Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

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Working in Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion and Prioritising Self-Care in the Face of (White) Guilt and (White) Fragility

We invite each of our new team members to write a blog post to introduce themselves to the King’s community. Introducing, Lauren Blackwood (she/her), EDI Project Officer, and her piece on self care, white guilt and fragility.

It is frequently the case that Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) professionals of colour (and people of colour (POC) generally) face unique challenges in the workplace. Namely, POC experience numerous facets of resistance, avoidance, and in some cases violence (individual and institutional) when engaging white people in conversations about race, specifically racism. These experiences can have an adverse effect on POC (and other groups who face marginalisation and discrimination). Considering this, it is important to ensure that EDI professionals of colour prioritise self-care where possible during, and following, these instances.

As defined by DiAngelo, White fragility is “a state [in white people] in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium” (2011, 54). Conversations which challenge racial dynamics and hierarchies are not yet normalised. But what is normalised is the often-unquestioned dominance of white people, as well as institutions (e.g., education systems, the media, political order), and other environments in the cultural and political West primarily catering for white comfort by reinstating the white racial equilibrium. Thus, the discomfort which stems from challenging racial privilege is oftentimes unfamiliar (55). Both this definition and its explanation are transferable and may be used to describe the responses minorities generally (e.g., LGBTQ+ individuals, disabled people, neurodiverse people) experience when calling out or calling in colleagues, friends, or family etc., regarding their privileges.

The effects of white people exhibiting this fragility and guilt on POC include our own feelings of guilt that we have ‘made’ another feel this way; feeling unsafe within the environment and amongst the given company; being seen as, and consequently being made to feel, ‘lesser than’ due to the side-lining of our racial experience and the prioritisation of the dominant party’s feelings. Oftentimes, these effects can be at the expense of the health and wellbeing of POC (Williams et al. 2019, 114). Though it may be said that EDI professionals have opted for a career and working environment which can go hand-in-hand with encountering these instances, we are still human beings whose feelings, experiences, and health are valid and important.

Due to these potentially damaging effects, and the validity of these experiences and feelings, it is important that POC working in EDI engage in self-care. Self-care following occurrences of white guilt and fragility can come in many forms, for instance, by creating and accessing safe environments. Whether this environment is at home or with colleagues – discussing the experience you have had without judgement is valuable, and instead receiving reassurance that dismantling and challenging racism (both covert and overt forms) is OK and necessary to dismantle oppression. Secondly, surrounding yourself with people who humanise you and in turn validate your feelings and existence as a POC. Thirdly, remembering that you cannot dismantle oppression and decolonise institutions on your own nor can it be done overnight, so it is in the interests of both the task and yourself to take time out to prioritise yourself before returning to the job.

As advice for those exhibiting white guilt and/or white fragility – I believe that in order to be influenced to enact change in your work and home environments, relationships, and within one’s self and counterparts, this guilt needs to be recognised and embraced rather than overlooked or evaded. Feelings of guilt concerning racial privilege may be used as encouragement to engage in constructive conversations concerning race and unlearning prejudices. By understanding and recognising these feelings of guilt and fragility, genuine concern about changing one’s behaviour can begin. In collectively changing this behaviour, we can foster a safer and more accessible environment for POC, whose oppression and consequential marginalisation unfairly benefits and privileges white people.



DiAngelo, R. (2011) White Fragility. The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3).

Williams, D.R., Lawrence, J.A., and Davis, B.A. (2019) Racism and Health: Evidence and Needed Research. Annual Review of Public Health, 40, pp.105-125


Wellbeing Month: Being part of a team to create positive change

For Wellbeing Month, Race Equality Network member Mariam Ghorbannejad writes about being part of a network and affecting positive change. You can find out more about the Race Equality Network  as well as Proudly King’s,  Elevate: King’s Gender Equality NetworkParents’ & Carers’ Network and Access King’s: Disability Inclusion Network on the Diversity & Inclusion webpages.  

Being a Londoner of mixed (Persian/Scottish) descent, I am used to ticking the ‘mixed’ or ‘other’ box on equal opportunities classification forms, whether that be in medical registrations, job applications or employer monitoring processes. There is no box that I neatly fit into; I am in that grey space that is different but undefined. This can be frustrating, although, given I am in my thirties, I have become somewhat accustomed to this rather rudimentary way of categorising individuals into pre-defined recognisable and distinguishable groups.

Not only does this box-ticking exercise make me feel frustrated that in this day and age, in modern Britain, we are still being asked for this information but that somehow it is recorded and not much is actually done to address any imbalances that exist.

