Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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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.

It Starts With You – Mutual Mentoring and Data

EDI Consultant and Mutual Mentoring lead, Nicole Robinson, explains the link between data and King’s Mentoring Schemes, and how a better understanding of our our university can benefit all staff. 


Have you ever wondered what King’s does with your personal data? 

It is common to see information about data protection and storage, but you may wonder why we need this information from you in the first place. You may be reluctant to provide this information to your organisation. This may be especially true when we are asking you to provide personal details, such as your sexual orientation or trans history.  

One of the positive outcomes of providing your data however, no matter who you are, is that it helps us to develop evidence-based, targeted equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) interventions including our Mutual Mentoring and More than Mentoring schemes.  

In December 2020 King’s launched the first pilot wave of our Mutual Mentoring scheme. Mutual Mentoring aims to increase confidence across King’s in championing all areas of EDI by matching a senior leader with a volunteer who has knowledge or experience of a prioritised area of EDI. The senior leader, in turn, can offer guidance on leadership, career progression and development. The scheme is currently in the pilot stage, and there are hopes to scale it up in future. 

In the first wave of the pilot, EDI Project Officer Lauren Blackwood was matched with VP Education, Professor Nicola Phillips for six months. In reflecting on the partnership, Lauren said; 

‘We both felt safe and comfortable to talk quite frankly. I was very surprised about how authentic I felt I could be on a frequent basis. It was great to be signposted to academic materials related to my interests, and to understand why specific approaches were taken and the constraints that exist at different levels. I feel proud of my growth over the last two years, and I have gained so much from both the Mutual and More than Mentoring schemes. 

The More than Mentoring scheme is separate from the Mutual Mentoring scheme. For the last four years, the scheme has matched mentors and mentees with shared lived experience to foster deeper understanding and connection between members of the King’s community. Staff who have participated in the scheme have reported feeling more connected and supported, and many staff return to participate year-on-year, often moving from mentee to mentor. The scheme has grown each year, partly because of testimonies and encouragement from other staff. Staff like Nirmal Sampathkumar, a Post-Doctoral Researcher from IoPPN, who took part in the scheme this year. Nirmal shared his experience working with Lucy to colleagues as part of a collaborative webinar, and encouraged others to join the scheme; 

https://web.microsoftstream.com/video/af2c40dc-7d0e-4460-96af-6c7beac80c15 

We’re looking forward to opening the scheme again in the new academic year.  

To be able to run positive action initiatives, King’s must be able to evidence why they are needed, which is why King’s needs to be informed about your personal data. King’s mentoring schemes are a direct result of staff updating and providing their equal opportunities and diversity monitoring data. When these interventions are recognised by external accreditations such as the Race and Gender Equality charter marks, they also improve our ability to access funding for even more initiatives: it flows back into research, back into our staff experience, and to supporting our students.  

diagram showing the progression of how data is collected and used

How is your data collected and what is it used for?

And it starts with you.  

To submit your Equal Opportunity data today:  

  • Log into HR digital services 
  • Access My Profile (click your photo in the top left or right-hand corner of the screen)  
  • Click Equal Opportunities in the drop-down menu on the left and update the details in My Profile.  

All your personal data is anonymised will never be identifiable. Visit Equal Opportunity Data webpages to see how your data is used and protected.  

 

It’s time to give ourselves a break: How to overcome parental guilt during the COVID pandemic

Emma Warnock-Parkes, Clinical Psychologist and exhausted mum of 2, shares 5 strategies for overcoming parental guilt.


Emma and her children smiling and laughing

I’m sitting in a lunchtime zoom meeting of fellow parents working at my university. The topic of discussion is how the pandemic has impacted on us. I’ve never met any of these people before but looking around I know we have one thing in common: we are all knackered. Many of us sit with a child on our lap or one repeatedly appearing in the background requesting more snacks. We simultaneously shovel down some lunch and keep an eye on our emails. As I half listen (a skill many of us have acquired thanks to COVID), I’m struck by the fact that in addition to all being exhausted and desperately needing a haircut, we are plagued with a common problem: guilt.

