Black History Month, Black Women White Uni?, Events, Projects, Projects and Campaigns

#BWWU: BME Woman White Uni – The Landscape of KCL is changing.

KCL Intersectional Feminist Society invites you to the “BME Women, White Uni” conference. The conference functions as a part of their work to celebrate the achievements of –  as well highlight the experiences of – Black and Ethnic Minorities women at the university and in wider society. Click here to request (free) tickets right now.

A Quick History.

The project began last October, after an effort to highlight the low visibility of BME women on campus (whether in photographs of alumni on the front of various King’s buildings, or otherwise), and quickly evolved into a campaign to tell the stories of the BME women at King’s.

The photographs and interviews from this will be displayed online and around campus during Black History Month. In an effort to broaden the kinds of conversations that we were having, from discussion on a lack of institutional support and representation, to the kind of work that women of colour are pioneering in various fields, we’re hosting a conference at the end of October.

To learn more about #BWWU, click here to watch a video of our society president and one of our society co-vice presidents discuss how the project develop.

The Conference Time Table.
9:45-10am: Introduction
(Hareem Ghani – KCL IFemSoc Co-Vice President, Samia Gundkalli – KCL IFemSoc BME Officer)

10am-11:30am: Introductory Panel: BME Women in Academia
(Niaomi Collett, Candice Carboo, Dr Deborah Gabriel and Professor Heidi Mirza – chaired by Dr Stephani Hatch)

11am-12pm: Workshops – “Why is My Curriculum White?”
(run by King’s Ethnic Minority Association) and “Craftivism” (run by KCLSU)

11:40am-12:40pm: BME Women in the Arts
(Cecile Emeke, Aisha Richards, Dr Shirley Thompson – chaired by Hana Riaz)

1:40pm-2:40pm: BME Women in Tech
(Antonia Anni, Dr Angela Martinez Dy, Natalie Nzeyimana – chaired by Sunayana Bhargava)

2:10pm-3:10pm: Workshops – “Why is My Curriculum White?” and “Craftivism”

2:50-3:50- BME Women, the Body and Institutions
(Dr Caroline Bressey and Dr Sadiah Qureshi – chaired by Shruti Iyer)

3:50-4pm: Closing Speech
(Shruti Iyer – KCL IFemSoc Co-Vice President, Rachel Williams – KCLSU’s Vice President of Welfare and Community)

All panels will take place in NHH L1 and other activities in the ground floor rooms surrounding it. Lunch will be provided.

Tickets are available here:

Any questions please email!

Black History Month, Black Women White Uni?, Interview, Projects and Campaigns

Black Women, White Uni? interviews Dr. Stephani Hatch



[This interview was conducted by Shruti Iyer (SI), Surya Elango (SE), with Stephani Hatch (SH).]

SI: Hi, I’m Shruti, I’m President of the KCL Intersectional Feminist Society, and I’m with Surya, President of KCL Radio and we are speaking with Dr Stephani Hatch, who is a Senior Lecturer at the IOP….and yeah, hi!


SH: Hi!

SE: So Stephani, we’ve come all the way to Denmark Hill to visit you, and yeah, I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about you.

SH: So my background is medical sociology and psychiatric epidemiology, and so I combine those two things working on health inequalities, primarily in common mental health disorders, so depression and anxiety, here in my Department. The Department also focuses a lot on the interface between mental and physical health, so it’s always something that we have in mind, how those two things, the interrelationship between the two. So I look at the social determinants and social consequences of poor mental health right over the life course but my work primarily, right now, is focused on the South-East London Community Health Study (SELCoH), which I’m one of the P.I.’s on the study and we have now followed up a group of randomly selected residents of Southwark and Lambeth for the third time. So we’ve got quite a rich dataset, it has been called the largest urban health community study in the country ––

SI: Wow.