This has an impact on my life in numerous ways; it affects how I view my own identity and on my well-being. When the opportunity arose to become a core member of the Race Equality Network at King’s, I jumped at the chance.

The purpose of King’s Race Equality Network (REN) is to promote and advance race equality at King’s. It seeks to provide networking opportunities and support both the personal and professional development of all members. As a network, we aim to create a space for identifying and tackling cultural and diversity issues around university policies and practices through supporting the implementation of King’s Race Equality Action Plan.

Our objectives include: valuing the importance of building a community that embraces relational power, transparency, knowledge sharing, respect and equality, supporting the implementation of actions outlined within King’s Race Equality Action Plan and promoting and represent the interests of BME staff and students amongst others. We also aim to develop tangible and practical solutions for changing the way in which race is discussed at King’s. We engage and work collaboratively with both internal and external stakeholders who share our ethos. We would like to create a cultural shift within the university towards open and honest conversations about race.

I have personally faced many occasions in which my name has led to judgement of my command of English, something I found quite astounding in contemporary British society. As someone of mixed heritage, I feel compelled to be part of the REN team in order to address issues of equality of access to opportunities (for both staff and students), inclusion (a sense of belonging and everyone feeling welcome) and diversity of the student/staff body and curriculum.

Working alongside others whose vision for race equality at King’s is similar to mine is exciting, empowering and has a tremendously positive effect on my emotional, psychological and mental well-being. I am motivated by my core beliefs and am happy to share this passion with the team members who are all equally passionate about making a positive change.

For Black History Month, we organised a number of events including a tribute to celebrate the life of Harold Moody, a black Medicine graduate at King’s, who finished top of his class in 1910. Harold was a Jamaican-born physician who campaigned against racial prejudice. We celebrated his legacy in a panel discussion involving Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, current and former BME King’s students, chaired by Professor Evelyn Welch, Professor of Renaissance Studies, Provost & Senior Vice President (Arts & Sciences). Another successful event, attended by over 300 students, was the rapper Akala who came to perform and responded to questions from the audience on race afterwards. He was able to give an honest and articulate account of issues that are still exist within society.

I have been inspired by the enthusiasm shown by REN core members who are all working diligently to bring about positive change within the university. I am also pleased that senior staff are taking notice and that recommendations are being drafted. My own personal well-being has benefitted enormously and I strongly believe any change will be positive for the entire student and staff population and that future generations will benefit, too.


Puede decir las verdades más profundas con las mentiras de ficción

I’m a woman of varied interests and responsibilities – including being a TV addict and a mother. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to find a way of combining these particular facets of my being.

Over the last few years, my daughters Kaela and Lyra and I have tackled (by which I mean seriously binge-watched) various TV series including; Once Upon a Time (preposterous, fun and heartfelt), Pretty Little Liars (initially intriguing, ultimately vacuous) and Gilmore Girls (a perfect mother-daughter watch). At some point in the last year Kaela urged me to watch Jane the Virgin, which she loved.  With so many seasons, I was unconvinced. I dragged my way through a few episodes, and with Kaela’s lobbying I persisted. Oh my word, how glad am I that I did?

JTV, an adaptation of a Venezuelan telenovela, follows a teenage Latina girl, Jane, who is accidentally impregnated via artificial insemination. The plot thickens when she falls for the super-gorgeous, wealthy, biological father. There is a hilarious ‘Latin-lover’ narrator who constantly reminds the audience “Just like a telenovela, right?”, bringing the genre right into the American/UK millennial milieu, hashtags and all.

The show is the ultimate cultural crossover, not just of this very popular Latin American artform, with arch villains and love triangles, but also as it touches on genres that traditionally tell women’s stories; the soap, the rom-com, the romance novel and reality television. The nature of the show provides so many televisual devices that it may be dismissed by some (as it was initially by me) as idiotic nonsense.

Jane is a massive Isabel Allende fan (she makes the odd cameo appearance too) and my title today ‘you can tell the deepest truths with the lies of fiction’ perfectly captures the heart of JTV. It is one of the most feminist and meaningful shows I have ever watched (and I have watched A LOT!). It tells the individual and interlinked stories of three generations of Latina women, their relationship with religion, age and gender roles. The show explores the nature of relationships and love in all its forms, the value that society and individuals place on virginity, as well as the difference between sex, love and meaningful relationships. As a mother of four daughters, two currently in their teens, it has been a great vehicle for conversation – both serious and silly.

