of priorities. You can find out more about the breadth of our anti-racism work here.

So, as an experienced practitioner, I judge there to be something qualitatively different here at King’s to what I have experienced before. But, I also realise how intangible and ephemeral that is; that it may be invisible and to some extent makes no difference to those suffering on a daily basis. I also recognise that many people have become so frustrated and fed up that they refuse to make any more allowances for our slow progress.

This is where Fiona’s ‘success is finishing the class wanting to come back’ really strikes me. In each conversation we have and activity we run around race equality and developing anti- racism, I feel the need to strike a balance between identifying the issues and empowering those around me to take action, by building their confidence, capability and commitment. This is a fine judgement to make, though.  How hard do I push? How strong do I make my language? I want them to ‘want to come back’. I want them to grow and engage – I don’t want them to withdraw. When I first started here at King’s, one of our most senior leaders told me I had to judge all my actions carefully so that I wasn’t rejected by the ‘immune system’ of the organisation. I found this both useful and telling – was this advice given to white/male people starting too, I wondered? The reality though is this is the line I walk as a practitioner – as a bi woman of colour, each and every minute.

The anniversary of George Floyd’s death gives me and us a good point to reflect and consider: have we made all the progress it was possible to make this year in being anti-racist, in our ambition to be intersectional by default? I doubt it, but what has stopped us? What are we doing that is working and what we should magnify? What can we do better and faster in this coming year?

I am keen for all members of the King’s community to engage with those questions and send us in your reflections and ideas. So, please do take some time to reflect – perhaps the inordinately long time of 9 minutes and 29 second that Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck – and let us have your thoughts and views. You can share any thoughts and reflections you have with us via email, at diversity@kcl.ac.uk.

 

 

Anti-racism at King’s

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:

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:

All members of our community can get involved in the efforts we are sharing here to ensure that King’s is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

The Man in the Mirror

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:

Find out more about ways to share on The London Postdocs website and our social media channels. The closing date for submissions is Monday 24th May.

What’s next?

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.

 

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