Black History Month, Black Women White Uni?, current affairs, Safe Space Policy, Uncategorized

BME Women, White Uni – Take Two

It has returned once again! This Saturday (22nd October 2016), our annual conference BME Women, White Uni commences to celebrate incredible, and dare I say, radical BME women.

The initiative began last year, and as Shruti, our Co-President last year (2015/16), brilliantly explains…

The idea is to celebrate the stories and the histories of Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women at King’s, and to bring to everyone’s attention that their representation is missing from the hallways around us, from the history of King’s College London as we know it.

 Much has developed at King’s since last year. Black and Brown Shut It Down, #BlackOutTheWhiteWall campaign, the creation of the WoC and Non-Binary PoC Network, the Wall of BAME (at Strand Campus), the Open Doors initiative and last but not least, I Rise Magazine – due to launch its first issue next month. All of this was a direct response to the tireless campaigning by our BAME activists here at King’s. Those who rebelled against a white, privileged and male dominant curriculum (I’m a History student, reading what Etonians have to say about history is not fun whatsoever), by walking out of their lectures and seminars. Those who had faced intimidation, told straight to their faces to “wait for their time” to celebrate BME achievements in academia. The lone Muslim girl in her seminar strictly guarding what she had to say on certain topics because of Prevent. The lone BME who constantly feels overwhelmed. Due to this initiative last year – BME Women, White Uni can certainly be seen as the starting point of much needed and long overdue change to happen within the solemn – and sometimes exclusive walls of King’s College London.

But, the work is not yet complete. We must go further if they are to listen to us.

The aim of this campaign is to capture the diversity of BME women, as well as their accomplishments. However, as Shruti once again points out, this initiative absolutely does not claim to see each accomplishment and experience of BME women as ‘the same’.

 But it’s really important to make clear that we’re not putting this work out here as a collection that is representative of every BME woman on campus – every single one of them will have differing and varying experiences in one way or the other, and too often the problem with work like this is that it is expected to be reflective of the BME woman’s experience, or that one of us have been expected to speak for all of us. There’s a diversity and breadth to these voices that we did not expect to see when we began our work. 

It is obvious that all of our identities and experiences will be different. The experiences of Black women are different from Latinas. The experiences of a Muslim woman is different from a Hindu woman. The experiences of a cis woman of colour will be different from a non-binary person of colour. Although, the acronym BME is quite problematic in the sense that it assumes that every ethnic minority experiences the exact same prejudices and injustices. In that we are very totally different. Our experiences of making it in the world is so very different. However, it is this diversity that we want to celebrate. Rather than using it as a divisive force – it is uniting us BME women instead.

When I went to the conference last year, I remember feeling a bit of trepidation. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m a woman, I’m black, and I’m definitely an intersectional feminist”. However, little did I know how much my race and intersectionality intertwined. I vividly remember scribbling down my thoughts at that very moment, listening attentively to what each panellist had to say. One that hugely struck a chord with me at the time, and still does today, was Dr Deborah Gabriel’s defiant assertion “We cannot let them label us…to put us into categories”. I remember her saying these words with such power and rage, and given that I have such hideous memory – this is significant! When the panel discussions ended, I got that “I’m going to take over the world!” feeling that everyone pretty much gets after hearing such inspirational stories for hours. I was amazed.

Right now, I have the immense privilege of not just being the BME Officer of the Intersectional Feminist Society, but being able to organise the very conference this year. The conference will be made up of four panel discussions – BME Women in Academia, BME Women in STEM, BME Women in the Arts and BME Women in Politics and Leadership – and a workshop titled “Why is my curriculum White?”. Such discussions are meant to stimulate thought and debate, thinking about these real-life issues in an unapologetic way.

The schedule is as follows:

10:30 – 10:45: Introduction to the conference by Imaan Ashraf (Co-President of the Intersectional Feminist Society) and Rahma Hussein (BME Officer of the Intersectional Feminist Society).

10:45 – 12:00: Introductory Panel – BME Women in Academia

12:15 – 13:30: Panel – BME Women in STEM

13:30 – 14:00 – Lunch break

At the same time as lunch, workshops will begin.

13:30 – 14:15: Workshop – Why Is My curriculum White? (run by KPoC)

14:00 – 15:15: Panel – BME Women in the Arts

15:15 – 15:45: Workshops, Why is my curriculum White?

15:45 – 16:30: Panel – BME Women in Politics and Leadership

16:30 – 16:45: Last chance to partake in workshops

16:50 – 17:00: Closing remarks by your People of Colour Officer

We hope that you find the event intellectually stimulating and inspiring! I would also like to thank the People of Colour Association (KPoC) for supporting us through and through! Purchase your tickets here: https://www.kclsu.org/ents/event/3615/ (you know you want to!)

Love and solidarity,

Rahma and the IFemSoc committee

xxx

Rahma is a 2nd year History student at King’s College London. Being the current BME Officer of the Intersectional Feminist Society, she is also a political campaigner, as well as being the Founder and Editor of I Rise magazine – aimed at WoC and non-binary PoC – due to launch next month. If you’d like to speak about this event further, or have any questions, feel free to send her a message though Twitter. Also, if you wish to quote this article – permission to do so must be sought beforehand.   