‘I’m not spending enough time with my kids’; ‘I feel bad they are stuck with me and cannot see their friends’; ‘He should have had a better birthday’; ‘I’ve given them too much chocolate’; ‘they are on screens far too much’, ‘I’ve shouted’, ‘I’ve sworn’, ‘I’m irritable with them’, ‘the house is constantly a mess’, ‘I’m not helping them enough with their school work’; ‘they are falling behind’. The list goes on.

I listen to other mums fighting back their tears as they beat themselves up over what has undoubtedly been the most difficult year of our lives. I’m suddenly overwhelmed with sadness and deep compassion for these amazing women, and for myself. This last year parents have faced unprecedent challenges. We have managed the anxiety and uncertainty of a global pandemic, alongside performing an impossible juggling act that no generation of parents has faced before. We have done all this while adapting to remote working, without our usual social supports, while being stuck inside our homes in an unrecognisable world. Many of us have had to worry about job or financial security, had friends and family who are struggling, coped with illness and loss. So why are we all being so hard on ourselves?

Given what a common experience it is, there is surprisingly little research on parental guilt.
Some psychologists argue that women feel more guilt than men, and that maternal guilt has an evolutionary basis motivating us to provide care (Rotkirch & Janhunen, 2009). One would hope this would change as parental roles become more shared. That said, I just asked my husband what he has felt most guilty about during the pandemic: he has eaten too much ice cream and not learnt enough Italian apparently. As this is a sample of one, and I happen to know Dads who have struggled with COVID parenting guilt, I’ll say no more.

As I listened to other parents talking, it struck me that as a psychologist and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) therapist I know quite a bit about helping people overcome guilt. Yet, like many good psychologists, I’m terrible at taking my own advice. I vowed that later that day I would get out the chocolate biscuits, put on yet another episode of Paw Patrol and give my pangs of guilt a self-therapy session. Here is what I found:

5 CBT tips you may find helpful for addressing COVID parenting guilt:

1) Spot your guilty thoughts.

Guilty feelings are driven by guilty thoughts, so spotting what you are feeling guilty about is the first step to overcoming it. Guilt arises from the perception that we have done something wrong or harmful to another: “should” thoughts. “I should be spending more time home schooling my children”, “I shouldn’t have got so angry” etc. These thoughts leads to feelings of guilt, and at times anxiety or low mood. This can understandably impact on what we do. We might dwell on our guilty thoughts or withdraw from others. This can become a vicious cycle, leading to more negative thinking and guilt:cycle, negative thoughts lead to feeling guilty low, anxious. cycling to behaviors and then back to negative thoughts

If you feel parental guilt about many things since COVID began, try to spot the thoughts that
makes you feel most guilty. For me this is not spending enough time with my kids.

2) Are you as responsible as you feel?

Feeling guilty does not mean that we are guilty, it may mean that we are taking on too much responsibility. A helpful CBT technique here is drawing out a responsibility pie chart. It can help you to see that there might be other factors that have some responsibility. This is done in 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Start by writing down how responsible you feel. For me, as Netflix helpfully asks whether my children are still watching Paw Patrol, I write, ‘I feel 100% responsible for not spending enough time with my kids during the pandemic’.

Step 2: Write a list of all the other factors that can take some responsibility. Here I write down: the COVID virus; the government for poor outbreak management leading to childcare closure; people who did not follow guidelines early on; my work; my husband; myself.

Step 3: Allocate percentages of the pie to each thing on your list (make it add up to 100%). Give a percentage to all the other things first, ending with yourself. Then draw out the pie chart. This is what I ended up with:

My Responsibility Pie Chart: 

pie chart of my responsibilities: me 5 percent, my husband 5 percent, governtment 30 percent, covid-19 40 percent, people not following guidance 10 percent, my work 10 percent.

Drawing it out is a powerful reminder that despite feeling 100% responsible, we really cannot blame ourselves for a global pandemic and the impact it has had on our lives.

