Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: George Floyd

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The Legacy of the Windrush generation

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


Dr Vivienne Connell-Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Let’s keep talking about race

About 18 months ago I stood before the SMT at their inaugural structural inequality development session, a programme I had designed. I was terrified. This was my big chance to put into action all that I had learned as an activist and as a more junior member of staff.  Meaningful and sustainable change starts with leadership commitment. Why was I so frightened? This was exactly the job I had been asked to do. But, as I think any person of colour will tell you, it feels like you are a flashing beacon when you stand in front of a group of (mostly white) people and tell them that there is inequality all around us, that there is racism around us and, as the leaders of the organisation, that it is their job to act. I was pleased that day that the response was overwhelmingly positive. There was a real thirst for knowledge and an appetite for action.

Since then, we have seen gradual changes and improvements. However, the brutal murder of George Floyd has shown us that we don’t have the luxury of time. Our community need us to do something now. Our steady strategic action plans move too slowly for the toxic, pervasive and all-consuming virus that is racism. Our Race Equality Chartermark self-assessment tells us we have a lot to do. Our recruitment processes are not operating fairly, the BME attainment gap shows not all our students are provided with the opportunity to attain according to their academic potential. Crucially, while we have a lot of ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) staff and students, we have far too few black staff and students. Recognising and naming this is important if we are going to progress.

I have a friend, an amazing black man of Jamaican heritage, who is an activist and a leader Rob Neil OBE (Order of the British Empire or Obviously Black Everyday – you take your pick!)  Rob talks about his journey – that it was only some 10 years into his career that he ‘became’ black, having formerly perceived himself to be ‘colourless’; that merit had no colour; that if he worked hard enough, he would succeed.

I feel the same. Here I am not far off my half century. Little, old, Sarah Guerra, the brown girl that started life in Edmonton Green on the Joyce Avenue Estate. That I find myself as Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at King’s College London is improbable. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been bright and capable. My Trinidadian dad schooled me in arithmetic and letters from the earliest age, and I arrived at school way more advanced than the others in my class. But I, like many others, went through school, college, and university being passively or actively discouraged and urged to lower my ambitions and expectations. It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s true, that in parallel to that, I had the constant refrain at home – ‘you’ve got to be twice as good, Sarah’. At the same time as all of that coded and not-so-coded messaging – what we today know as implicit racism –  hardly ever did the fact that I was brown-skinned figure out loud in a conversation or, for many years, in my own mind.

A photograph showing the Joyce Avenue estate. A tall block of flats dominates the scene. There are a few trees in front of it, and a few cars on the road as well.

It was there as clear as day, but not something to be mentioned. I became a ‘black’ woman maybe in my early twenties when I started to build my own race consciousness and fought off the imposter syndrome demons.

Today, as, arguably, a firmly middle-class woman, a mother of dual-heritage children, and an EDI practitioner, I have to continuously reflect on how to tackle racism without perpetuating, for my daughters, that same imposter syndrome.  Supporting King’s on its path to equality improvement, I carry with me the many years’ experience of ‘the fight’; of the anger and disappointment, but also the joy of hope and the energy that comes from having been able to make a difference.

A photograph of the author smiling sat on a yellowish chair.

I’ve been at King’s for 3.5 years now. I find us to be an organisation of enormous heart and ambition. We are also complex, and can be slow and ponderous much of the time. I am proud to work here and to contribute to our staff, students, education, research and vision for the world. As a woman of colour, and a human being, I can also attest to being regularly exhausted by the need to second guess how I might be received or interpreted, by the need to have the conversation, and by the overwhelming task that is dismantling structural inequality. As a senior leader, I recognise I am in a position of privilege and am buffered and deferred to in a way that many more junior colleagues are not. Yet racism – or the fear of it – still touches me most days.

These last few weeks have been some of the most intense of my life. We always talk about ‘what’s the burning platform’ – and never in all my years has the heat been so strong. The eruption of world feeling and attention to anti-black racism has created a window of opportunity for a step change.

King’s, without a doubt, still has a lot to do and has made mistakes. But, personally, it was utterly refreshing in my conversations with our Principal and Provosts (and many others) to not be faced with the task of having to persuade them and instead to be met with their demand and determination to tackle the roots of inequality.

I am proud that we have responded so substantially and fully, recognising that you all want and need more commitment to anti-racism than words on a page.

The following resources were suggested and requested by our amazing Race Equality Network colleagues, a network that had its first birthday very recently. They wanted to show solidarity with staff and create a safe and supportive space for us to discuss various topics around race. To give people ‘permission’ to say what’s on their mind and share their feelings and resources. They and I would like to hear from you and offer any support you need.

A clear message from our recent leadership summit was that there is a difference between not being racist and choosing to be actively anti-racist. One way we are enforcing that commitment is to include EDI-related issues in every issue of King’s Essentials, to continue to build our EDI work into the DNA of King’s. That is what we must all strive for.

I originally wrote this piece to accompany the Race Equality at King’s Splash page. I was at that point advised it wasn’t suitable, so I am publishing here as a blog instead as I wanted people to read it. We will be holding further follow up summits with Heads of Department, BME ECRs and PIs in the autumn to deepen and extend our anti-racism work. Look out for details on those.

In the meantime, you can get involved in the efforts we’re sharing with you here. Join our incredible staff networks and get involved in the wonderful, intersectional work they’re doing. Engage with the training opportunities we have on offer, including Diversity Matters. Have conversations, commit to self-education, and play your part in making sure King’s is a safe and welcoming place for everyone. Are you a budget holder? A hiring manager? You can take direct action to examine how these things are supporting our ambitions to tackle racism. Everyone can also pay attention to who is speaking, notice who is around you, choose to disrupt your social media or reading with different voices, and call out racism and microaggressions when you see them.

Most of all, as you read, please ask yourself: what is my contribution? How do I contribute to the problem? What power do I hold?  More importantly, how do I contribute to the solution?

I’d like to thank Jenny Agha, VJ Sidhu and Rob Neil for supporting me in writing this and helping reinforce my courage to say what needs to be said.

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