SH:  – it is an incredible resource, in which we try to understand the needs of the population and to inform services. So we’re very focused not only on that, but also understanding social inequalities. So I started the Health Inequalities Research Network (HERON) back in 2010, with a group of colleagues, and we’ve been using that to engage with the community. So the work that we do, the research that we do, we’re very focused on reciprocity. So we don’t like to just take information from people, we sort of actually have a dialogue with them and include service-users, service-providers, activists, advocates in the community to be a part of a larger dialogue on social inequalities and health inequalities, focusing on the things we can do. We work with community organisations and local schools, and we also take our research findings back out into the community. So we had something after our first wave of SELCoH, which we are now in the third wave of,  we had a library roadshow. So we just went around to libraries and public book spaces in Southwark and Lambeth and presented our research findings in a way that is accessible to the public. So that’s, you know, little things like that – not just sending newsletters but actually going back out and telling people what we’ve found and talking to them about their experiences with health and with their social circumstances.

SI: That’s quite relevant to feminist concerns as well – bridging academia and activism, making research accessible to the public. That’s great.

SH: Yeah, that’s something really important to me, because my work, my life and research began when I was a student, and I’ve always been focused on social issues so the very first research project I worked on as an undergraduate was on domestic violence. But it wasn’t women as victims of domestic violence, but men, and so it really looked at that. For some background, my first degree was in psychology, and then I moved into sociology because I like the marriage of those two things.

SI: Yeah! I was actually in a lecture about that this morning, about Durkheim –

SH: Yes! Yes!

SI: – and the oppositionality between philosophy and psychology, and sociology was meant to bridge those things.



SI: So how did you get interested in issues around race and gender? And how do they inform the work that you do at King’s right now?

SH: I think, for me, it was really started out as my lived experience. Yeah, I grew up in a very ethnically and racially diverse area of Atlanta, Georgia, and there’s a lot of segregation, still, residential, and in education in the US. But I went to a performing arts school, so it drew in people from all different areas. And so I left there and went to study psychology at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. And it was as big of a culture shock as you can imagine. It really – I think being a student in that situation and a minority to an extreme that I had not experienced. Even growing up in the South, I had certainly experienced being the only black student in certain situations, but I think it was at a university that had somewhere between 35-40,000 students and I was still sitting in lectures of 500 students and there were four of us who were not white. So the experiences I had sort of brought me to really think about how this had an impact on my educational attainment early on because of the interactions I would have with the instructors on the courses and the lecturers, and students. And then dorm life was challenging. To give you some context, Bloomington sits about an hour south of Indianapolis which is the largest city. And once you leave the campus area and the town, it’s pretty much cornfields for as far as you can see. [laughs]  So this is very rural, but it’s still a very large university. So there were many many challenges. But the one thing that I did have access to was a lot of support. So to give you an example: I remember my first day in the dorm, and I was approached by four white female students who wanted to interact with me because they say they’d never seen a black person in real life.

SI: Oh my god.

SH: Yeaaah. [laughs] So that was 1989. [laughs again] So I was a bit shocked; and those types of interactions continued through the course of my first year, there were many times that I wanted to go home but I luckily made the decision to go and seek the support that was available. There were black student union groups to support BME students and to help us get through and to provide a place to have open discussions. And so they also, you know, being at the intersection of race and gender, we also focused a lot on those issues and as well as other, what I now call, occupying all these different statuses that in some way can be considered disadvantaged. In terms of inequality. So occupying multiple statuses, and that intersection, that’s what drew me into this area and in many ways, moved me from psychology to sociology. Sociology was my minor at the time and I just thought that sociology would be a great route to be able to look at mental health. Because there’s a strong tradition in the US around the sociology of mental health, in particular. And so I thought it was a great way to explore these issues. And I was lucky throughout my time at university and later on, in graduate school, when I was getting my Masters degree and my PhD, to be exposed to black feminist theorists. One in particular, Patricia Hill Collins had a tremendous influence on my thinking and focus on the end-point for me which was to pursue education as far as I thought I needed to end up in the kind of occupation that is fulfilling to me. And as I was saying [off air], I enjoy coming to work everyday. I get to look at, study, examine things that are really close to my heart; but also I feel that I have the potential to make an impact and make things a little bit better for my community. Or at least open a dialogue about how to make things better for my community. Because I live here in Peckham, so, it’s something very personal to me in some ways.

SE: You mentioned about your first day at university, with these four girls approaching you, and throughout the year. I just wanted to know about your experiences of racism, in the US and the UK. When you arrived in the UK, was it different? Do you think that it was about the place that you’re from or more the time?