Telenovelas have a long tradition as transmitters of social messages; in Mexico, the government used hit shows to advocate for family planning. JTV examined Latino immigration, undocumented workers, and took a deep dive on topics like on women’s health, breast feeding, breast cancer, abortion and even orgasms.

One of the truly ground-breaking things , was that a substantial part of the dialogue took place in Spanish. Rather than erasing the protagonist’s culture or pandering to English speaking audiences, it normalises and celebrates Latina culture. And here (as the narrator might say) is the link; in late November, I attended a King’s event that for the first time ever, took the same approach. The launch of the report Representation, engagement and participation: Latinx students in higher education, where all the content was provided in three languages.

Latinx is a gender-neutral term for people of Latin American descent. Latinx includes Spanish or Portuguese first language speakers from the Central and South American geographical regions.

The report looks at how, despite high levels of education and employment, the Latinx community in England is overrepresented in low-paid and low-skilled jobs. It explores the barriers to HE access and outcomes for Latinx students in the UK and tries to identify what challenges Latinx young people and their families face in UK education:

  • Lack of knowledge of the UK education system, which can hinder Latinx pupils’ access to school places and limit parents’ ability to provide support
  • Lack of awareness of how citizenship status affects eligibility for funding such as student loans, or liability for increased student fees
  • Young people acting as ‘linguistic brokers’ facilitating interaction between parents and their school
  • Reliance on community-based support networks, which is more difficult where networks are weak
  • The school admissions system’s slow pace and reluctance to admit pupils who speak English as an additional language, which can ‘lock’ Latinx young people out

Drawn up in collaboration with students, teachers, community representatives and academics, the report presents six recommendations for driving positive change:

  • Support Latinx pupils to secure and declare their citizenship status;
  • Address language barriers;
  • Go beyond access: HEIs should involve students in this support, providing resources and logistical support for peer mentoring between existing students and new, or prospective students, both on- and off-campus;
  • Work with key community brokers to establish strong, long-term partnerships between HEIs and Latinx groups;
  • Call on the ONS and UCAS to officially recognise Latinx students;
  • Ensure Latinx people are visible in a variety of roles within HE: This will help to demonstrate the many, key roles Latinx people play in the day-to-day life of higher education in the UK.

This event (which you can read more about here) really underlined for me one of JTV’s  key messages around language and inclusivity.  A casual glance would mean missing how JTV is provocative and challenging television – forcing us to think about our norms about women and representation. It can be no coincidence that my daughter and I, both with Venezuelan heritage and brown skin, found a home with Jane and her family. We can see ourselves in them. When I finished the final (sixth) season, I was distraught and especially so while watching the penultimate episode, which presented the cast reflecting on the show, its originality and its achievements. I felt like I was losing some of my best friends.

So, in closing, whatever kind of TV floats your boat, it’s worth taking a moment to think about how TV as a medium can challenge what you think, or work to reinforce old stereotypes. And with that I bid you adios.

King’s Award Nomination: Race Equality Chartermark Writing Group

Alex Prestage is Diversity & Inclusion Manager at King’s, with responsibility for managing the university’s Race Equality Charter Award; King’s is proud to have maintained a Race Equality Charter Bronze Award since the charter’s launch in 2015, in recognition of our commitment to progressing race equality for staff and students. Below, Alex reflects on the important role volunteers play in maintaining and progressing our work around Diversity & Inclusion at King’s within the context of Black History Month.

UK Black History Month, marked each year in October, celebrates Black histories and recognises contributions that are often hidden or erased. Across King’s this year we’re hosting a varied and exciting programme of events celebrating the contributions of King’s Alum Dr Harold Moody, tackling the issues of reparations and decolonisation at King’s, and screening a veritable plethora of films touching on Black history and race equality.

In the spirit of the month, I’d like to take the opportunity to personally and publicly recognise the contribution of a group of individuals to race equality, and Black history, at King’s: The Race Equality Writing Group (REWG). Between 2017 and early 2019 REWG convened to work in collaboration across King’s to further race equality for staff and students via King’s engagement with AdvanceHE’s Race Equality Charter.

REWG are a diverse group of staff of different ethnicities, nationalities, genders, beliefs, (dis)abilities, working patterns, caring responsibilities and personal/professional backgrounds – they’re academics and professional services, Black and white, and all of them leaders. Many of the team volunteered their time, on top of their day jobs, in order to positively impact race equality at King’s for our wider staff and student community.