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Safe Space Policy, Statements in Support

KCL Intersectional Feminist Society message of solidarity with Goldsmiths SU.

(cw: harassment & racism)

KCL iFemSoc would like to state our condemnation of the media vilification of Bahar Mustafa, Goldsmiths University Welfare Officer. This is not the first (and will sadly not be the last) time a woman of colour has been doxed and vilified by the media when her opponents have disagreed with her political stance; earlier this academic year Malia Bouattia was also besmirched online just like countless other women and non-binary people of colour. These oppressive actions do not occur in isolation, and in fact build up a climate of stigma and fear that women, non-binary and BME students face. As feminists we do not condone character assassination as a form of dissent, especially as this does not occur in a political vacuum, where women and people of colour are consistently silenced or pushed into obscurity.

In this light, it becomes clear how important it is to create and protect safe spaces for women & non-binary students of colour. It is this culture of demonisation and suspicion that makes it clear that marginalised groups deserve & require spaces to discuss their experiences and feel comfortable to do so. Bahar Mustafa’s actions are commendable, as it is through protecting safe spaces that marginalised people are able to organise and create change. Allies who are disgruntled for not being included, should first take a look at their own actions and how they are upholding a status quo which is demonising a woman of colour, and how such behaviour does not make them allies. Furthermore, there are many spaces where allies are welcome, and can participate in the struggle, and in fact, white and cis-male allies should work on converting mainstream spaces into safe places for women and non-binary people of colour, before demanding entry into safe spaces. We need autonomous organisations to stop so called ‘allies’ drowning out marginalised voices; this is the language and process of liberation.

KCL iFemSoc stands in solidarity with: Bahar Mustafa; Malia Bouattia; Sarah El-alfy (recently attacked for fighting for the recognition of BME lives lost from the global south in genocides which are consistently forgotten); the struggle of Muslim students facing ‘Prevent’ measures in their Universities, schools and health services; and the institutional anti-blackness that is incessant in our academic institutions. Our feminism is inherently intersectional, and to fail to condemn this action is to silence our black, brown & non-binary siblings, and is a contradiction to what it means to be feminist. We therefore urge other women’s campaigns to come out in support of Bahar Mustafa.

Sincerely,

King’s College London, Intersectional Feminists Society.

Names have been omitted to protect members from further backlash from harassers, however, please feel free to post on the iFemSoc facebook group your support for this message, and sign the open letter: https://www.change.org/p/goldsmiths-college-and-beyond-open-letter-in-solidarity-with-bahar-mustafa-welfare-and-diversity-officer-goldsmiths

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Mental Health and Disabilities, Safe Space Policy

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Nicole Walsh has just finished her first year at King’s on the Liberal Arts degree, and is a KCL iFemSoc member. 

The intersectional feminist community continues to strive to be inclusive for all, to debate on matters such as trigger warnings, race, class, gender identity and the effects of capitalism. However, one thing the left seems to fail at so often is protecting the disabled and in particular, those with invisible disabilities such as specific learning differences and mental health problems.

It is true that none of us hold the knowledge or answers to everything, but can only try and remain open-minded and respectful at all times. This however, does not excuse the fact that before we comment or make assumptions we should attempt to further educate ourselves on the matter in hand. One particular instance of this, was a conversation recently in our own iFeminist society.

People such as myself, who suffer from mental health problems continue to face a media onslaught of propaganda that props up the idea that we are violent, dangerous and not fit to be in society. Like other forms of oppression, the stigma and prejudice faced by those in my community has a long and dark history of asylums, torture, electrotherapy and lobotomies. Hundreds of people each day lose their lives because of their mental health problems and because they cannot receive the treatment that they need. In the majority of cases, these people lose their lives at their own hands: ‘There are about one million suicide deaths worldwide each year. During 2011, there were 6,045 suicides in the UK. The number of attempted suicides is much higher, with at least 140,000 attempted suicides each year in England and Wales’ (http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Suicide/Pages/Causes.aspx)

In the UK today, there are current investigations into the number of people with mental illnesses who have had to spent time in distress in police cells. Still, people are being locked up because we do not have the services to treat them. Despite being a leading cause of death in the world, we continue to mistreat and misunderstand those who are suffering.

The conversation about mental health is one that many people struggle to have. It is surrounded by confusion and controversy and can be difficult to understand. This does not mean we should not spend the time making the effort to do so. What seems much easier for people to do, is discuss an individual’s mental health if we are able to dismiss them as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’, the dangerous other that is nothing like ourselves but a risk to society. This is not a mistake made by one person, but something our media tells us it is ok to do by pushing poor journalism and research to the forefront of our available material.