3) Focus on what you have done, not what you haven’t.

The pie chart helped, but I still feel some guilt. Guilt is often maintained by discounting what we have done, and instead focusing on what we have not. I spend a few moments writing down the things I have done for my children during the pandemic. I find this hard, so ask my husband to help. I also look back through the photos on my phone for the past year. This surprises me. I half expect to see nothing but photos of my children screaming through my zoom meetings as I throw snacks in their general direction. What I see instead is smiling faces in the garden, happy walks in the park, a couple of outdoor meet-ups with friends and family last summer, even a few shots of them eating fruit, instead of chocolate. All of these memories have been totally blocked by my feelings of guilt.

What strikes me is I how much I have done this last year to get us through. If I had time to frame or make a collage of these photos I would. I clearly don’t (cue more guilty thoughts). Instead, as a reminder of what I have done, I save one of us all smiling as my phone screensaver. It is an exercise I thoroughly recommend you try.

you have done much more than you think. Give yourself some credit.

4) This year has been hard enough, so do what’s helpful.

Self-criticism and guilt go hand in hand and may have become a bit of a habit. It can help to explore what impact this is having on you and your family. Ask yourself:

a)Is being hard on myself helping us at all? For me, the answer is no.

b)Are there any disadvantages? For me, it makes me feel rubbish and much more in my own head, which in turn makes it harder to have fun with the kids.

If beating ourselves up is not helping us, or our children, it is probably a good idea to try to notice when dwelling on it, and to let it go. For me this includes dropping my standards. The kids won’t be getting any home-made hummus this year, and that’s ok (to be honest they only did once before COVID and, on account of it tasting like Polyfilla, nobody ate it anyway). I realise comparing myself unfairly on social media has not been helping. An Instagram photo only shows a one second window into the lives of others. You may see little Jessica eating a rainbow food bowl or practicing her phonics, but what you don’t see is the tantrum and screen time that come after. I decide to unfollow all the mummy food accounts on Instagram that tend to make me feel bad about myself. Quite frankly, if any of us manage to throw the occasional bit of broccoli in with the fish fingers this year, we are winning.

“Try not to compare yourself to other parents on social media.”

5) Be kind to yourself – What would you tell any other parent?

Thinking of the compassion I felt upon hearing my colleagues’ struggles, I remember how key it is to tune into kindness for yourself when struggling with guilt.What would we say to any other parent who has gone through/is still going through what we have? I spend a moment thinking of a close friend of mine who has had a hard year juggling work and kids. I first imagine what I would say to her. When I tune into my feelings of compassion, I then start writing a note to myself:

‘Dear Emma, give yourself a break! You have done the best you possibly could in the hardest year of your life. You’ve juggled full-time work and childcare for two children during a global pandemic. All while getting used to working at home, away from family and friends, with little sleep and no break. You deserve a medal rather than being so hard on yourself. Extra TV and snacks is essential COVID survival. You are doing a great job, even if you don’t feel like it. Be kind to yourself.’

Writing a compassionate message to yourself and reading it back may feel like a strange thing to do, but I wholeheartedly recommend trying it. Once you have, try to plan in a regular small act of self-kindness. I make a plan to take a proper lunch break away from the screen each day that week and read a little of my book (and when I managed it, it felt amazing). Our children can only benefit from treating ourselves a little better.

Feeling a little lighter, I close the laptop and turn off Paw Patrol. Once the whinging about the TV going off has stopped and I have mediated another row over Lego, my eldest son digs his elbow into my tummy, “squidgy mummy” he reminds me. He spots the exasperated look on my face and corrects himself: “you are the best mummy” he says.

For once I decide to let myself believe him. And you know what? The rest of the afternoon felt a little better for it.


If you are struggling with excessive feelings of low mood or anxiety, do reach out for help. Many employers, including my own university, offer psychological support through employee assistance programmes. There are helpful resources, including information on accessing talking therapies, on the Every Mind Matters NHS page.

