Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: equality (Page 2 of 2)

Disability Inclusion at King’s – How far have we come, and how far have we to go?

Foreword from Professor Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health)), John Darker (Access King’s Co-Chair), and India Jordan (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant)

We are delighted to announce that Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health)) has been appointed as the Disability Inclusion programme’s senior sponsor. Within EDI we have a variety of sponsors and champions –  

  • Professor Sir Edward Byrne, President & Principal – sponsor of equality, diversity & inclusion across the College   
  • Professor ‘Funmi Olonisakin, Vice President & Vice Principal (International) – sponsor of our work on Race Equality and the Race Equality Chartermark 
  • Professor Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Provost/Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences) – sponsor of our work on Gender Equality and Athena   

We believe that sponsors are instrumental in driving institutional change. Having a senior sponsor and champion for this work demonstrates King’s commitment to improving disability inclusion. 

We are very excited to begin working with Richard in ensuring that disability inclusion is included in decision-making processes and structures within King’s. He will be an advocate for disability inclusion, protect and positively drive disability inclusion activity, and act as a role model for the organisation for an inclusive workforce.  

Richard says: I am delighted to have the opportunity to act as senior sponsor for disability inclusion. It is timely to highlight and ensure that King’s is at the forefront on development and delivery across the breadth of disability inclusion, from policy to implementation. My professional background as a clinician within the specialty of genetics, has provided significant opportunity for me to learn much of the impact of disability and of the benefits of inclusion, as means of enhancing wellbeing and enabling achievement.

Alongside a senior champion for our program of work, Access King’s highlight the importance of senior sponsorship within staff networks. John Darker (Access Co-Chair) explains: 

The role of a community network Senior Champion at King’s is a very important one, and includes being a strong advocate for the network, whilst informing senior colleagues about its work and the benefits it affords the University.  This year, Access King’s, the Staff Disability Inclusion Network at King’s, was pleased to announce that Dr Renuka Fernando had joined the Network as its Senior Champion.  Dr Fernando has proactively supported Access King’s, championing for disability inclusion at senior meetings including the review of Return to Campus policies.  Dr Fernando works with the Network’s Co-Chairs and its Committee to help progress its aims and goals.   

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, India Jordan, provides us with an update on the disability inclusion program of work so far, and plans and ambitions for this work as our next priorities. 


Disability Inclusion at King’s – How far have we come, and how far have we to go? 

 

At King’s, we are committed to disability equality and inclusion so that people with disabilities and those with longterm conditions are included and feel valued, and so that barriers are understood and overcome. Over the last 3 years, we have been developing and implementing a programme of work to support this. India Jordan, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Consultant within the EDI Sub-Function, reflects on our progress so far and our plans and priorities for the future. 

UK Disability History Month is in its 10th year this year and the theme is ‘Access – how far have we come? How far have we to go? These are useful questions to help us reflect on King’s disability inclusion journeys.  

 

So, how far have we come? 

Sarah Guerra, the Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, identified disability inclusion as a key priority when starting at King’s in 2017, and so work has been underway to develop this area since then.  In 2018/19 a Disability Action Plan and Maturity Model were developed to prioritise and focus disability inclusion work within King’s. The plans were developed in consultation with the King’s Community and the Business Disability Forum (a membership organisation working to remove structural barriers for those with disabilities and longterm health conditions), as part of a Disability Self-Assessment process.  

 The action plan focuses on four strategic areas:  

  • Leadership, Governance & Culture  
  • Policy, Process & Procedure 
  • Local Experience 
  • Data, Outcomes & Evaluation 

Each of these pillars cover areas in King’s that we know need to be developed for structural inequality around disability inclusion to be addressed. We need to have a holistic approach to tackling the issues. We know we need senior leadership buyin, effective processes, maturity around data collection and evaluation, as well as ‘on the ground’ knowledge, skills and experience for us to progress as an institution in supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions.  

