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Black History Month: What KU can learn from the Black Lives Matter movement

By Niall Smith Oct 14, 2020
A protest for the BLM movement in London depicting signs.Credit: Frank Augstei/Shutterstock

A reflection on how Kingston University can improve and move forward when accommodating Black and ethnic minority students. 

A protest for the BLM movement in London depicting signs.
Credit: Frank Augstei/Shutterstock

In 2020, few social movements are as powerful as the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether it was the brutal murder of Breonna Taylor or the lynching of George Floyd, the black community has been mourning all year.

Across the globe, protests took place calling reform to rewrite the wrongs of direct, institutional and systemic racism.

BLM is not a new movement, the organisation was started in 2013 and gained mainstream attention following the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland. The latter of which was killed in police custody. Furthermore, Bland’s case was closed despite inconsistencies over her arrest and detainment.

Despite a lot of coverage stateside, the UK is not exempt from its share of racism. From slavery, colonialism and Windrush, the fabric of our society is built on hatred and discrimination.

During the peak of the BLM protests, many businesses and institutions set out to make a change to support the movement. The University of Plymouth created its own portal on their website where they provided everything from learning resources to reporting abuse helplines. So, what about Kingston?

KU’s social accounts were silent on the BLM movement for weeks with hundreds of students voicing their dismay in the comments. On June 2, in response to the backlash, the official KU Instagram issued a less than sub-par response. The post read “everyone’s different thankfully”. The main problem with the uni’s statement was the fact it failed to address the actual issue, delivering generalised rhetoric about how diverse everyone at the university was.

KU social media post.
Credit: Kingston University

For Black students, this was a slap in the face. KU prides its self on diversity and inclusivity. No matter where you look on the uni’s marketing, you can see countless pictures of ethnic minorities. This angered many as KU had failed to help when one of their largest communities was under attack.

Speaking with KSA student Madeleine Desalu, they said “Kingston’s stance on the movement was really inadequate in my opinion. With most large institutions, there’s not a lot of space for people of colour. Black staff and students, in particular, are often overlooked in terms of accommodating our needs. To me, this is almost humorous considering how students of colour are practically tokenised for diversity statistics.”

Two days after the contentious Instagram post, KU issued an apology. They claimed that their statement did not reflect their values and beliefs. For many, this was too little, too late. Despite the apology aligning with their perceived ideals, many still felt like KU needed to put their money where their mouth is.

A graph showing black students feelings and thoughts on the BLM movement in regards to the uni.
Chart showing the responses to an online poll from Black students in regards to how they feel KU dealt with the situation.

Joba Kukoyi, the Media Officer for the Afro-Caribbean Society also spoke about how he felt about the situation. “For us over at ACS, we posted something on our social media as soon as it happened.

“As an organisation, with the coronavirus and everything else going on it is difficult to plan stuff. But kneeling on someone’s neck, that’s not something you can plan for. But the problem is with how the uni responded.

“I’ve actually received some complaints from people in regards to how the uni dealt with the matter. I wouldn’t say I was angry, but this situation wasn’t something you could just wait a month until you speak up”.

In the months since June, the university has attempted to rectify their mistakes. Vice-Chancellor Steven Spier issued a clear and concise message on the official KU website. Also, to commemorate Black History Month, KU has scheduled various talks, discussions and movie nights in honour of the celebrations.

So, where does KU go from here?

A survey for Black students asked them what they thought the uni should do going forward. The overall message was that KU can and should do more to better accommodate people of colour.

Students suggested things such as support groups, the hiring of more Black staff and lecturers as well as celebrating the achievements of Black students.

A sign protesting against racism.
Credit: Simon Chapman/Shutterstock

On the contrary, some also believed that the damage has already been done. Black students feel that they can no longer trust the university to support them. The point was made that anything done now is just playing catch up and at its core, disingenuous.

The overall consensus from Black students was negative. But there is hope moving forward. The university is making a conscious effort to improve the ways they treat and represent Black students. The only real solution to the problem at hand is to listen to Black voices to enact real change.

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