NEST is our dedicated staff network for supporting parents and carers at King’s. they provide support to staff with parental and/or caring responsibilities through a range of events, an online community, and by offering guidance and representation at a strategic and policy level. You can find our more about NEST here.

The case for diversity quotas in recruitment

In this blog Timothy Ijoyemi, Research Fellow and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advocate at Durham University, explores the  case for diversity quotas in recruitment. 


Of the numerous ways to address BAME under representation in higher education and many other sectors, diversity quotas are among the most controversial. To suggest that a portion of roles within an organisation should be reserved for applicants from underrepresented groups is to invite accusations of unfairness, discrimination, and naivety. After all, shouldn’t a meritocratic society let people rise and fall on their merits? Isn’t it naïve to think that hiring on any criteria other than aptitude and experience won’t negatively impact productivity? This post outlines some of the arguments in support of quotas, as well as research findings that should give opponents pause for thought. 

The myth of meritocracy 

One powerful argument against the charge that quotas undermine meritocracy is that there’s no meritocracy to undermine in the first place. Power and privilege define the metrics of merit – however reasonable they might seem – meanwhile structural and implicit biases make it harder for members of underprivileged groups to convince recruiters that they satisfy these criteria. Ironically, by helping to level an uneven playing field, quotas could actually bring us closer to the very meritocratic ideal so often invoked to contest them. 

Softer methods of increasing diversity don’t always work 

Of all the levers available to recruiters wanting to increase organisational diversity, quotas are one of the most powerful. When implemented as temporary measures, they can kick-start progress that might otherwise take decades to achieve, or never materialise at all. There is ample evidence from corporate American, for instance, that ‘soft’ approaches to increasing diversity – including diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings, and grievance systems – don’t reliably translate to more diverse work forces or company boards. By comparison, stronger “affirmative action” initiatives in U.S. college admissions have had considerable success in increasing admissions of students from underrepresented groups, with one study finding that students of colour were 23% less likely to be admitted to elite institutions in states where legal challenges had succeeded in banning these initiatives.  

While quotas don’t necessitate affirmative action – or positive action as termed in the UK’s  Equality Act 2010 – they would strongly incentivise recruiters to find and attract talent from underrepresented groups. They would also give a solid rationale for implementing positive action, such as preferentially hiring a candidate from an under-represented group over a non-minority candidate where the two are equally qualified. 

Existing BAME talent can meet organisational demands 

On its face, the concern that quotas would require lowering recruitment standards smacks of prejudice, seeming to rest on the assumption that members of underrepresented groups are less likely to possess abilities that make members of privileged groups generally more suitable for (particularly higher level) organisational roles. A more charitable take is that those expressing this concern know that structural and overt discrimination hinders attainment for many underrepresented groups, seeing differences in hiring rates as a regrettable, but inevitable, outcome. Aside from passing the buck for increasing workplace diversity to institutions dominant earlier in the pipeline (e.g., schools), this attitude reflects a poor estimation of BAME talent. Educational attainment at GCSE is now higher among many BAME groups than white British pupils, while the percentage of 18 year olds from every BAME group entering higher education has risen dramatically over time. Despite this, examples of under representation in the workplace abound. To take just one example, while over seven percent of first year postgraduate entrants in 2017/18 were black, only 0.6% of university professors belong to this group. Diversity quotas would help to close the gap between BAME educational attainment and success in securing commensurate workplace roles.  

Initial concerns dissipate after quotas are introduced 

Some argue that diversity quotas are simply too divisive to be used. While it’s true that quotas are generally viewed unfavourably by members of privileged groups in the UK, there’s good reason to believe that this is at least partly rooted in suspicion of the unfamiliar. Indeed, research conducted in the U.S. and Europe has found that attitudes of board members towards gender diversity quotas are more favourable in countries with quotas than without. And this doesn’t simply reflect pre-existing differences in opinion. In Norway, even company directors who opposed gender diversity quotas before they were introduced eventually came to view them positively. Far from seeing their fears realised, these directors said that increased female representation on boards had led to better governance and decision making. Considering the numerous benefits that accrue to organisations with more ethnically diverse employees, it seems likely that broader diversity quotas would also be viewed more favourably once their positive effects were felt. Sometimes bold leadership is needed to implement good but unpopular solutions. 