Alongside the Action Plan, the King’s Disability Inclusion Maturity Model was developed. The model comprises four levels of maturity, from ‘basic’, ‘reactive’, ‘proactive’ to ‘innovative’ and includes the same strategic strands as the Action Plan. This helps everyone understand what best practice looks and feels like in reality and the action we need to take to reach the highest level of maturity.  

In 2020 Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant India Jordan reviewed our progress against the maturity levels. From this assessment, it is clear we have made significant progress in areas relating to Leadership, Governance and Culture and Policy, Process and Procedure, moving from Level 2 ‘Reactive’ (based from our initial assessment in 2019), to Level 3 ‘Proactive’. Some of the improvements include:   

  • Under the Leadership, Governance and Culture pillar, we have appointed a Disability Inclusion Senior Sponsor – Richard Trembath (Provost/Senior Vice President (Health))Richard’s role is responsible for steering, promoting and championing progress of this work amongst the senior leadership. He’ll be advocate for disability inclusion, protect and positively drive disability inclusion activity, and act as a role model for the organisation for an inclusive workforce.  
  • There is clear ‘board-level’ – in our case that’s Senior Management Team buyin and commitment through committees such as the Digital Accessibility Programme Board, the Digital Education Task and Finish Group, and through our governance structures. This means that now, disability is represented as a part of King’s diverse identity and there is demonstrable commitment to inclusion.  
  • Under the Policy, Process and Procedure pillar, we have developed our work on Equality Analysis. For example, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team recently reviewed Equality Analyses for disability-related impacts and considerations, best practice and areas for development, specifically in relation to the pandemic. This, alongside the Equality Considerations Report, is used and highly encouraged when considering all new projects across the university.  
  • Under the Local Experience pillar, we have developed resources and guidance that is available for all, such as the Disability Toolkit and the Accessible Guidance for Content Creators 
  • We are working to go ‘beyond compliance’ using inclusive design principles in consultation with service users such as our Access King’s Network, on projects such as the HR Transformation. 

Key to this progress, awareness and engagement of disability inclusion has been our newly formed Access King’s Network. Only 1 year old, Access King‘has seen a huge increase in membership and engagement, running events throughout the year from a discussion panel on leadership, to online events on how to run accessible and inclusive meetings. Access King’s have recently fed into the Return to Campus work by developing the Inclusive Badges project, a great example of the power of networks and community in driving institutional change.  

The value of our networks is more important than ever, at a time when we are more isolated from our peers – finding community to share experiences and support each other is crucial. To get involved with Access King’s and to find out more about their events being run over Disability History Monthhead to our webpage. 

 

…and how far do we have to go? 

Given the unprecedented events of 2020, the Disability Action Plan has developed in many ways. Digital Accessibility has become a priority for the College, particularly within the learning and teaching sphere. This will continue to be a priority for us as we support through various boards and working groups and updating and developing our Accessible Guidance for Content Creators.  

Alongside digital accessibility, our priorities are to work collaboratively and inclusively through forming a Disability Inclusion Steering GroupThis, in collaboration with our senior sponsor, will create action and hold people to account, ensuring all areas of King’s take responsibility for embedding disability inclusive practices. It is crucial we have support from our senior leadership, we need clear accountability and governance of the Disability Action Plan; with leaders knowing what is expected and required of them, which is why it is very exciting to be working with Richard Trembath on this project. 

Alongside the formation of a working group, we know from the work we have done that the following areas of work need to be a priority in the coming 12-18 months: 

  • Improving our adjustments process, including the development of a Staff Passport Scheme 
  • Building capability and confidence amongst managers through guidance, resource and training 
  • Continuing to support HR Recruitment, working closely on the selection and onboarding processes 
  • Ensuring our online and physical spaces are accessible to all 

It is important to reflect on our progress and celebrate our successes, but it is also important that we recognise where we need to improve and plan for us to be able to effectively do that. We want to reach the highest levels of maturity, we want to be a leader of best practice for disability inclusion for HE and most importantly, we want our staff and students to feel that there are no barriers to their being their very best whilst at King’s. 