When the group first convened in 2017, the task before them was looming: to lead an organisation, like King’s, further along the path to race equity; not an easy task, nor a responsibility that was taken lightly by any of the team! Over the year and a half, REWG collated and analysed mountains of qualitative and quantitative data to better understand the nuances of race equality at King’s split by ethnicity, faculty, directorate, undergraduate, postgraduate, UK national, non-UK national, full-time, part-time – the list goes on! From this insight and further consultation with staff and students, REWG established and articulated four priority issues for King’s to address in order to progress race equality and create a more inclusive university. Talah Anderson, D&I Project Intern, reflected on these issues earlier during Black History Month.

Simply identifying and sharing these issues was not enough – it was for REWG to develop a visionary action plan that would address staff and student concerns and feedback in a long-term, sustainable manner. This required a fine balance of creative problem-solving, blue sky thinking, and pragmatism; one that I believe REWG struck – challenging King’s to increase investment in race equality work and working closely with colleagues across the university to apply race equality perspectives and lenses to existing projects and work.

By the end of February 2019 REWG had engaged over 1,400 staff and students via surveys, focus groups, action planning workshops in an institution-wide conversation about race. To achieve this as a mixed group of volunteers with no prior history of collaborating (or in some cases working on race equality!) demands recognition; all too often responsibility for resolving Diversity & Inclusion issues falls to those who fall victim to them. As such, it’s important for us, as a university and for those of us who practice Diversity & Inclusion in various capacities, to recognise the efforts and achievements demonstrated by our staff and students like REWG.

Earlier this month, REWG’s endeavor to further race equality at King’s, their achievements both personal and collective were recognised by King’s Awards – Race Equality Writing Group have been shortlisted for the Inclusive Workplace Award. Please join me in congratulating each of REWG members; I’d like to thank each of the following for their hard work, and wish them luck at the Awards Ceremony on 21st November:

  • Syreeta Allen (Director of Student Success, Interim)
  • Evelyn Welch (Senior Vice Principal and Provost Arts & Sciences)
  • Sarah Guerra (Director of Diversity & Inclusion)
  • Renee Romeo (Senior Lecturer Health Economics and IoPPN Race Equality Network Co-Champion)
  • Richard Salter (Director of Analytics)
  • Paloma Lisboa (Director of Operations)
  • Natalie Armitage (Case Management Consultant)
  • Lucy Ward (D&I Coordinator)
  • Helena Mattingley (Head of D&I)
  • Evelyn Welch (Senior Vice Principal and Provost Arts & Sciences)

#BHM2019: Why uncovering black history at King’s is vital

Activist and journalist Marc Wadsworth on his work celebrating unsung heroes.


We learnt about white Crimean war heroine Florence Nightingale at school. But the hidden history of her black contemporary, Jamaican-born nurse Mary Seacole, who was just as noteworthy, had to be unearthed by black scholars. A statue of Seacole was put up outside St Thomas’ Hospital after years of campaigning.

There are many such untold stories. I’ve tried to tell a couple of them. In 1998 my biography of Indian Shapurji Saklatvala, a communist who became Labour MP for Battersea North in 1922, was published. Then I made two films about volunteers from the Caribbean who fought in the Second World War. My late Jamaican father was one of them.

First was the documentary Divided by Race, United in War and Peace, which got a cinema screening in 2014. Then, with the BBC, I made Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean Heroes. It has been broadcast half a dozen times, including last month.

In 2011, I took a master’s in contemporary British history at King’s as a mature student, breaking new ground as the first to get on a course at the university using a scheme for people without an undergraduate degree. It’s called Accreditation of Prior Learning. I wish King’s would trumpet its existence, so more people like me could be students and benefit from our world-class university.

I did a guest lecture in the history department, based on my dissertation, The Rise and Fall of the Labour Party Black Sections 1983-1990, for which I got a distinction. The lecture was a privilege rarely afforded to alumni.

My book, Comrade Sak, Shapurji Saklatvala MP, a political biography, was part of the portfolio of work I put to professors to get accepted onto the course.

There is activism going on to redress the lack of diversity in lessons. For instance, the Why is my curriculum white? campaign that is to be applauded. It ‘aims to decolonise and critically challenge course content and perspectives offered through the accepted Western white canon of knowledge’.

Black students and scholars mustn’t just whinge about the absence of black history in lessons, and the under-representation of teachers who look like us, they must do something about it.

Black History Month gives us a useful annual platform, even though many of us believe the subject should be promoted all year round.