Diversity quotas are not a panacea for the barriers to employment that underrepresented groups face, nor are they without controversy. Nevertheless, delivered in a targeted, time-limited way, they could be the shock to the system needed to break through the diversity ceilings that more tepid approaches have failed to breach. 

Love and Rage – but right now, mostly rage

Lauren Blackwood, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Project Officer at KCL reflects on this years UK Black Pride theme of ‘love and rage’. 


Content Warnings: black death, trans death, ableism, racism, and queerphobia.  

It is somewhat bittersweet that I have a platform to write about my rage. It is not often that black people get to do this and be heard, comforted, or accepted by our audience (Ashley 2014; American Psychological Association 2020). Even whilst writing this, I must perform a level of palatability on this platform – juggling respectability politics, tone policing, colonial ideals of professionalism, providing citations for my literal lived experiences so that I’m seen as credible, and my own authenticity – it’s peak. It’s also peak that we – my community, my ancestors, and I – even have to feel this rage and to have carried it over generations for over 400 years. We do not need anyone to validate our outrage, and we don’t need anyone to justify it. I would much rather just exist in a world where we’re loved, and feel love, and I’d get to just write about love. But honestly, that remains an out of reach utopia, even in big-big 2021.  

This year and a half has been a perfect opportunity for non-black people to hear black people, see black life, suffering, and rage. In addition to this, we’ve seen the love that black people continue to extend to one another for the sake of love, survival, and community. To be clear, it is not that these opportunities were not available to non-black people before; it just became a lot harder to avoid engaging with these walks of life. To make it even more shit, what they have witnessed is only a tiny snippet of our lived experiences. Even this opportunity given to non-black people was at the expense of the ongoing detriment of black peoples, and a result of our global suffering and consequent rage.  

We’ve had to watch non-black, and non-queer, people find out for the first time that black people disproportionately account for 14% of UK missing persons – but makeup only 3% of the population (White 2021), “Black and migrant trans women of colour [being] more vulnerable and frequently targeted” (Trans Respect 2020) and “People of colour mak[ing] up 79% of the 28 trans people murdered in the USA” (Trans Respect 2020) in 2020, that the school to prison pipeline exists and has historically targeted black children and youth in Britain (Graham 2016), that there’s a lack of public health services tailored to meet black people’s needs (Mind 2019; La Roche et al 2015). None of this is new news to those that it effects, but it’s so incredibly enraging that change so heavily relies on white people, and cishet people, catching up with what we already know and have been protesting about for generations. And just as a note, we’re hardly even close to having proportionate data on black queer lives to be centrally collected and easily accessible in the UK.  

But in the face-off all of this historical and contemporary violence, failure, and exclusion from our institutions, queer black people still manage to love and support one another; Lady Phil has given queer black people, Black Pride – a space to exist authentically and unapologetically; Melz Owusu has founded a first of it’s kind University, the Free Black University, alongside completing their PhD giving black people the freedom to regain control and access to our own education and epistemologies; Azekel Axelle founded the Black Trans Foundation supporting black trans and gender non-conforming people access healthcare through fundraising and establishing a network of Queer, Trans, and Intersex, People of Colour (QTIPOC) healthcare experts; Eshe Kiama Zuri initiated the Mutual Aid Fund supporting marginalised people, at the intersections of oppression, across the UK. Even when thinking about all of this love and community response I’m perpetually enraged that it even needs to be done. Imagine if we didn’t have to pour ourselves and all of our energy into meeting our basic needs as queer black people – imagine if that kind of love existed beyond our community. Bruh, rage!!! 

Donate to queer black people and organisations this month and every month, whether that be time, requested resources, or money; continuously invest your energy into self-educating about queer black lives, experiences, and history – I promise that you will not run out of valuable things to be learnt; listen to queer black people and act on what you hear – I’m tired of repeating the same requests for meeting basic needs and liberation.  