It is hard to predict what the world will look like this time next year and undoubtedly we will face more change and challenges as we acclimatise to our new reality. However, we know that the changes and developments outlined above will enable us to move through and adapt to them more effectively and sustainably. The unique circumstances of 2020 have given us insight to a more accessible and inclusive world we believe is possible and we will continue to embed these practices, so they are not the exception, but rather the norm.  

How can you get involved? 

If you are interested and passionate about disability inclusion within King’s and want to make a difference within this area, join our disability inclusion staff network – Access King’s. They are hosting a range of events over Disability History Month and have regular monthly drop-ins. 

Making Time for Talent

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


One of the crucial elements of my EDI philosophy is helping people see that there is no single ‘right’ answer to achieving equality, diversity and inclusion – it takes a collection of concerted and connected activities to move in the direction you seek. Similarly, nothing stands still – you cannot set off on your strategic journey expecting there to be a fixed or distinct EDI end point – that we will reach ‘Diversity Nirvana’ so to speak. The world, society, and individuals are constantly changing and evolving, and we need to recognise and adapt to that. 

That makes succession planning hard but also critical. By that, I mean thinking proactively about what talent, skills and knowledge you need now and what you will need in the future. This is important across any organisation and vital for key roles. What if certain people left at short notice? What if X or Y changes? How will the organisation cope and adapt? Can it handle changes without massive disruption or danger? 

It’s timely that I write this blog, as recently I met with colleagues leading a project called the Size and Shape refresh – this is King’s ten-year planning framework. It seeks to set out a series of projected endpoints for 2029 across a range of indicators. These were first developed in 2018 as the result of careful consideration around key issues related to education, research, finance, space and people. Size and Shape was designed to be a deliverable and balanced plan and emphasised the interconnectedness of different aspects of the strategy to be used in business planning rounds to inform annual targets, budget setting and strategic decision-making. This is a significant layer of information that enables succession planning. 

I of course advocate that succession planning has the most value when it is implemented looking consciously through an equality and diversity lens. That means, leaders take a step back and consider the future needs of the organisation and build a broad-based plan that addresses these critical needs. Alongside this, they need to consider the whole workforce in terms of building greater diversity. That means understanding the different parts of the workforce, what the pipeline into them is and who is in the current ‘talent’ pool of the organisation. So, for example if underrepresented in certain areas or there are pay gaps – how does addressing these fit into the succession planning efforts? 

This activity needs to have data – both qualitative and quantitativeHR needs to take an active role in ensuring the relevant data is shared and considered. That any stated  objectives and KPIs that exist are examined and if necessary revisited and updated. These objectives need to be organisation wide and specific for individual units in the organisation – at King’s, our KPIs can be broken down by individual faculty and we look across Professional Services Directorates as a whole. 

The balance scorecard/KPI homepage for King’s on PowerBI

Having a clear EDI strategy and our KPIs means we can all have a clearer understanding of what success looks like and where we want to head as an organisation. This should also be a key component of setting and tracking performance criteria which can help to reduce bias. Organisations should, for example, ask themselves: what level of diverse talent will be needed in the pipeline to create a difference in the next three to five years? What policies or actions are needed to improve diversity if there is currently will not meet future needs? 

Succession planning also enables a proactive and focused approach to supporting employee progression and development. This helps address several issues such as increased turnover, fast-paced changes at work, and the challenge of ensuring meaningful diversity across the organisation. When diverse talent is identified, it is important to ensure these individuals are supported. This involves regular and active discussion, and the provision of guidance and coaching to ensure strengths and stretch areas are identified. At King’s, our PDR and feedback processes should ensure that not only are success and achievement recognised, but so too are behaviours in accordance with our Principles in Action framework and where necessary areas for improvement, so lessons are learnt and understood to improve overall performance and so maximise student experience and outcomes. 

King’s Principles in Action

Performance appraisal should mean there are regular individual progression discussions. The outcomes of these should be regularly reviewed at leadership level across an organisation. This is yet another way of reducing bias and helping surface talent. By developing a more collective idea of individual strengths and available opportunities, it allows those with potential to be more visible and gain access to opportunities, and so helps with succession planning. 