I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity by the Race Equality Network at King’s to speak about a hidden history; that of Jamaican-born Dr Harold Moody, who graduated from the university in 1910, finishing top of the class.

No one I spoke with at King’s knew about Moody. He was affectionately known as ‘the black doctor’ in Peckham, south London, where he practiced as a highly respected GP, way before the NHS. A pioneer, Moody founded Britain’s first civil rights movement, the League of Coloured Peoples, in 1931. I proudly spoke at the unveiling of a plaque commemorating him earlier this year.

The long-overdue Dr Harold Moody, a King’s College hidden history reclaimed event will be in Bush House Lecture Theatre 2 BH (S) 4.04, the Strand, starting at 6.15pm on 23 October. It includes a drinks reception and is free to attend.

I hope you’ll spread the word and come along.

#BHM2019: You Have No Idea What I’m Capable Of

So, it’s Black History Month (Let’s not get into the fact that having only one month is something that we’re supposed to be grateful for!).

I can get a bit jaded. I recently spoke at a conference full of public servants – police, firefighters, healthcare workers, etc. The speakers were dynamic, informed and frankly great. However, I left a bit depressed. I had heard nothing new or nothing I didn’t already know, and I caught myself in my own arrogance. It’s easy in my job to get tied up in the day to day – I know we can only ‘fix diversity’ if we fix systems and processes, but it can make you forget why you do it in the first place.

On the way home from the conference I was pondering why we still needed to repeat these things. How do people not just know them? I remembered what had ‘activated’ me, and I know it was becoming empowered. As regular readers know, I am a TV addict, particularly, a Shonda Rhimes addict. Now I was brought up on the Eli Pope philosophy of “you must be twice as good as them to get half of what they have”.

As I continued to educate myself, I found that a text that had a huge impact on me was Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. This text helped me understand how and why my parents raised me as they did and how we all reacted to a variety of social scenarios we had no control of.

My philosophy as I got older however, became more Olivia Pope (and yes, of course, I do imagine myself as her – when I was growing up there were next to no black female TV characters let alone leads), who said: “We know who we are, who we will always be, and we have a choice, we can hide in the shadows, or we can stand in the light”.

That education led me to grow and recognise who I am and what my strengths are. I was able to see the different types of oppression I had been letting rule my life – from society’s expectations and norms, to my parents’, and to my own internalised ones. It led me to decide to do something, to reach my potential, and to help remove the barriers that prevent others from doing so.

I was particularly reminded of this when I caught the last day of Get Up, Stand Up, at Somerset House. It described itself as ‘a major new exhibition celebrating the past 50 years of Black creativity in Britain and beyond. Beginning with the radical Black filmmaker Horace Ové and his dynamic circle of Windrush generation creative peers and extending to today’s brilliant young Black talent globally, a group of 110 interdisciplinary artists are showcasing their work together for the first time, exploring Black experience and influence, from the post-war era to the present day.’

The whole exhibition was a great mix of provocation, reminiscing and empowerment through art, and it really spoke to me. It was also interesting to me when I went to find resources or information about this amazing man, Horace Ové, next to nothing was available! I would highly recommend these podcasts – they will make particularly good listening this Black History Month.

Anyway, back to the conference and my jadedness.  What I remembered is, that’s the work and that’s the journey. We don’t learn about all of our histories and contributions consistently, and so our diversity issues in the workforce and in Higher Education persist. These conferences ignite new sparks for some and lead others to empowerment and to take action. Black History Month does the same. It enables celebration, reflection, activism and progress. I am glad that for my children, they will not, like me, grow up unknowingly believing that Black History doesn’t exist.

As ever, there are many events across the month being held across King’s, as well as London.


#BHM2019: History in the Making

As part of our Black History Month blog series, Ph.D. student, Michael Bankole writes for us about the often-overlooked Black British political history.

1987 was a momentous year in black British history. Black History Month was first celebrated in the UK in 1987, with its main purpose to recognise the contributions made by black people in Britain and counter misrepresentations of black history. Since then, Black History Month has successfully brought to the fore some overlooked aspects of black British history.

1987 was also seminal year for the political representation of black people in the UK. Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant became the first three black Members of Parliament.

All three of the black MPs elected to Parliament in 1987 played an active role in challenging racism. Bernie Grant, who sadly passed away in 2000, established the Parliamentary Black Caucus, which sought to advance the interests of ethnic minorities. Grant sought to redress racism both in Britain and Europe, as he also founded the Standing Conference on Racism in Europe. Paul Boateng played an active role in challenging racism within the police service. Remarkably, Diane Abbott still serves as an MP today. She remains a vocal champion of the rights and interests of black and minority ethnic citizens in the UK.

