Diversity and social cohesion have long been on the political agenda, with areas such as Kingston town positively reflecting the diverse cultures in Britain today.
But is this diversity reflected within the University?
KU began the Equality Unit in 2002, a group which ensures that staff and students alike are treated fairly and respectfully and supported throughout their academic life.
One Kingston, a programme set up by the Unit to promote equality and diversity at the University, has recently staged several events to raise awareness. Last month, the team joined forces with the Dance Society, staging a dance event known as a “flash mob” in the John Galsworthy courtyard. This event was overseen by Jason Piper, Head of Dance at the University, who said: “We are nothing if we’re not culturally diverse. We are the perfect course to celebrate the diversity within Kingston.”
Members of the flash mob, which included dance students from all years, performed a variety of dances, including African dance, hip hop and modern dance to reflect the level of diversity here.
One Kingston aims to put into action the strategy set out by the Equality Unit, which works to “encourage the participation, attainment and progression of under-represented groups.”
Lorraine Kelly, Equality Administrator at the University, states that, while there is a specific procedure for lodging complaints relating to discrimination, these are, encouragingly, fairly rare. Her colleague, Nona McDuff, added that equality is strived for at all levels. She said: “We embed equality into existing systems such as recruitment and selection or enrolment systems. If we make it part of managers’ work and make them accountable, we are more likely to put equality at the heart of institutional thinking.”
Jason Walker, a first year Business and Law student, said that he felt the University was extremely diverse. He said: “There are a lot of different kinds of people here, and a really strong mixture of races and nationalities. This was a strong deciding factor for me personally in coming to Kingston, as no-one is in a minority here; you can find your own people and feel encouraged by that. I have never been the victim of discrimination or abuse here and I think there is a very strong sense of community.”
This desire for a sense of community is echoed by the ongoing work of Kingston Borough Council, who published a Community Cohesion Strategy to set out their plans for promoting and improving equality in the area. When it comes to diversity, Kingston is in the top 25% of the country, according to government research, and the recent census results are expected to show an increase in the number of residents from ethnic backgrounds.
According to the Council, data from the 2001 census showed that the percentage of the town’s black minority ethnic groups stood at 15.5%. The University’s census, meanwhile, which was conducted in December last year, states that 52.7% of students here are non-White. The Equality Unit claims that this highlights the high percentage of minority stuudents here and that KU has a greater number of non-White students than other universities in London.
At the end of last semester, then Vice Chancellor Sir Peter Scott set out his aims for improving equality throughout the University, stating that it was a matter which affects all members of the academic community. He said: “The advancement of equality concerns us all. [It is] Kingston’s core mission to be an open and inclusive university.”
One Kingston will continue to hold events throughout May in the hopes of heightening awareness of the diverse nature of the community here. The flash mob was the first in a number of ‘Celebration Walks’ aimed at inspiring cohesion and ensuring that the University’s core mission is realised.
McDuff acknowledged the positive feedback from these events, saying: “Consistent and branded One Kingston campaigns will support the development of a university community identity and foster good relations between different groups of people. “