Critically, organisations need to recognise that where groups are underrepresented, they need to be intentional in providing opportunities to raise the profile of individuals and reassure them that their talents are recognised. This helps everyone better recognise individual talent and realise people’s potential. This provides a virtual circle of enabling informed and effective succession planning.  

I’ll end where I started – there is no single ‘right’ answer to achieving equality, diversity and inclusion. It requires a number of concerted and connected activities which includes understanding where you are as an organisation, who you currently have and where you want to get to. In thinking about that, we all need to be able to imagine a future that looks and feel different. Whilst I can’t tell you what Diversity Nirvana for any organisation looks like, I know it looks and feels different to how we all currently are. 

 

The Power of Partners

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


As I write this, it is not long after a surprise (well, at least to me) government announcement aimed at addressing needless bureaucracy that potentially significantly shifts the tectonic plates in HE around chartermark participation and value. This paper indicates a change that means NIHR funding will no longer be dependent on holding an Athena Swan silver award. The impacts and outcomes of that are not at all clear at this point, so this blog is more about my general opinion and knowledge of external forums and chartermarks. Later in the blog series I will dedicate more time to the chartermarks we participate in.

Getting involved with external forums and partners is a way for network leaders, organisation leaders, HR and EDI practitioners to gain and share good practice, and to interact with others to expand understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion issues across organisations.

There are many forums and organisations. We at King’s belong to several – Advance HE (who administer Athena Swan and the Race Equality Chartermark), Working Families, Stonewall (who create the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index to indicate how good an employer you are for LGBTQ+ people), the Business Disability Forum (who provide a self-assessment) and Radius.  These types of organisations are collectively on a mission to drive inclusion investment, build expertise, spread good practice and ultimately, change mindsets and public policy through the gathering of sector-wide experts. They often commission research and seek to share knowledge.

External networks and forums which King’s belongs to

External benchmarking is an important step to understand how an organisation is performing in context, as well as identifying new opportunities for improvement. We at King’s, in common with many across the sector, have taken part in the Athena Swan Gender Equality Chartermark since 2007. We will shortly be submitting our 2nd institutional application, hoping to reach Silver level. We were also one of the pilot organisations to join the Race Equality Chartermark. We recently succeeded in renewing our Bronze level award.

Taking part in external forums and benchmarks helps demonstrate an organisation’s commitment to diversity, showing that they want to listen, learn and share, and that they are prepared to go beyond their own boundaries and personal interests. It is a way of showing a willingness and enthusiasm to be involved in both the research and embedding of activity that serves diverse groups. It also makes economic sense for many. For smaller organisations, the cost and risks of investigating and resolving EDI related issues can seem overwhelming and sharing this with others can make it more achievable.

I have found our memberships and partners a great way of augmenting internal expertise and filling knowledge gaps, by bringing leaders together with their peers for a shared learning experience.

Participating and collaborating with external organisations and undertaking benchmarks can, without a doubt, be time consuming. That is why I am very selective about which ones I work with and how I spend my time.  (I get several emails every day and many calls a week trying to entice me into new relationships – on a strictly work-related basis!)  I find it is important that I understand what I want to achieve, and so select the partners and events that can help with that. In times of limited financial resources and personal time, this becomes ever more critical.

An example of some of the resources and benefits you can make use of when you join an external forum. Here is a snippet from the Business Disability Forum website.

The other danger with external forums is you increase the pool of uncertainty. EDI is not a simple issue, and there is no one answer. It is possible for wider discussion across organisations to increase confusion and stagnation. Again, this for me is about choosing the right partners and investing internally in high-quality EDI experts who will not be waylaid like this.

Please do take some time to familiarise yourself with our partner organisations – most of these have access to membership areas which anyone with a kcl address can register for and access. They are a tool and resource available to people that can help development and delivery. I’d also love feedback on how much value people feel these offer as well as suggestions for new partners.