Progress in the elections immediately following 1987 was incremental, however the 2010, 2015, and 2017 General Elections saw more substantial increases in the number of ethnic minority MPs. Following the 2017 General Election, ethnic minorities now constitute 8 per cent of the MPs in the House of Commons. According to the most recent British Census in 2011, ethnic minorities account for 13 per cent of the British population, therefore there is still room for improvement in order to achieve perfect representation. Nevertheless, my research focuses on the post-2017 period because Parliament now more closely resembles the general population than ever before.

My doctoral research focuses on what ethnic minority MPs do once they are elected. While ethnic minority MPs currently hold two of the four Great Offices of State, most of the current cohort are backbenchers. This means that they have limited direct oversight or influence on public policy. I therefore examine the parliamentary questions asked by ethnic minority MPs – both written and oral – in order to ascertain whether or not they use these questions to challenge racism. I will also conduct interviews with a range of ethnic minority MPs in order to gain direct insights from them about their roles.

It is important that ethnic minority MPs use the platform they are given to challenge racism because racism affects the lives of ethnic minorities in Britain, regardless of their class or status. Britain’s imperial and colonial history led to the entrenchment of racial hierarchies; this means that society is structured to promote racial inequalities.

Central to the British approach to racism is the desire to root out the extremists or ‘bad apples‘ that are framed as the main perpetrators of racism. However, focusing on flagrant, individual manifestations of racism overlooks the fact that racism is systematic and pervasive across institutions in Britain. The Race Disparity Audit commissioned by the government in 2017 highlights some of the problems faced by minorities across various areas of British life. Some of their key findings include:

  • 16% of Black households were in found to be living in persistent poverty.
  • Black ethnic groups were found to be disproportionately likely to live in the most deprived neighbourhoods.
  • Approximately 1 in 10 adults from a Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Mixed background were found to be unemployed.

Remedying institutional racism starts with the recognition that it is a big problem. There is limited discussion or engagement with institutional racism in the UK. MPs can play a role in reshaping our understanding of racism by challenging its institutional nature.

By undertaking a PhD, I hope to forge a career in academia. Academia, much like Parliament, is overwhelmingly white. A delve into some of the statistics makes for harrowing reading. Leading Routes, an initiative aimed at increasing the number of black academics, report that of the 19,000 professors in the UK, fewer than 150 are black. The Equality in Higher Education 2018 Report found that only 6.7% of academic staff identified as black or minority ethnic.

These statistics are disheartening for black students attempting to scale the rungs of academia, however we can take some inspiration from trialblazers like Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, and Bernie Grant who broke down barriers to make history. Their journeys to Parliament were far from straightforward, but provide real hope for other black people attempting to break barriers across various sectors of society.

We can also take courage and inspiration from the succinct, yet powerful words of Professor Marcia Wilson, one of the few black female professors in Britain: Academia needs you. Higher Education needs more people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in order to ensure a diversity of perspectives and opinions. The legitimacy of academia is undermined by its lack of diversity. There is a real need to remove the barriers to academia for black and minority ethnic citizens. Academia will be a better place for it.

#BHM2019: Four Stubborn Issues

Talah Anderson has joined the team as one of the new Diversity & Inclusion Project Interns. As part of their induction, we’ve asked them to write a blog post about something important to them. 

It is an exciting time to join the Diversity & Inclusion team at King’s, given that the function is presently expanding in attempt to better combat structural inequality in the University and its faculties. In the light of its recent re-application to the Race Equality Charter Mark, King’s has identified four key obstacles to bringing about race equality across the University.

In this blog post, I intend to review these so-called “stubborn issues” and reflect on their significance, as well as restate, so as to witness, King’s’ action plan to bring about “an inclusive environment where all individuals are valued and able to succeed”, a fundamental tenet of King’s Strategic Vision 2029.

The first stubborn issue identified in the report is the extreme lack of ethnic diversity among King’s’ senior leaders. According to King’s self-assessment, just 8% of King’s professors belong to Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups – and only 0.6% of those UK BME professors are Black. These figures unfortunately do compare to national trends. Advance HE’s Equality in higher education: staff statistical report 2018 reveals that just 9.3% of UK professors are BME, while only 0.4% are Black. There is also an extreme lack of ethnic diversity among King’s’ senior professional services staff. Just 6.8% of King’s most senior professional services staff are BME, a figure only fractionally better than the national average of 4.5%.

