Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King's College London

Tag: Religion or belief

Posts related to religion or belief

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

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


Reflection on Genesis 21:8-13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LGBTQ+ Inclusion and the Church

For LGBTQ+ History Month, EDI Project Officer, Jemma Adams, pens a blog about her experience of the church and its attitudes towards LGBTQ+ lives.


My personal faith and belief meanders sometimes away, sometimes alongside, the mainstream Christian church, but what I do believe is that Christian scripture, tradition and experience reveals a God who transcends gender and sexuality, a God who did not create, nor do I believe they would condone, the heteronormativity that has come to consume much of the church. As a theologian I am fully convinced that the church can only be authentic to the message of Jesus Christ and its own scripture if LGBT+ people are fully included and indeed central to the life of the church. Others would disagree with me, but I do not want to give them space and use my words here to argue against them (there are also many theologians and writers who have done this far better than I ever could here). Instead I want to reflect on the experience on the ground for individuals and churches and offer a glimpse into what the full inclusion of LGBT+ people in the church might look like.

Whilst the Church of England and other denominations continue to tie themselves up in knots with statements and ‘conversations’ about sex, sexuality, gender and marriage, LGBT+ Christians have to endure the heartache and hurt of statements made about them, demeaning their relationships, identity and the validity of their very existence in the eyes of the church. But whilst this goes on in the governance and leadership of the Church of England there are church communities who are flying the pride flag from their spires (sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically), who are actively campaigning for equal marriage and ensuring LGBT+ people are at the centre of their leadership and expression.

In my experience, however, most churches sit somewhere in the middle, often tolerant but not active or explicit in their LGBT+ inclusion. Such churches often want to be welcoming and inclusive, but my message to them is that tolerance and silence are just not enough. Such an approach requires people to be neutral, to mute themselves and hide their identity. That is not equality and inclusion and nor do I believe it reflects the fundamental Christian principle that we are made in the image of God. If that is true, and humans reflect the person of God, then ‘when anyone is invisible, aspects of God, too, are also rendered invisible’.[1] God is beyond sexuality and gender, yet paradoxically contains all within, just as God is both transcendent and embodied (in the person of Jesus).

If a church community wants to be fully inclusive they must be explicit about being welcoming to LGBT+ people and they must follow this through in every aspect of church life and worship. In other words, they must work to challenge the heteronormativity and the patriarchal structures that can be present, and this must be done by the whole congregation and not just left to LGBT+ individuals. They must think about the language and imagery they use about God; LGBT+ dating and relationships need to be talked about just as straight relationships are; different types of families should be remembered in prayer and sermons and discussion should include references to LGBT+ lives as much as straight or cis lives.

My hope is that the church becomes a place of equal marriage, where all loving and committed relationships are respected and supported and where LGBT+ lives are recognised in the rites and symbols of the church. I long to see a church where people are not othered or excluded no matter what their gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, ethnicity, neurodiversity or cultural expression. My confidence in that vision often wavers, but the faith and strength of those I know in the church actively working to bring about this vision gives me hope, and I think we’ll get there… eventually.

  • This blog was inspired and influenced by Siobhan Garrigan (2009) Queer Worship, Theology & Sexuality, 15:2, 211-230.
  • If you’re interested in the theology of sexuality and gender, I recommend Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).
  • If you’re interested in finding an LGBTQ+ inclusive church, have a look at this list provided by the King’s Chaplaincy team – LGBT Churches in London

[1] Janet R. Watson, Feminist Liturgy: Its Tasks and Principles (The Liturgical Press, 2000), p. 33.

Holocaust Memorial Day: We Stand Together by Dr Harrie Cedar

January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day,  to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in CambodiaRwandaBosnia and Darfur. 27 January marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

King’s Jewish Chaplain, Dr Harrie Cedar, has kindly written us a blog post on this year’s theme of We Stand Together. You can also find out more about events taking place around King’s for Holocaust Memorial Day on our Events page


Some places make us feel at home. They may be unexpected places, but somehow, there is a culture that makes us feel at ease. For me, new to the role here, Kings is one such place. That strikes me as strange because, many years ago, I decided not to do my undergraduate degree here as it seemed very old and stuck in its ways. Things change.

Like all people, I am on a journey. After completing a PhD, I became a research scientist. Then for many years, I worked as a university academic. I liked the students, a very diverse group and I loved teaching them. They were a lesson in life for me. During that time, I came to Kings on a sabbatical to the Stem Cell Laboratory of Dr Stephen Minger. I had not been doing serious research science for a while, but instantly felt at home among young PhD students and Post Docs who were from all over the world. Each semester we would also inherit some Kings BSc students doing a final year project. Overseeing them was a joy. Many described themselves or their parents as ‘off the boat’, but they were so ‘London’; enthusiastic, curious and great fun; often very observant in their beliefs, but inclusive to all. I had a wonderful time and was sad to leave – which I never really did- going on to study for an MA in Jewish Studies at Kings a few years ago.