As I reflect on the years that have led me through public policy making, to activism and then to being an EDI practitioner, I have learnt that social justice change, which is what EDI is at its heart, doesn’t come easily. The ability to talk and learn from others, to share ideas and gain support, are all critical instruments in making change happen. The ability to measure and objectively understand how well you are doing (compared to others) is invaluable. Internal measures and judgements can be very narrow, and it is hard to break away from the status quo without evidence. So, I personally am a big advocate of careful and strategic participation in external forums and benchmarks, but also I recognise that to make that meaningful change, one must commit time and effort, and we should be under no illusions that these provide a quick fix – that elusive silver bullet!

Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy Published

Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy Published

We have developed a Dignity at King’s – Bullying and Harassment Policy which supports the entire King’s Community. This replaces the previous Dignity at Work – Statement of Commitment and applies to the whole of the university. We are doing this because we know that, like all large institutions, we have problems with bullying & harassment at all levels. This new policy is designed to ensure we tackle this sensitively.

The policy has been developed based on wide ranging research of HEI and public sector best practice, alongside consultation with many across the College. It is now available and can be accessed in the Governance Zone.

This policy sets out the responsibilities of those within the King’s community in addressing inappropriate behaviour, clearly defines conduct that is not acceptable and outlines where to go for support for anyone who has witnessed or experienced bullying and harassment.

Importantly, it also makes clear that managers and senior leaders need to support our community and engage with and address behaviour and issues related to alleged bullying and harassment as they arise. This is key to fostering and enabling an environment free from bullying and harassment and ensuring that the policy is embedded within our ways of working and culture at King’s.

Bullying and harassment are organisational issues to be addressed. This can only be done when there is commitment from senior leadership. Our senior leaders have made it clear this is a top priority for them. Evelyn Welch (Provost & Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences)), Richard Trembath (Senior Vice President and Provost (Health)) and Steve Large (Senior Vice President (Operations)) have identified this as a joint priority and are determined to ensure that the right systems, symbols and behaviours are in place so that the highest quality senior leadership around bullying and harassment is modelled and implemented within the university.

The development of the policy is only the start. Planning for a significant programme of work is underway, led by HR King’s senior leaders, with examples of work including:

  • Developing further guidance and resources for managers
  • Working with Vice Deans Research to embed further support within the research community
  • Developing a package of training, including being an active bystander for staff
  • Reviewing and updating subsequent policies and procedures related to this policy

These packages of work will also be informed by the practical, applied anti-bullying and harassment work within faculties.

Useful resources that are available now:

Training

Below are some useful training resources available on KEATS. The following Skill Boosters videos are recorded for a variety of different audiences and environments. They are useful in considering the key learning points and approaches that provide support in any environment including our own University context.

Their content comprises of Short Films, Micro Courses and Courses, their respective lengths are outlined below. You will need to enroll via KEATS to access the courses.

Banter in the workplace

Bullying and Harassment – Effective Interventions

Creating and Environment Based on Respect

Understanding and Confronting Sexual Harassment

The full length course for this training is 45 minutes long. We recommend you complete this as a part of a group or in a facilitated session. If you would like support from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team in facilitating this, contact diveristy@kcl.ac.uk

Challenging Behaviour

This course is 60 minutes long. We recommend you complete this as a part of a group or in a facilitated session. If you would like support from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team in facilitating this, contact diveristy@kcl.ac.uk

EDI: The Whole Shebang!

This blog is part of a series from Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Sarah Guerra, where she will be addressing the ‘whole picture’ of EDI, why it is important, and how we go about making effective, systemic change.


I write a lot of blogs and it sometimes may be hard to see how all the things I talk about fit into a coherent whole. I have therefore decided to write a blog series that aims to describe how and why I take a whole systems approach to improving EDI in organisations. To do that I will produce pieces on why we aim to tackle EDI issues and what the individual components that have been proven to work are. I will then also examine the detail of these various elements.

So, first, the why?