Happy Black Pride, I guess. Pop up if you want my PayPal (for professional and legal reasons this is a joke).  


American Psychological Association. (2020, July 2). Prospective teachers misperceive Black children as angry [Press release]. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2020/07/racialized-anger-bias 

Ashley W. The angry black woman: the impact of pejorative stereotypes on psychotherapy with black women. Soc Work Public Health. 2014;29(1):27-34. doi: 10.1080/19371918.2011.619449. PMID: 24188294. 

Graham, K. (2016). The British School-to-Prison Pipeline. Blackness in Britain. 

Mind (2019) https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/legal-news/legal-newsletter-june-2019/discrimination-in-mental-health-services/ 

White (2021) Accessed at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/black-people-missing-b1827530.html 

La Roche, M. J., Fuentes, M. A., & Hinton, D. (2015). A cultural examination of the DSM-5: Research and clinical implications for cultural minorities. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 46(3), 183–189. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039278 

Trans Respect (2020) Accessed at: https://transrespect.org/en/tmm-update-tdor-2020/ 

 

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”.

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. 

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.

 

 

Food for Thought

This is the first of 2 blogs this week from The London Postdocs who have started a campaign The Lost Voices to address and raise awareness of inequalities that early-career researchers might face.
Author: Anonymous 

Editing contributions by: Dr Jemima Ho (The London Postdocs, King’s College London), Jumani Yogarajah, Kailey Nolan (NIHR ARC North Thames), Dr Morag Lewis (The London Postdocs, KCL), Dr Rui Pires Martins (The London Postdocs, QMUL), Dr Sarah Jasim (The London Postdocs, NIHR ARC North Thames, UCL, LSE), Dr Shaakir Salam (The London Postdocs, KCL) 


What’s for lunch? So how was the food? Were there free drinks afterwards? These are common questions asked by earlycareer researchers (ECRs) during and after academic events and conferences. Not to say that we are all about the food, but it’s common knowledge that this is where a key part of vital academic networking occurs.  

So, what if your diet excludes you from joining in? Too many conferences do not cater for dietary restrictions, resulting in feeling overlooked or left out. Meeting new people is awkward enough; such instances of exclusion make it harder still to put your best foot forward, limiting the networking opportunities that are so vital for our careers.  

What happens in this situation? People are left to spend their lunch time hunting outside for a shop that can provide for them where the conference organisers have not, rather than participating in the conference with the rest of their peers. It seems like a small thing, but it is profoundly unwelcoming to be told that there’s no lunch for you in the middle of the day, and no snacks during tea breaks.  Bringing food is a common coping mechanism, although fielding all the questions that provokes is not fun. Alternatively, you can go with whatever looks like it will be safe, and hope you guessed right, but conferences should be places for engaging with your peers and their research, not for worrying that the food you just ate may be hiding an unpleasant surprise. 

The whole situation suggests a deeper problem. If a conference can’t manage something as simple as a dietary requirement, how do they cope with other accessibility accommodations? We recognise that there has been a global push towards inclusivity – not just of dietary requirements and restrictions, but of accessibility in general – but has the academic sector caught up? From conference organisers, to peers, to the way networking is designed – are we all being as inclusive and considerate as we should be?  

Can you relate? Share your story 

The Lost Voices is a series of three initiatives aiming to collate stories on inequalities faced by the early-career researcher (ECR) community, to help empower us all and enact institutional change. It is led 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: 

  • Posting your anonymous story on the The Lost Voices Story Collection 
  • Sharing your experience anonymously in the The Lost Voices ECR survey 
  • Sending us a short video (maximum length: 2 minutes 19 seconds) via WeTransfer (see our Youtube channel for examples) detailing your experienceWe are offering £10 vouchers (Lifestyle/ Amazon) via e-mail for your time 

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? 

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.   

Food for Thought: An Anonymous Story


Enjoyed the read? The second blog from The Lost Voices Campaign will be published later this week 

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