The second stubborn issue identified in the report is the widespread perception among King’s students and staff that the University does not talk about race and racism or fails to do so with appropriate sensitivity. According to King’s’ self-assessment, a third of BME students and just under a third of BME staff feel they lack opportunities to discuss race at the University. On the occasions that these discussions have taken place, BME students and staff report being made to feel uncomfortable due to having been met with defensive and/or emotional reactions, which ultimately silence and undermine their experiences.

The third stubborn issue identified in the report is the prevalence of “microaggressions”; implicit forms of racism (whether conscious or unconscious) across King’s campuses. Microaggressions, e.g., a lecturer never making the effort to pronounce a student’s name correctly; a student claiming that they never “see” colour, convey hidden messages (e.g., disregard for “foreign” identities; denial of racism) and so signpost racist subtexts: that is, that BME students and staff do not belong at King’s. Microaggressions negatively impact King’s BME staff and student retention and, in turn, the University’s BME talent pipeline.

The fourth stubborn issue identified in the report is the attainment gap at King’s. Differential outcomes vary between faculties at the University, but BME students are 4% less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 than their white peers. Black students are significantly less likely to achieve a first-class degree than any other student group. Differential attainment then goes on to disadvantage BME students in postgraduate education and in the labour market. Indeed, as a result of the aforementioned structural inequalities, BME cohorts are less likely to enter graduate employment and continue on to postgraduate study when compared to their white peers.

Taking a broad view of these issues, it seems apt to stress their interconnectedness. Of course, an institution with few BME employees in senior management positions is less likely to be steered by the knowledge and experiences of BME people, making it less likely for discussions involving race and racism to be facilitated appropriately, if at all. If an institution fails to facilitate effective, open dialogue with its staff and students (where the institution’s primary role is to listen), institutional cultures that normalise microaggressions cannot be corrected and will instead be perpetuated, compromising King’s commitment to creating an “inclusive environment where all individuals are valued and able to succeed” as part of Vision 2029, in appreciation of, and yet still despite, race.

In response to these Stubborn Issues, King’s has developed a four-year strategic plan, which includes the following flagship actions:

  1. Establishing King’s first Race Equality Board to govern our progress towards race equity
  2. Conducting a comprehensive review of King’s staff recruitment and selection processes
  3. The creation of a ring-fenced fund to support the development and progression of BME talent
  4. Researching King’s history with race and racism – uncovering hidden and erased contributions of BME people to our institution and disciplines
  5. Detailed research and actions to identify, track, and respond to micro-aggressions at King’s

#BHM2019: It’s not Black and White

Tyler John has joined the team as one of the new Diversity and Inclusion Project Interns. As part of their induction, we’ve asked them to write a blog post about something important to them. 

As October brings a celebration of Black History Month, I thought I would use this digital canvas to paint a picture of what Blackness and being ‘Black’ means to me.  

Being Black is historically unchartered territory for me, as a white-passing, mixed-race person. My dad is a black man, whose heritage is both white British and Black Caribbean, and my mum is 100% White British. This roughly means that I am 75% White British, and 25% Black Caribbean – as it happens, using percentages to define one’s identity is relatively impossible!  

Growing up in a mixed-race family, I have been surrounded by People of Colour my entire life. As a child, being Black meant nothing more to me than having brown or black skin, and as a result, Blackness was something I couldn’t experience or get involved in. Though I have two brothers with the exact same racial makeup as myself, my white skin (compared to their brown skin), alienated me from the identity they were able to share with the rest of my family – they were Black and I was white.  

Though I am older and, one could say, wiser now, the importance of visible race is still so pervasive to my understanding of Blackness. How could it not be, when the colour of one’s skin has huge implications for their everyday experience? Black men are consistently the most likely demographic to have a fatal encounter with the police (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019), and black women earn on average 40% less than white men do (Lean In, 2019)The fact is, my white skin means I will never experience these disadvantages, and this is a privilege that cannot be ignored. However, does it make me any less Black? 

Yes, and no. Having darker skin is a huge factor in the lived experiences of People of Colour, affecting how you exist and move through the world, and because of the colour of my skin, there are experiences, sentiments and feelings inherent to being Black that I can never share. However, as I have now learned, and as I continue to try and teach myself, being Black is so much more than the colour of one’s skin.  