The most basic answer is, it’s the law (The Equality Act 2010), and an organisation such as King’s doesn’t have a choice but to comply. However, that answer is not the reason King’s created the post of Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. If we look at Vision 2029 we can see that our ambition is to create a world-leading university in terms of education, research and service, and that we are already diverse. However, our intention is that anyone with talent can think of King’s as a place they can come to work or study  that will nurture and develop that talent, enabling them to thrive whilst here and in their future. To really fulfil our mission, we need to be innovative and creative – which is something I truly believe comes from diversity of perspectives.

image of sarah guerra, director of equality, diversity and inclusion

Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

EDI helps us to innovate and create as well as inspiring and supporting everyone attached to King’s and beyond. To be successful we must be inclusive in our recruitment (of staff and students) – we have to create opportunities for all. I spoke about this in my AKC  .

To achieve that, we must be a great place to work, and that means we must recognise and reward all people fairly. We must seek out and develop all talent – and not be prevented from seeing it by bias – conscious or unconscious. To do all that, we need great leaders and managers, and we need clear policies, processes and systems to aid us. We need to understand what makes us attractive as a place to study or work but also why people leave. When they do, do they feel that their have fulfilled their potential or has that been prevented in some way?

So, in the coming weeks I will look at ‘the business case’. Leadership, data (including targets and benchmarking), action planning and tracking progress, building trust, sharing success and challenges. I will look at the value of networks – internal and external; the kind of planning and thinking organisations that want to be inclusive need to do; the relevance of training, development and awareness; and no doubt more. I hope that, over the weeks, this will help everyone understand how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and lead to an organisation, culture, systems and processes that include by design rather than exclude through carelessness and ignorance.

Baldwin, The Velvet Rage and Philadelphia: a Pride Month Trifecta 

EDI Director, Sarah Guerra, pens a blog about her reading of some important pieces of LGBTQ+ literature and cinema. 


My recent book group book was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and by coincidence, my next book was The Velvet Rage: Overcoming The Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man’s World. By even further coincidence (as we, in lockdown, working our way through my 16 year old daughter, Kaela’s, must-watch film list), we watched Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a novel, a self-help book and a movie all about the intricacies of gay men’s lives, and the barriers and prejudice they face almost every day. It’s been quite the trifecta in provoking my thinking.  

James Baldwin is an author I have dabbled with and keep meaning to get serious about and read his entire back catalogue. For those who don’t know, Baldwin was an essayist, playwright, novelist and voice of the American civil rights movement. He was born in Harlem in 1924. He is acknowledged as one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially known for his essays on the black experience in America, and is an author who might really help us all as we work more and more on tackling systemic racism (take a look at the EDI team’s anti-racism resources page here).  He also broke new ground in the novel, Giovanni’s Room which tells the story of an American living in Paris with a complex depiction of homosexuality, a then-taboo subject.

James Baldwin, author of Giovanni’s Room

Baldwin was open about his homosexuality and relationships with both men and women. However, he believed that the focus on rigid categories was just a way of limiting freedom and that human sexuality is more fluid and less binary than was often expressed in his lifetime.  

Giovanni’s Room has a wide variety of themes, and is not just a ‘gay book’ (whatever that is). What really struck me was how the narrative fitted unbelievably neatly with The Velvet Rage where the author, psychotherapist, spends time exposing the nature of the intrinsic shame that he identified in himself and others as being encoded into gay men from an early age. 

Giovanni’s Room gives us an insight into David’s mind, his internal conflicts in relation to his family’s and society’s expectations, and his confusion about who he is attracted to and what is ‘ok’. It is particularly striking in its exploration of age, particularly the young gay men characters being spiteful and contemptuous about the older ones. The reader however can see that this is really their own fear of either becoming or not becoming like the older men. The novel is aanatomy of shame, of its roots and the myths that perpetuate it, of the damage it can do. There is something about the narrative that to me felt  both freeing and exposing of the horrifying self-loathing that some gay men feel. There’s a passage, just before David  meets Giovanni (his lover), where he observes a group of effeminate gay men. He describes them through a series of animal metaphors, first as parrots, then as peacocks occupying a barnyard. Finally, David says of a young man in drag that “his utter grotesqueness made me uneasy; perhaps in the same way that the sight of monkeys eating their own excrement turns some people’s stomachs. They might not mind so much if monkeys did not – so grotesquely – resemble human beings.” His seeing those around him as inhuman because of their different expression and his own self hatred was heartbreaking. 