SH: I think – I’ve been thinking about this, and writing about this, and reflecting on this experience recently. Because I think I’ve now been in the UK for a little over nine years; and having grown up in the South of the United States, I think my tolerance level is higher than most.

[All laugh]

SH: So it’s difficult to say. You know, everyone carries their social and historical context with them across their lifecourse. So I think that the way I experience the South in the US, even now, going back, I have a level of hyper-vigilance that I don’t have here in the UK. So when I land in Atlanta to visit my family, I can feel my blood pressure go up. And my expectation, or anticipation, of discrimination in a way I do not experience here. I moved here from New York City, I was doing a post-doc at Columbia University, and even there, the difference between New York and being in the South is very different. But again, the issue for me when I moved here was that it was different. It was not as overt on a day-to-day basis. So that’s where it became problematic for me, when I realised that my expectations for experiencing that had gotten so low that when it does happen, it feels more upsetting in a way. Because I’m not prepared for it. I don’t have that level of hyper-vigilance that I do when I’m in the US. Because it is, when I’m in the US, it is a day-to-day, it’s something about the day-to-day interactions and in a more overt way. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen to me here. But, though, I think it’s something qualitatively different. So in this setting, I noticed immediately, even around discussing race and ethnicity, there was this preference to not use the word race. And I’m seeing that change over time. And for me, it’s been important that everytime I engage with someone about it, that I point out that race is actually different from ethnicity. That, with race we are talking about a phenotype, a skin colour. These things are interrelated, but there’s something that can be said differently about the two concepts. I’ve come across a lot of things. To give you an example, in my work I discuss discrimination and it’s impact on mental health. When I’m in the US, and I’m talking about discrimination, it doesn’t always get pigeonholed into just being about race. Here, I find, when I bring it up, there’s this expectation that it is just going to be about just race and ethnicity. But I like to remind people in both contexts that there’s gender discrimination, age discrimination, based on social class, all sorts of different statuses, and it’s important to open that up and allow people to talk about what they’re experiencing. It has such a strong deleterious effect on mental health in particular.


SI: I was going to ask – but I think you’ve half-answered my question already about how is it that race and gender affect the quality of mental health provision? I know this is an issue for Black students at university; going to counsellors and therapists and dismissing your experiences of racism and sexism as hypersensitivity. Do you see this as an issue that affects mental health services and care provision?

SH: I’m disappointed to hear that, because I think there’s enough evidence out there looking at things cross-sectionally and longitudinally. So we know that there’s a long-term impact, and we can also see that relationship in a snapshot picture. The evidence is clear. There is a very strong relationship between discrimination and mental health; and there is some evidence that it also will affect people’s help-seeking. So to hear that, we’ve now in SELCoH, we have asked for experiences of discrimination in health services as well as anticipated discrimination. Because it’s important to think about these domains. What you’re describing to me, I would describe as unfair treatment. Or the denial that these things happen, or that we’re hypersensitive, is unhelpful. Because at the end of the day, we have a stress response to being in that situation. It is not beneficial for our health.

SE: So you mentioned earlier that you’ve done a lot of on-the-ground work with people in Lambeth and Southwark, and obviously, you’ve talked about feeling strongly about these issues. Have you done work in the KCL sphere when it comes to race and gender inequalities?

SH: That’s a very good question, and a timely one. As of last year, I took on the role of Co-Chair of the BME Network, and it was perfect timing because the Equalities Challenge Unit put out a call for a pilot to be done around the Race Equality Chartermark. So King’s is one of the 30 institutions that is going for a Bronze Award. We’re working very hard this year to put that together. And what it’s done is that it’s raised awareness around these issues. This is something that’s been at the forefront of my mind the entire time I’ve been here; but now I feel that we have a structure and support, from students as well as senior staff, to move forward on this. So we can hopefully change the culture in higher education. We’re focusing on students, professional services, and academic staff. So we’re really trying to think institution-wide, and what needs to be done. So I’m a member of the Self-Assessment Team that’s been chaired by Chris Mottershead, and I think we have a real opportunity here. So I’m very charged up. Like, I’m ready to go. This is for me – I know that sounded very American ––

[All laugh]

SE: No! That was great, I loved it so much –

SH: I really feel like this is an opportunity. And I’ve been very vocal in the past about how I’ve watched Athena SWAN develop, I think it’s a very important initiative, but I can say that at least here amongst my colleagues at the IOPPN, when we have sat in meetings around Athena SWAN, many times it has been raised, “well, what are you doing about ethnicity?” As well as the intersection. Because we have a situation where we could see this ––

SE: Just very quickly, for myself and for people who will be listening, what is Athena SWAN?

