Roar Writer Danielle Jones on the recent petition started by a KCL student to rename Guy’s Campus in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
King’s College London has released a number of statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. On the surface, it appears that the university is listening to black and brown voices; but expecting students to attend classes on a campus named after Thomas Guy, a man who made his fortune from the slave trade, feels like a slap in the face.
Thomas Guy is hailed as a philanthropist, having used his fortune to fund the building of Guy’s Hospital. However, Guy made his money by selling his shares in the South Sea Company, which was responsible for the transportation of roughly 64,000 African slaves between 1715 and 1731.
The KCL website describes Guy as an “eccentric philanthropist”, and goes on to acknowledge that he made his fortune through controversial practices. The practice they choose to mention? Illegally printing Bibles. There is no acknowledgement of his involvement in the South Sea Company and the slave trade.
Spurred on by the removal of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol, which was rolled down to the harbour and pushed into the River Avon by protesters, campaigners want the Thomas Guy statues in Guy’s Chapel and the hospital grounds to be removed; they also want the campus to be renamed.
One KCL student, Ayesha Khan, started a petition to change the name of Guy’s Campus. The petition has rapidly gained the support of students and London citizens horrified at finding out Thomas Guy’s history. Renaming the campus may be tricky, as it verges on the ground of Guy’s Hospital, named after Thomas Guy following his donation to start the hospital’s construction. However, is it fair to expect black and ethnic minority students to attend classes on a campus named after an individual involved in the slave trade? Is it fair to expect patients to receive medical care, to entrust their health to NHS staff, in a hospital named after Thomas Guy?
Ayesha Khan told Roar that she started the petition as “it didn’t sit right with me that so many friends and professors of mine are of all different backgrounds, yet the very site they studied at was named after a man who systematically contributed to the enslavement of black people”. She also accused KCL of promoting a “rose-tinted” narrative surrounding Guy and suggested that there is no shortage of better people the campus could be named after.
We all know that history can’t be changed. We can’t undo the wrongs of the past. However, we can acknowledge the past and learn from it. The Mayor of Bristol has announced that the Edward Colston statue will be fished out of the River Avon and displayed in a museum, where visitors can learn about the city’s “true history” and Britain’s involvement in the slave trade as a whole.
One BAME student studying in the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care, who wished to remain anonymous, said “It’s important that King’s owns up to its history. It would have greatly affected my decision to study at KCL, as it feels like having kept the name and statue of Thomas Guy for so long means that they’re proud to be affiliated with him and his values.” She went on to say that “it’s not enough to not be racist, institutions like King’s need to be actively anti-racist.”
As I was writing this article, I received an email from my faculty emphasising their support for the Black Lives Matter and asking BAME students to participate in discussions with senior staff and student representatives. From where I stand, BAME students are screaming loud and clear for justice, and I have to wonder if KCL is blissfully ignorant or purposefully ignoring its own students and faculty.
I believe KCL needs to match its actions with its words, and make all campuses safe and comfortable places for students and faculty. To sign the petition and make your voice heard, you can click here. At the time of writing, over 7,600 people have signed to try and ensure KCL follows through on its commitment to create an “inclusive environment that promotes equality”.