Now, I am back at Kings in a different role, as a Jewish Chaplain, in this huge, diverse community. My colleagues are very inclusive, sharing a common belief in respect for others, but encouraging a range of religious practises. I feel included in. That is a wonderful feeling.

Being included in, rather than ‘included out’, allows the best of people to shine. Each one of us is unique, regardless of the labels that society gives us (male/female, straight/gay, British/French, liberal/conservative etc). And each one of us counts. Nobody else can be us, even in an age where we can digitally (and genetically) clone people. Or as Oscar Wilde put it “Be yourself; everybody else is taken”. It is hard to be yourself and to fit in. But that is the glory of Kings. We Stand Together as a university, as a community recognising everybody as themselves on their individual journey to become themselves.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, I remember 6 million people who were killed not because of who they were, but as a need to label them as just one part of themselves, Jewish. Their lives, and 1.5 million of them were children, were cut off before their full potential could be realised. Each person, a light extinguished; a dream denied. In Judaism, to kill a person is to destroy a world. All the things that person would have done vanishes All the generations they may have produced are never realised. In the three Abrahamic traditions, we believe that each and every human is made in the image and likeness of G-d and, therefore, killing someone is destroying a part of G-d, a truly wicked thing.  We are each irreplaceable and should never try to diminish another. Even without killing somebody, trying to dim another’s light does not make your light shine brighter.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, We Stand Together, remembering the terrible consequences of division.  We Stand Together, not as a ‘Uni’ a one thing, but as a ‘Universe’ (-ity) where we all belong. We Stand Together to allow each person to be themselves, to realise their full potential. We Stand Together to let each individual’s light shine.

Holocaust Memorial Day: We Stand Together

Recently, I’ve watched two films that really gave me pause for thought about World War 2, particularly around the impact of exposure to fanaticism in childhood.

During 2019’s Black History Month, our Race Equality Network screened Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch, the story of a biracial teenage girl struggling for survival in Nazi Germany. One of the most striking scenes portrayed this teenage girl seeking to belong, as all teenagers wish to, which in this case meant trying to join in with the local activities of the Hitler Youth. A similar picture is shown in a much quirkier, and disconcerting, fashion, in Taika Waititi’s JoJo Rabbit. The film is centered around a 10-year-old boy who is nicknamed JoJo Rabbit because he doesn’t kill a rabbit when peer pressured to do so at Hitler Youth camp. JoJo has an imaginary friend – Adolf Hitler – his internal picture of the person who would be the greatest to have as a friend!

Both these films imaginatively and differently look at World War 2 and the situation as it arose in Germany through the eyes of children. How they try and make sense of it. How they still find joy and friendship. What they accept as normal because they have no other context or experience. How adults work to protect them and don’t tell or explain to all the bad and scary stuff – partly because the adults themselves can’t fully comprehend it. In these gaps, children find their own ways of coping.

The way that fascism was almost passively accepted as a way of life in these films scared me to my core. It reminded me of the need to be constantly vigilant, even in a democracy, because totalitarian regimes don’t spring out of just nowhere. Oppression creeps into people’s everyday lives, sometimes undetected. Those of us that are comfortable and safe may not feel the need to challenge it. Going unchecked, these films show us where it can lead.

The 27th January marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. It has become Holocaust Memorial Day.  It is a day marked internationally in a world scarred by genocide and encourages remembrance of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, alongside the millions of other people killed under Nazi Persecution and in subsequent genocides in CambodiaRwandaBosnia and Darfur.

The Holocaust threatened the fabric of civilisation and genocide must still be resisted every day. Our world often feels fragile and vulnerable and we cannot be complacent. Even in the UK, prejudice and the language of hatred must be challenged by us all. At King’s we recognise this and continue working with KCLSU on the It Stops Here campaign to ensure our campus is safe and respectful.

Holocaust Memorial Day is for everyone. Each year across the UK, thousands of people come together to learn more about the past and take action to create a safer future. We know they learn more, empathise more and do .

I thank Amma Asante and Taika Waititi for providing me with a new means of reflection to remind me to bear witness for the victims of genocide and to honour the survivors and all those whose lives were changed beyond recognition.

Becoming a better ally

In anticipation for London Pride this weekend, King’s Chaplain, Tim Ditchfield, has penned a blog reflecting on his experience at the Stonewall Open Trans Ally Programme.. 


In recent years I have met several trans people and have heard their stories of challenges and struggle, a desire to be fully themselves and a pressure to deny themselves. And painful stories of being victimised and on the receiving end of abuse and aggression.