SI: So I understood it as an initiative for gender equality in STEM, right?

SH: Yes.

SI: So STEM being science, technology –

SE: Engineering.

SI: Engineering and maths.

SH: So that’s basically its focus. Whereas the Race Equality Chartermark is not just focused on STEM. It’s across the board. So we will be looking King’s wide and putting in a joint application from King’s. Whereas Athena SWAN is very focused on the STEM departments.

SI: Yeah, although I do think they are expanding it to the Social Sciences.

SH: Yes.

SI: Because we interviewed somebody yesterday that talked about that.

SH: I’ve been working more on the Race Equality Chartermark side, and in that work, just trying to bring in some of the issues that have been raised in Athena SWAN. Because we can’t be talking cross-purposes. These are shared issues.

SE: And often do you guys meet, how does that work?

SH: We have several different levels of meetings. The one that is focused more on putting together our application for the Race Equality Chartermark, that meets quarterly, and we’ve broken up into separate teams. So we have self-assessment teams that meet, but in the meantime, we also have the BME Staff Network that meets regularly.

SI: So does that include all BME staff at King’s, or only the ones that sign up?

SH: Well, anyone who wants to come along is welcome. We try very hard to make sure we get together and talk about it, and allow people to come along. But I do have to say, some people are hesitant to do so.

SE: Why do you think that is?

SH: I think that for some of them, what I’ve heard, is that they don’t feel comfortable letting their colleagues know that they’re going to a meeting specifically about being a BME staff member and those challenges. In some cases, there’s not a lot of open dialogue between line-managers and staff about these issues.

SI: Also, drawing attention to your race.

SH: Yes, yes. So some people feel, yes, that that is unnecessary and they don’t want to do that. Because they can’t see that that has had an impact on their experience.

SI: Can you tell us a little more about your work with the Race Equality Chartermark? What kind of tangible things are you looking at? Both for students and staff? And what do you think about the levels of representation right now – are they sufficient?

SH: Ah, I see, you’re pinning me down on this.

[All laugh]


SH: So I can tell you two of the things that I think are really important. One, for students, around BME student attainment. So that is a huge issue, and also within that, is around curriculum. With a representation of different perspectives in curriculum. Those are two things that need to be looked at. So when I was talking before, about my experience of having support as a minority student in a predominantly white academic institution in the US, that to me plays a big part in making sure that people not only finish university, but finish with a result that matches their ability. That level of support is extremely important. I didn’t just have that support through my undergraduate, but all the way through, through mentorship, and student unions.

SI: Is this an initiative you want to bring to King’s?

SH: I think it would be a good one. I think right now they’re looking at multiple ways. It’s a question of scoping what’s going on, and talking to the students. They’re running several focus groups to get a better sense of the students’ experiences and what they would want. And I think that dialogue is incredibly important. In terms of staff, we’re looking at a number of things. But the headlines are around promotion and the unpacking the reason why we’re not seeing senior BME staff both in professional services and in academics.

SI: About levels of representation? Do you think it’s adequate?

SH: I attended an event at UCL, entitled “Why Isn’t My Professor Black?” There’s a podcast of it worth looking at. They did a really nice short film with students where they asked the students, who potentially had shown in academics, why they would or would not want to continue down that road ––

SE: What kind of reasons did they have?

SH: They saw a lack of representation of people who look like them. So I shared this quite openly: there are two things in my experience that have happened to me here. One, I’ve lost count of the number of times a BME student has come up to me after a lecture, just one-on-one and said, “I’ve never had a black lecturer before, and this is really important to me.”

SE: I wanted to take a Comparative Literature module just because the guy who teaches it is brown.

SI: You might know Ben Bowling, my Criminology professor?

SH: Yes!

SI: First black professor I’ve ever had teach me. One Indian lecturer taught me last year, and she was fantastic too. But just the sense that I had when I was in that class, such a deeper connection to what I was learning. Because even though you’re still being peddled a Eurocentric syllabus, there’s much more the sense that “they get it.”

