Students were left disappointed by the College’s response to the open meeting held yesterday to address the BME attainment gap and other issues affecting minority ethnic students at King’s.
Over 200 people attended the meeting, which had been organised by Principal Ed Byrne following recent direct action carried out by King’s Ethnic Minority Association (KEMA), such as the People of Colour Walkout and the Black Out the White Wall campaign.
The Principal was joined on stage by other senior staff members of King’s, including the Head of Administration Ian Creagh and BME Attainment Officer Hana Riazuddin, as well as several students who are part of KEMA and the nationwide ‘Why is My Curriculum White?’ campaign.
The students spoke of their experiences as BME students at King’s, with one woman describing how upset she felt to be perceived as a “threat” by the university, given the high security presence at the protest in front of the Meet the Professors display.
The floor was then opened to attendees of the meetings to have a chance to share their thoughts. Many discussed the lack of diversity in the curriculum, with the inclusion of writers of colour often seen to be of a tokenistic nature. The lack of representation, not only on reading lists but in the university itself, had, one student described, led her to question her own intelligence and worth.
One female postgraduate described how she had been elected vice president of a society, only for other members to try and undermine her by refusing to share information such as passwords. Another described feeling that she had to work “ten times as hard” to be elected onto the committee of the society than her white counterparts.
A common theme throughout was the fact that when students have voiced these concerns, they have been dismissed as being overly sensitive or accused of “derailing” the conversation.
Other issues raised at the meeting included the need to acknowledge the colonial legacy of the UK, the university’s refusal to outright condemn PREVENT policy and the lack of attention paid to the way mental health problems affect BME students.
Throughout the often emotive speeches students expressed their support through applause and snapping their fingers.
The Principal responded with a speech which he began by saying how “grateful” he was to the students who had spoken. He affirmed that the College are “on the same page” as students and are committed to making real progress, particularly in regards to the attainment gap, with targets set for the next three years to narrow the disparity between white and BME students. He also discussed plans to renovate the so-called ‘White Wall’ to represent a more diverse range of women,
Despite this, the meeting’s participants were quick to vocalise their disappointment with what the Principal said, arguing that there was no evidence of tangible plans for action and that focusing merely on statistics obscured the human experiences of BME students.
The meeting was brought to a close by the need to vacate the room it was being held in, but a second meeting is planned for 5.30pm today at Guy’s Campus, and the Principal asserted that further meetings could be arranged so that all students’ opinions could be heard.