As someone who identifies as a straight cis Christian man (I guess you’d expect the Christian bit from the College Chaplain!) I am aware of two key things. Firstly, that God is a God of love who welcomes all people and has a special concern for those who are treated badly by other people, often those on the margins; and secondly that the church has, sadly, failed to live up to this standard in so many ways, but especially in relation to LGBTQ+ people.

I have also realised how I have sat on the fence about this. Recognising a desire for equality but doing little about it as it doesn’t affect me personally. Which is why over the past year I have started to be more proactive. I went to the Stonewall Workplace conference in April which was inspirational seeing so many impressive people speaking. And so many of the speakers identified as people of faith.

Ruth Hunt, the amazing CEO of Stonewall, spoke of her faith. Also people like Nour Shaker, the Trans Advisor for Vodaphone UK, and Shaan Knan, a Liberal Jewish trans man, who is working on a PhD exploring the intersection of trans and faith. All of these people and many others during the day spoke of their faith in a positive way and how it has shaped and encouraged them to be who they are.

As a result of this, I went on the Stonewall OPEN Trans Allies Programme two weeks ago. This was a day-long programme described as follows:

The Stonewall Trans Allies Programme is for individuals at all levels in an organisation. It is designed to empower individuals to actively create more trans-inclusive workplaces and communities. It’s designed to give participants a deeper understanding of the impact of common transphobic narratives on the trans community, and help participants create a clear action plan to actively tackle them, and to give participants access to a network of other trans allies to help create positive change.

The starting point for the day grew out of this statement of intent: though Stonewall encourages an open and honest environment, debating people’s identities is not acceptable. Trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people exist. All identities are valid.

It was a useful day as we explored terminology, identity & privilege as well as the current legal position. It was painful to hear people’s stories of abuse and the reality of transphobia. It was challenging to work through what we as allies can do to respond proactively to this.

We had to leave with an action plan: what we’d do immediately, within a month and within a year. My immediate one was to use my pronouns in emails and on name labels at events, which I’m now doing. (I found this blog really helpful when asking why I should do this.)

Check.

Within a month, I planned to write a blog post about the day. Here it is.

Check.

Within a year I want to ensure the chaplaincy is a place where trans people feel fully welcome and included, and also a place where we are encouraging all people to explore the intersections of trans and faith in a safe environment.

Work in progress.

 

National Hate Crime Awareness Week

To mark National Hate Crime Awareness Week, Safrina Ahmed (It Stops Here Project Officer) will be discussing the It Stops Here campaign and its widening focus on religious hate crime.


It Stops Here

It Stops Here is a collaborative campaign by King’s College London and KCLSU to build an environment where our King’s community feels welcome, supported and safe regardless of their gender, sexuality, race or disability. Specifically, it aims to tackle bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct so that all members of our vibrant community can thrive.

The campaign has now run for three years, and it has achieved some important things including but not limited to; training students in Active Bystander Intervention, running an online KEATS module called ‘Consent Matters’ and organising Consent Week with the support of student ambassadors.

Expansion

The It Stops Here campaign is now expanding and widening its focus to address religious hate crime, which is currently a sector wide priority and we want to make sure King’s is at the forefront of leading this crucial work.

What is Hate Crime?

According to the Home Office, hate crime is

Any crime that is motivated by hostility on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or transgender identity can be classed as a hate crime

Hate crime is any criminal offence is perceived by the victim to be motivated by prejudice. Forms of hate crime have overall risen in England and Wales and religious hate crime made up 7% of hate crime in 2016-2017.  Higher Education has not been immune to this.

The Community Security Trust’s Anti-Semitic Incidents Report 2015 showed that of the 924 anti-Semitic incidents that were recorded, 21 involved students, academics or other student bodies. 13 of these incidents took place on HE campuses.

Tell   is a national project which records and measures anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom.  In 2015, they received 1,128 reports of anti-Muslim incidents in 2015. Of the 468 ‘offline’ attacks, 6% of female victims and 14% of all male victims were at an educational institution when the incident occurred.

Whilst this data is not wholly reliable, it indicates the need for institutions to tackle religious hate crime so that it was better recorded, and all our students and staff are able to study and work free from any form of religious intolerance.

Intersectionality

Many students also experience religious hate crime at the intersection of their identities. Evidence submitted to the UUK’s taskforce shown that some women were targeted for sexual harassment across a number of their characteristics – such as their ethnicity, race, and faith.

Research from the National Union of Students found that one in three of their respondents were fairly or very worried about experiencing verbal abuse, physical attacks, vandalism or property damage due to their religion at their place of study. This was a gendered experience; women who wear Islamic garments were significantly more likely to be very worried about being abused.