To me, being Black is a multi-dimensional and intersectional experience. It exists in the places we live, the food we eat, the music we listen to, the art we consume, the clothes we wear, the history we have lived through, and ultimately, how we engage with these things. Though I may have been one of the only white-skinned people in my family, I’ve spent enough summers making roti with my Granddad and listening to soca at family parties to understand that being Black doesn’t solely reside in the way we look, but also in the way we live our lives 

This is a continuing journey for me as an adult. At every opportunity, I find myself desperately keen to absorb things outside of the white-centric cultural hegemony and expose myself to things that will not only diversify my understanding of race but too, my understanding of my own racial experience. I am a gay, mixed-race, working-class person, and every day, I discover something new about what this means. Will I ever have a perfect understanding of myself and the things that make me who I am? No, probably not, but I’m so excited to explore as much as I possibly can.  

Empathy Epiphany

I joined King’s 2½ years ago, and am seeing the end of my third academic year. It has always made me laugh how many people ask if I get the holidays off –  if only! As much as a long summer holiday would be attractive, one of the main reasons I wanted this role was that it brought together the staff and student focus. I believe D&I applies to everyone everywhere in our organisation, and making and sustaining improvements requires looking at King’s as a whole.

An intrinsic part of my role is understanding our student body and forming good working relationships with the Students’ Union (KCLSU) elected Officers. Recently, I was privileged enough to attend this year’s outgoing Officers leaving party. I was astounded when I joined King’s and learned what was expected from student Officers. Taking a year out from their degrees, they are responsible for overseeing the work of the Students’ Union as a democratic charity, making collective decisions with other KCLSU Trustees, championing change and student activism, and supporting and empowering King’s students to influence change. This often involves them sitting on some of the College’s most senior or influential bodies like Council and Academic Board. It’s a steep learning curve and the stakes are high.

I found the leaving event really moving. Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal) both gave lovely speeches recognising the Officers’ achievements and contributions. Then each of the Officers made a speech reflecting on their year; their election, the highs and lows, how they had formed and performed as a team and are clearly, now, close friends.

Denis Shukur (CEO of KCLSU) and Evelyn Welch (Provost and Acting Principal)

I was particularly affected by Jessica Oshodin’s speech. She was overcome with emotion and gave a living, breathing exposition of imposter syndrome and the isolation that comes with being the only black and female team member. She had been surprised to be elected. Each of her peers had clearly recognised, in their speeches, her hard work, her leadership, her competence and her legacy. While in post, Jessica ran the She Should Run campaign to encourage more women and those that self-identify as women to run for part of KCLSU’s elected positions. This hard work has resulted in two women winning elected positions in the 2019/20 KCLSU Officer team.

Jessica was brutally honest about how hard she had found the year and it made me cry.

Cry for so many reasons; because I was proud to know her and have played some small part in her journey. I had seen her in action and know her to be a woman of integrity, intelligence and effectiveness.

Because so much of what she said had personal resonance. I have often been the first or only woman/brown person somewhere and know well the feeling that I’m not good enough or worthy.

Because, even now, I believe she is still self-questioning, having completed her degree at King’s and been the Vice President Postgraduate officer in a pretty tough year. As someone with a Masters in exactly what she wants to do, she still holds a heap of self-doubt that is to do with her identity, not her capability.

It may surprise readers to know that I am often felt not to be a very empathetic person. Empathy, Google tells me, is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Simply, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It is a difficult thing to admit as core to my role is enabling others to develop and practice empathy. It’s an element of my personal development that I have worked on consistently over the years.

I believe myself to be and have been told that I am a good listener. What I am not is patient or good at listening without ‘helping’, which is what real empathy often requires: being able to listen and show that you understand and, in some situations, just allow the other person time and space. I am a ‘fixer’, I love to problem solve and act – so believe I am helping by advising and chivvying. I have had to learn to stop myself and I continue to try but know it’s not something that comes naturally.

Another area of improvement that I have recognised is that I need to stop immediately thinking about how I would feel or what I would do in a situation, but to step back and really make myself focus on understanding how the other person is feeling in the situation they are in. The more I have reflected, the more honest I have had to be with myself and know that I am not good at that particular element of empathy.

Being able to imagine myself in a situation is not the same as understanding how someone else is experiencing something. At the leaving party, l was truly able to see things through the individual Officers’ eyes and understand – I had an empathy epiphany! Their storytelling really stopped me and made me listen. Their stories also made me want to work harder to prevent future Jessicas and Mohammeds from feeling isolated and othered simply because of who they are and instead allow them to revel in their talent. So, as we face a new academic year, I will commit to redoubling my efforts to build my empathy skills and to more proactively supporting our newly elected KCLSU Officers.

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