SE: What does that mean?

SI: If I were to put my hand up and say something, like, “I think race is relevant here,” I wouldn’t be dismissed. Just knowing that is really powerful.

SH: Right.

SE: Do you feel like that you would be dismissed by a white professor?

SI: No. But I don’t think – well. They’d get uncomfortable.

[murmurs of assent]

SI: They’d try deal with bringing up race or colonisation intellectually, rather than emotionally. Like, they’d address it and move on. But usually with a BME professor, they would probably say, “yes, that’s true,” and give you a moment. That’s really powerful.

SE: Stephani, would you agree with that?

SH: Yes. Well, I don’t know if I can speak to all non-BME lecturers on how they treat the topic in their classroom. But I can say that for me, I do give time to it. It is so often absent in discussion; and in the classroom setting people should bring in all different sorts of experiences, and we should have open and honest conversations about it. And recognising the emotion around it. I think it’s important. An important part of the dialogue. As important as bringing in gender issues that we’re very attuned to now.

SE: That’s very interesting. I’m just reflecting on a class I took last year, a module on the British Empire. Seen from a very British perspective.

SI: I think it’s interesting that you’re trying to expand the curriculum. Honestly, I’m taking a module this year because Frantz Fanon is on the reading list. Any engagement that I had with black feminist or African-Caribbean theory has been outside the classroom.

SH: The numbers do speak for themselves. They were quoting numbers of all the professors in this country – somewhere around 80 black professors in all the UK and only 15 are black women. I’m not sure what the base rate is, but it’s quite small. It was just astonishing to me when I arrived here. I got my PhD at a large state university in the US, similar size to what I was describing at my undergraduate. Just in two departments within a whole behavioural and social science school, I had about ten black female professors to choose from for mentorship. The year I graduated with my PhD, there were four black women who graduated with PhDs in mathematics. So there are some issues that need to be addressed.

SE: Do you sometimes feel like – you know, Guy’s Campus, people say it’s a predominantly coloured campus ––

SI: Yeah, but it’s mostly just Indians, isn’t it ––

SE: Yeah, but do you feel like – I feel like if I had brought that up and said, “oh, there’s not many coloured people on my history course”, I’d be challenged by medics and scientists telling me that “actually, no, our campus is packed with not just Indians, but actually quite a few black people.” That’s what they feel like.

SI: I think the issue is attainment though?

SH: Yes, that’s exactly it.

SI: People are going to university because the government’s tried to make that accessible, but it’s the attainment after they go. And that so many don’t pursue academia as it’s such a hostile environment.

SH: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. It’s about attainment, and then we see the numbers drop as you go into postgraduate studies, at the Master’s and PhD level. Those are the issues. That’s just the starting point. So we see the numbers drop in postgrad, and then we’ve got a number going into academia – a smaller number, because I think a lot of people feel discouraged by what they see as they’re coming through – and then, we’ve got a problem. Because when you talk about the social construction of knowledge, and who is represented in that, you have to think about who’s contributing to that. It becomes a problem when you don’t have that representation. I feel like my work experience and the learning experience both of myself, my colleagues, and the students around us would be enriched by having a more diverse academic and staff population. Well, I think it’s important to remember, you know, the one thing I keep coming back to is the social construction of knowledge. Whose voice is being heard in that, whose voice is being represented. So the things that you’re learning, or even take that away, the things that you’re thinking, and the things that you want to put out there, and you want your voice heard, and we do it through publications of several types, it’s a problem if we’re not getting that full representation.

SE: Do you think maybe, let’s say in academia, the very few BME people who do go into further education after university, do you feel that they want to disassociate themselves from being labelled as BME? Let’s say even BME women, do you feel that they’d rather not – you know what I mean, even in a corporate world, people don’t want to associate with that because if anything, they think it might hold them back.

SI: Yes, like a type of colourblindness.

SH: Yes, and I think that’s a dangerous way to think. I think that they do. I’ve had several colleagues say that they don’t want to be identified in that way, they don’t want people to think that they’ve gotten where they’ve gotten to because of their skin colour.

SE: Why do you think it’s important that we should identify as that?

