Roar Writer Samuel Pennifold on the KCLSU and how he believes it could lead the charge for positive change in the King’s student body.
The King’s College Student Union must do more to support debate on campus. Debate is the starting point for all truly effective change. Now more than ever, that change is forcing itself into the light, and we must answer the call. King’s does offer a range of societies, from political groups, religious societies, or enclaves of various countries. But in belonging to such societies, people can become defined by one group and exist within an echo chamber – their ideas, thoughts, and opinions constantly being reflected back at them.
Debate allows people to understand each other better; to hear new ideas, thoughts, and opinions. It challenges your arguments and assumptions. When you are confident enough to debate your ideas with your peers, then you know that idea can effect change.
An unfortunate truth of the Black Lives Matter movement is that a while after it has flared up, it seems to fade out of the news, and in turn the wider public conscience. There are those such as Colin Kaepernick who carry on the torch and burden of advocacy no matter what, but most seem only to act in reactive measures. Take for example the new petition to change the name of Guy’s Campus. On either side of the debate of renaming buildings or removing statues with links to slavery, there exist valid arguments that can challenge your thinking. I personally have had my ideas challenged, and feel I have learnt from it. But before now I had not thought of this issue – within my own echo chamber, the debate had not come up. This is why student union needs to support student debate: so issues such as the renaming of Guy’s Campus can be brought to light before a crisis does that for us.
The privilege of democracy is the ability to disagree with one another, and on King’s campuses, we are letting this privilege slip by. I believe the student union should host regular student debates to discuss issues of race, gender, equality, and more.
Healthy debate is key to understanding and moving forward to effectively challenge any issue, especially those concerning race. With better understating, issues can be addressed and dealt with before the worst occurrences have to bring them into sharp focus. The Student Union should do more to support this.
Such action is even mandated by the KCLSU’s constitution. The SU must provide “social, cultural, sporting and recreational activities and forums for discussions and debate for the personal development of its Students”.
Debate amongst young people is part of the answer to creating a more free world. Small changes such as organising debate are in no way a silver bullet to solve systemic issues – but as a generation, we will have the chance to enact the kind of truly large-scale change that is needed in the world. That starts with debate and should start now on campus. To make the kind of true change we seek, we must first acknowledge our differences in feelings, opinions, and ideas. Those differences can be our greatest strength in effecting positive change.
This is not to say the KCLSU is failing in its duty. The SU is a brilliant representation of people from different races and genders. The statement they released in support of the BLM movement was powerful and strong, and the schemes they outline within it seem to be more than token gestures. Such actions are important and not to be underestimated, but we as a student body must always strive for more. We must strive to end “discrimination, resist against structural oppression, and build a more humane and habitable world”, as the KCLSU calls for. Debate is the first of many steps to allow us to work out together how we can do that.
If change takes time to grow and debate is what feeds that growth, then accountability is the root. This is why I also call for an expansion of the Accountability Panel to include more members, up from 7, and with more regular meetings than the minimum of 3 a year as described on the panel’s application form.
The panel, I propose, should amongst its many duties have the ability to publicly release reports on the steps being taken and discussed to achieve equality, so we as a student body can play a further role in the process. Accountability and debate create a kind of dynamic equilibrium, so we can constantly strive for better and challenge ourselves.
Together with a wider-reaching Accountability Panel and greater student debate on campus, the KCL student body can become a beacon of change – a cycle of reaction to oppression, racism, and inequality can end. We can be on the front foot and face issues, because no lives matter until black lives matter. And trans lives matter. And gay lives matter. And the life or lives of any discriminated person or group matters.