Downs coined the phrase ‘The Velvet Rage’ to refer to a very specific anger he encountered in his gay patients – whether it was manifested in drug abuse, promiscuity or alcoholism – and whose roots, he feels, are found in childhood shame and parental rejection. “Velvet rage is the deep and abiding anger that results from growing up in an environment when I learn that who I am as a gay person is unacceptable, perhaps even unlovable,” he explains. “This anger pushes me at times to overcompensate and try to earn love and acceptance by being more, better, beautiful, sexier – in short, to become something I believe will make me more acceptable and loved.” 

The Velvet Rage, by Alan Downs

Downs outlines how feelings of worthlessness can be created in childhood quite unintentionally, and these lead gay adults to search for an unachievable perfection.  

Downs identifies many manifestations of “Velvet Rage” dealing with depression, self-harm and suicide, body dysmorphia and eating disorders – illnesses which are four times as likely in gay men as their straight counterparts.  The book went on my reading list as a recommendation from a colleague who described it as one of the first books he had read where he really felt seen. I am grateful for the recommendation. Recommendations like this are how we all become better allies.  

In Philadelphia, we see an Academy Award winning performance from Tom Hanks, telling the story of a high performing lawyer on a fast career track who suddenly finds himself firedHe takes his employer to court and proves the case that the sacked him unfairly and only because he had AIDS. The movie uncomfortably shows us the reality of the 70s and 80s and how open and accepted homophobia was. It gives us a live and far more modern demonstration of what Baldwin wrote about and illustrates the elements expressed by Downs.  

Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington

One of the things I particularly liked about The Velvet Rage was the very practical ‘skills for life’ section that helps any reader become more self-aware, better able to recognise how to set boundaries, how to recognise what their own needs and responsibilities are and ultimately better engage with the world and build relationships. The skills are based on the various theories that Downs puts forward of the barriers that are created for gay men which really gave me pause for thought, and I would encourage people to read both books to deepen their own insight.  

I am someone who sees myself as and wants to be an LGBTQ ally. It is all too easy to let those letters roll off the tongue. These books and the film made me really stop and think: how good a job have I really done over the years? I think the fact that I have lots of gay friends gave me a false comfort. How much have I really done to understand their experience? How it might present barriers each and every day to their success and inclusion in the world? No doubt not anywhere as much as I could do. So, allies, as we find ourselves in Pride month, get out there, get reading and watching, and join Proudly King’s who can help you on this journey and tell you what will really help our LGBTQ staff and students feel more included. I’ve particularly enjoyed the new Proudly Pod and am looking forward to Virtual Pride on Friday . 

 

Reconceptualising Resilience

Alex Prestage is Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Manager at King’s. Throughout his career, he’s reflected on resilience in Higher Education and now offers his thoughts on its potential as the King’s community rise to challenges posed by the current pandemic.

Resilience – a word we often use in times of crisis.

Before continuing to read, spend a second or two to reflect: what is resilience? Where does it come from? How can it be measured?

What were your thoughts and reflections? Was it an easy concept to define? Do you think you have it? How much do you think you have? When will you know you have enough? How do you get more?

Of course, I’m being only slightly facetious here. Resilience is a word we rarely define in specific terms and it’s almost impossible to measure quantitatively – the threshold for it is usually imagined. It’s a hard concept to grapple with, and often just leaves us wanting more.

Resilience is commonly defined as the capacity for an individual or organisation to recover from adversity – something, perhaps, we can all relate to of late; something we are going to, collectively, need more of in the future.

However, the UK Education sector (not just HE) and successive governments have a worrying habit when speaking about resilience – a habit of adopting a flawed model and way of thinking, particularly when referring to our learners and their outcomes. You might remember Nicki Morgan and David Cameron’s Character Education or be familiar with Angela Lee Duckworth’s grit.