SH: I think it’s important because – again, because I feel that it’s disingenuous to say that it doesn’t matter and has not had any impact on how I think, how I behave, how I go about my job and you know, interact with other people. I think that’s disingenuous. I think we can get beyond it –but pretending as though it doesn’t exist is not the same as moving beyond it.

SE: I know we talked about this earlier, but we were off-air then, so I’ll ask again – what do you think of the photos outside of King’s College London at the moment? I know you don’t have them here at Denmark Hill, and they’re different here – but what do you think of the pictures of all the old alumni, and has it ever come across your mind that there aren’t any well, BME women on there?

SH: Yes, I think, yeah, it has crossed my mind. I think I’m always, especially as a sociologist, as we move around the world, I’m fascinated by the way – the images people display, the way people interact –

SE: So we’re obviously trying to challenge that with our campaign. If, suppose, next year King’s decides, “oh, they’ve got a point,” and they try to put up more photos of BME women –

SI: – would that be tokenising the issue?

SE: And also, as a sociologist and someone’s who’s studied psychology and the impact of these kinds of things, what kind of impact do you think that would have on students? Would it just be an impact on young BME women who are students at King’s or would it just be strong role models for them or play on the minds of everybody else? The average white man, basically.

[All laugh]

SH: Can you repeat the question?

SE: It was a long question, yeah.

SH: I think in many ways you’ve answered yourselves! I think it’s not for me to be concerned about what – I would hope that they are accurately representing the contributions of people from all ethnic backgrounds outside of King’s. I think as a world university, we have a diverse population that we need to think, and we are thinking about the impact that we have in terms of how we, in these images, that we present to the outside world. Yes, we should be proud of the people who have made these contributions, but it’s important to look beyond that and think about how we might –

SE: I think especially in a world that’s dominated now by Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter – images are so important.

SI: I think also, in some sense, it’s not even about having a role model but like you said earlier: whose voices are heard? And it’s not as though illustrious BME women haven’t gone to King’s, but their histories are probably buried. Nobody knows who they are or where they came from. I mean, for this project, we really did try to root up old alumni and it’s been impossible as the Alumni Office just doesn’t have any record of it as they don’t categorise alumni on the basis of ethnicity, and we couldn’t contact them directly for legal reasons, and we didn’t have access to the Archives until recently – lots of bureaucratic red tape. But even if we were to engage in that process constructively – if we were doing this full-time – it would be so difficult to do. Those histories are so hard to find.

SE: When you did do that research, they said they don’t categorise BME alumni? Do they categorise them in other ways?

SI: No, so, they just have the database and if we know a specific person they can contact them on our behalf and mediate for us. But obviously, if you don’t know who they are, how do you begin? It’s kind of circular. You don’t know who they are, so you can’t find them; you can’t find them, so you don’t know who they are.

SH: So it’s difficult looking back, but I think we can look forward and figure out a way.

SI: Yeah, this is why we’re interviewing staff, because I don’t know that many BME women teaching –

SE: And I’m so glad that we are interviewing staff as opposed to alumni. I’ve learned so much, just in the last few days, about what’s happening.

[All laugh]

SH: Good!

SE: I really wasn’t aware this was happening. In fact, I was so kind of naive; I only thought about students at King’s, I just totally forgot that there was a whole other population here, the staff. You do so much work that is amazing.

SI: Also such interesting work!

SE: Kind of off-topic, but last year we read the student newspaper, Roar!, and they did an entire issue on mental health.

SI: They got nominated, actually, for two Mind awards –

SE: And something like 13% of students at university UK-wide had considered suicide.

SI: They also talked about racism in the counselling service.

SE: Yeah, this is so relevant to the work that you do with mental health.

SH: I also think it’s great that your organisation is doing work around and talking about intersectionality – as it’s something we’re very focused on and our students work towards a better understanding of it. It’s nice that you have a space where BME women can come together and have a dialogue about this and do work around this.

SE: And one piece of advice for intersectional feminists, or just anyone listening to this?

SH: I could definitely go for the more – ah, well, keep moving forward. Always hold your head up. And, I’m trying to put this in the context of: there’s something my father always told me, growing up in the South, it was: don’t make it easy for them.

SI: Yeahhhh! Oh my god! That’s amazing! I think I’m going to cry!