Our Next Steps

Evidence from both within and out of the sector has highlighted the importance of Higher Education institutions  responding to religious hate crime. It is for this reason that the Office for Students pledged to tackle the problem and given eleven universities, including King’s, £480,000 worth of funding to tackle religious hate crime.

Over the next two years, we will be exploring different ways to ensure we protect our community against religious hate crime and harassment such as community-specific active bystander workshops, an interfaith student fund and improved anonymous disclosure platforms.

You called, we came and It Stops Here

Last week I had the privilege to go to Windrush – Movement of the People.

It was produced to celebrate the 70th anniversary of SS Empire Windrush arriving which marked the start of Caribbean migration and the growth of multiculturalism in Great Britain. It is particularly poignant as it is being performed against a background of those ‘Windrush immigrants’ facing a challenge to their status as British citizens.

I happened to see the production in the week that was also the anniversary of the racist, hateful murder of Stephen Lawrence and found myself overwhelmed with emotion, tears pouring down my face. I realised I had been studiously avoiding thinking or engaging in the Windrush Home Office fiasco and all the various media pieces on the legacy created by Stephen’s death.

The part of the performance that particularly affected me was the depiction of the boat journey itself accompanied by the spoken words:

You called, and we came

You called, and we came

Remember you called.

Upon hearing this, I realised that many deep-seated, well-buried fears had been revived… fears that I don’t belong, that one day I might also be ‘sent back’.

I am British Born. I hold a British Passport. I have never lived anywhere else. Both my parents are immigrants. Technically, my Dad is probably one of the “Windrush people”, having come here from Trinidad in the 60’s to train as a mental health nurse. So these fears are not unfounded. My youth gave me many indicators that I didn’t belong, from friends who wouldn’t invite me over because their parents didn’t like ‘blacks’, to being called a “Paki” in the street, the soundtrack of family telling me to work hard as I would never be accepted, to the Tebbit test (which, for the record, I fail. I’m a straight out West Indies fan).

In recent years, those childhood fears have come back around with renewed force. While I don’t practice a faith, my mum is a Muslim. Yet in an increasingly Islamophobic world, who knows when being half Muslim could become a part of an identity that defines me and affects me or my family’s safety – history shows us that these are very real possibilities.

Sitting in the theatre, all of that hit me. My mum and dad, what might their parallel paths have been? Why did they choose to come to the UK? Why did they choose to endure the ‘no blacks, no Irish, no dogs’ years?

It’s 2017 and people just like my parents are facing the possibility of being “sent back”. As I look back through my life and think about my family – married to a white man and our mixed-race children – I keep asking myself, when will it end? When will the fear of the difference of my heritage and the colour of my skin stop destabilising my life? I fear the answer is never.

It’s all these thoughts, feelings, issues that makes education and efforts to tackle race and religious hatred ever more important. I am so glad that King’s stepped up to participate in the latest Office for Students efforts and that we have been awarded a £50,000 grant to expand our current work on the It Stops Here campaign to look at religious-based hate crime. This gives us an opportunity to expand our established work around prevention and responses to bullying and harassment to better recognize the needs of religious communities within King’s, particularly focusing on incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia.

LGBT History Month – Helena

For LGBT History Month the Diversity & Inclusion team is sharing some of their reflections. The following piece comes from Helena Mattingley, Head of Diversity & Inclusion. 

Last week, I went to Berlin. It’s was a week after Holocaust Memorial day and each memorial I went to had a gathering of flowers and tributes to the victims of the Holocaust. As it is LGBT history month, it was particularly important to me to see the memorial to homosexuals persecuted under Nazism.

As an intersectional aside, section 175 of German law only prohibited male homosexuality. Just like English and Welsh law, female sexual orientation was not considered. Female sexual orientation was not seen to exist or be relevant– there is some intersectional work at play here, something for another blog post.

The memorial is a concrete cube, which mirrors the holocaust memorial on the opposite side of the road with one difference. A small, narrow view point is cut into the concrete to show a looped video of two men kissing. The cube is a physical embodiment of the repressive, intolerant, narrow minded prejudice, with the film showing love concealed from many viewing angles. It’s directly opposite the holocaust memorial (also known as Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) which is a disorienting sequence of symbolic concrete sarcophagi.

The homosexual memorial exists because under German National Socialism, gay and bisexual men were labelled with pink triangles, deported to concentration camps through the ‘extermination through work’ policy, or if ‘lucky’ criminalised or forced to hide their sexuality. Individuals were tortured and murdered. LGB communities were destroyed.

Thinking about the symmetry between the holocaust memorial and the memorial to homosexuals persecuted under Nazism shows me two things – all victims of the holocaust share a commonality, and yet, there are differences too.

This for me is the most important part of inclusion. We all share a commonality of humanity, and we are all different.

The second most important part of inclusion is to learn from history.

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