The conversation in question was discussing Elliot Rodgers, the mass murderer who went on a misogynistic killing spree at UCSB. The details of the Rodgers’ case are well known and not necessary to discuss here. However, the vital part that came into question was Rodgers’ psychological state. It has been reported that Rodgers was seeing a psychiatrist. What has not been reported however, was his exact diagnosis. In fact his diagnosis has varied widely in public media, from Asperger’s Syndrome (which is a cognitive and communicative syndrome, and not a mental health problem), to a generalised personality disorder, to depression. What we can take from this is that currently no average member of the population, including any member of the feminist society knows exactly what mental health problem he had. We are all at risk of having poor mental health in our lifetime, just as we are at risk of having poor physical health in our lifetime. When we discuss an individual’s mental health without actually knowing what it was, we begin to delve into dangerous territory.

In the conversation in question, people began to discuss what insanity and sanity were and what a person of a ‘healthy mental disposition’ would or wouldn’t do. These comments are simply not acceptable in a safe environment that is supposed to be inclusive to all. To other members of the group, this shows a complete disrespect to those of us who suffer from mental health problems. It asks the questions, ‘what do you think of my mental disposition?’ and ‘what makes you an expert on mental health?’

Using generalisations such as the ones that were used in the conversation means that the elaborate complexities and history of mental health is completely disrespected and ignored. Not all mental illness is the same, not all mental illness can be treated in the same way and not all mental illness displays the same symptoms. These are facts that should be clear to anyone in the intersectional community. Yet they failed to be addressed properly until later in the conversation.

One of the most interesting comments, I believe, was offered by President of the society, Shanice. Shanice wrote that: ‘what’s more useful is referencing the conditions and environment that actually shapes a persons’ psychology and enables them to do what they do.’ In the same way that our physical health relies upon both nature and nurture our mental health does too. What I believe would have been more relevant to the society was to discuss the facts that we do know. The fact that whatever mental disposition Rodgers had, it collided and was built by the patriarchal society we have today. Rodgers was able to carry out his crimes because the levels of misogyny that we accept in society are dangerously high.

Shanice’s point however, goes much further than discussing Rodgers. When discussing mental health, we have to consider where one’s mental health comes from. When we do so, we are discussing a persons’ genetic makeup, family history and personal life events. To make this clearer, when we see mental disposition and mental health as debatable topics we do not consider the triggers we are risking members of our community.

Poor mental health is very often rooted in personal trauma. For many sufferers like myself, through talking therapies we find that the reason this personal trauma causes us so much distress is the guilt that we feel for it. When you debate the idea that someone who does not have a stable enough mental disposition for your liking or that someone’s mental health makes them a possible danger, you target that feeling of guilt inside us. You target every time we have doubted we are fit for this world and you open up every traumatic memory we have.

Let us not forget that this traumas will vary across intersectional boundaries and touch upon a huge number of memories and experiences. Whilst I understand that it was not the intention of anyone in the group to trigger anyone, I feel it is important that I make my point as clear as possible. I am one example of the many people who may have been adversely affected by that thread and similar conversations.

Through one conversations the guilt and shame I hold about my mental health was targeted. At the same time, my memories and experiences of being the child of an alcoholic, a victim of domestic violence, a victim of sexual abuse, a victim of biphobia, self-harm, suicide attempts, having to leave my family home, having manic episodes and much more all come flooding into my awareness in one huge trigger. These are just a few examples of the makeup of my own poor mental health. With one in four suffering from a mental health problem in their lifetime, debating mental health in this way in our feminist society facebook group alone means that you are risking approximately 198 people from being hit with the trigger of all of their lifetime experiences. This may seem extreme, but I feel it is necessary to recognise how many possible unknown triggers, life experiences and people you are affecting.

It is not acceptable to simply state that you know ‘they’re not all the same’ and to say that you’re not calling us all dangerous or violent. Intersectional feminism means that you recognise my trauma and the trauma of every survivor of mental health problems in our community and beyond. It means that you think before you speak, do your research and heavily consider who you may be affecting with what you say.

It means that when someone clearly states that they have been triggered by your actions, you do not dismiss their statement. It means that you recognise the power you have as an able person to continue the stigma that people with mental health problems have. It means that you understand that generalisations should not be made, that life and identity itself are complex and in depth. That each individual has their own view point, made up from a wide-range of experiences and that no person, whoever they are is the same as one person who’s wrong-doing has caught the media’s attention.

In my time in the KCL’s iFeminist Society I have seen many people make poorly judged comments. No one person is perfect and we all have the ability to make mistakes, I have definitely done it myself. I feel that the difference here is that the conversation became a series of similar comments and generalisations and that my rather upset ‘trigger warning’ statement was almost completely ignored. I would like to recognise and thank those who did apologise to me with the intention of rectifying their mistakes and those who sent me messages of support to ensure I was ok. I know that this is the usual behaviour I can trust to expect from our otherwise strong society. Which is why I recognise that the attitude towards my comments and the comments coming from others seemed to be one of naivety. It is sadly all too common for certain sections of intersectionality to be so poorly understood but it is important that as a group we recognise when these mistakes happen and learn how to move forward respectfully.

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