Typically, when invoking ‘character’ or ‘grit’ we refer to resilience as essential or innate; something that people either have some (or no) capacity for and that this is static. More often than not, we refer to a deficit of resilience, a lack, suggesting that the outcome of a situation may have been more positive “if only X had been more resilient”.

It’s this conceptualisation of resilience in HE that I and others have written about before, and this understanding that I think UK HE, and King’s, should move away from if we are to be truly resilient to the adversity we currently face and will continue to face as a community of colleagues and learners. However, I’m not about to bash an idea without an alternative to propose.

So, what am I suggesting?

Reconceptualising resilience.

Naturally as an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Practitioner (and lapsed social scientist), I draw from minority voices – those who have the most adversity to – for sage guidance and advice.

Professor Tara J. Yosso, a critical race theorist who applies CRT to education and access, explores the subject of community cultural wealth to recognise the diverse, often ‘invisible’ forms of wealth and capital ethnic minority communities have access to (or don’t).

A model of community cultural wealth, which is comprised of linguistic, resistant, navigational, social, familial and aspirational capital.Professor Jaqueline Stevenson applied Yosso’s model to students studying in UK HE, and used the framework to better understand what makes communities and individuals resilient (or not).

The research of both academics suggests that resilience is in fact a social phenomenon. Rather than being intrinsic to the individual, resilience is generated and created by communities; and, by extension, we all play a part in developing and maintaining others’ – and our collective – resilience. Like a big team effort, if you like. It’s also important to recognise that many of the factors influencing resilience are beyond our control – empathy walks are a great way of visualising and demonstrating this fact.

In the context of a global pandemic, and the challenges we as a community of colleagues and learners face and will continue to face, I’d like to focus on three forms of capital we can all help foster:

  1. Aspirational capital, our ability to maintain hopes and dreams;
  2. Social capital, our network links and community resources including emotional support;
  3. Navigational capital, our ability to maneuver through institutions.

Indeed, I’ve spotted examples of our community adapting and fostering these assets in our emerging response to the situation, but I’d like to emphasise the value in the subtle, ‘soft’ behaviours – they aren’t just for lockdown, but for life!

Aspirational capital — with so much ambiguity and uncertainty, it can be hard to maintain confidence in our hopes and dreams. We might need some time to take stock and (re)appraise our goals in light of the new parameters and context we find ourselves in. For many of our students, particularly finalists, this will be an area of vulnerability and concern. It’s important to recognise the emotional toll that this sense of loss, ambiguity, and a process of reimagining our hopes and dreams might take; each of us can be alert to this fact and seek to support one another with finding new hopes and dreams, no matter the scale.

Social capital – whilst the everyday reality of lockdown looks different for everyone, varying according to our caring responsibilities, living situation, health etc., we all have a degree of social distance and isolation between us. It’s been fantastic to see many of the teams I work with across the university initiating digital coffee breaks to maintain the social fabric of King’s. Our networks and connections are assets we draw on in our work and learning, especially in the face of adversity. Creating and developing opportunities for staff and students to e-meet, connect and enjoy the benefit of a simple conversation is more important now than ever before.

Navigational capital – as our context changes, we’ve rapidly adapted our teaching and services, impressively so! . For some of our students and staff, this will mean trying a new platform (like Zoom or MS Teams) or will mean that they are required to navigate another part of our already complex organisation. Where we have been required to change and adapt, it’s important to bring others with us, providing clear instructions and signposting as applicable. Something that might seem glaringly obvious from one perspective might not be the case from another.

They may seem like small steps, nudges if you like, but theory (and my own practice) suggests that we will foster a more empathetic, more resilient community through renegotiating and so maintaining hopes and dreams, taking time with one another socially, and providing clear instructions with no assumptions. I’m passionate about realising a reality where we take collective responsibility for addressing and weathering the adversity we face — a community of colleagues and learners where we are stronger together than apart.

Newer posts »

© 2022 Diversity Digest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