SE: I’m feeling quite teary.

SI: Seriously! What a revolutionary spirit!

SE: I’m going to put that in the interview. But no, thank you very much – yeah, we’ve learned so much. It’s very inspiring.


Intersectionality 101 & Zine Making – how it all went down.

Intersectionality 101.

This was our first event of the year, and was the centre piece of our fresher’s events. We wanted to provide an engaging and powerful event that would help those new to intersectional feminism understand the basics, but also create something interesting and substantial for those who have been working with us – and in their own intersectional circles – for years.

For those of you who weren’t there, our speakers included:

  • Dr. Nina Power, a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton. She is the author of One Dimensional Woman (2009) and regularly writes for various publications.
  • Susuana Antubam is an activist, who is currently Women’s Officer at NUS, and was the Women’s Officer at ULU last year.
  • (Unfortunately Malia Bouattia the current the Black Student’s Officer at NUS was unable to make it)

Through the eminence of our speakers alone, we knew this event was going to be good, but my’gosh were we impressed by the turn out! With over 150 clamouring to get in – many more having to be turned down at the door due to space constrictions –  we were bowled over by the enthusiasm and excitement of our iFemSoc members and the level of energy and engagement the event as a whole gave out.

Our proudest moments was hearing feedback from our attendees with comments such as:
It’s really cool to see a femsoc which is not built entirely from a privileged white background and ideology, and be represented as such in its committee and events.” (From Stewart)
It was so engaging! It really made me think” (Friend of a iFemSoc committee member)
“I’m so glad I came, thank you for putting it on, I didn’t really know what intersectionality was before” (iFemSoc member)

So chuffed by this glorious praise, we are already eager for more! Did you come along to the event? What was your favourite part? How did you find it? What can we do next time to make it even better! Send in your comments, and we’ll add them to this page & use it to guide us in all future events.

Zine Making – Body Image.

A smaller and more intimate event, but by no means less effective, our zine making session saw iFemSoc getting crafty with glue, handy with sissors and even the occasional sprinkle of glitter. The theme was body image, a starting point that may have drawn many of us to feminism in the first place, but also continues to occupy the minds and thoughts of anyone navigating today’s image-obsessed world. Armed with glue, paper and magazines, our members took on powerful questions such as: how does aesthetic roles affect those of varying genders? How does race, and colonialism, interact with the body image of young women? What does is mean to be interested in fashion? In beauty? In yourself?


The result was some of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen, see below for just a small example of the work (the rest will be put on facebook soon, and we’ll be polling ideas on what exactly we’re planning to do with them next). What began as a space for self exploration and intimate groups of discussion, flowed into a liturgy of expression, liberation and art. As you can see, the topic of body image provided a very rich and varied interpretation, tapping into personal but also inter-personal feelings of representation, alienation, contradiction and celebration. Many of the works go together, or can be read as a story, where as others provided stand alone and breath taking insight into how people see themselves and their bodies, through the lens of society’s perception of body image.


We’ve already had cries from many members asking for another session, and with so much material, inspiration & enthusiasm for another go – we’ll definitely be putting together another zine making session soon.

When & what? That’s up to you! Are you ready to make some zines in the next few weeks? Do you think that the topic of body image should be explored some more? Is there something more specific or different we should focus on? Perhaps a response, or development to a zine or piece of art you’ve read or seen recently? If you have answers to any of those questions – or simply got something to say about zine making – get in touch! We’d love to host another event, all we need is you!

(And maybe more glue, because we got through a lot of it last time)

1 3 4 6 5


Beyonce Knowles Best! – #Beyconstruction – Part 1

So. Now that Beyoncé’s shock new album has been released, our suspicions have been confirmed. Beyoncé is an anti-capitalist, black nationalist, feminist superhero who supports the London student movement. But what are we to make of the nuances of her arguments? KCL iFeminist Society investigates:



This song marks Beyonce’s rapid shift to the left (to the left).

She asks: “All the people on the planet working 9 to 5 to stay alive, how come?” At first, you’re disappointed by her answer: “What goes around, ghost around”. But this would be to miss Beyonce’s exquisite use of metaphor.

It is clear after some thought that “ghost” refers to Karl Marx’s notion of DEAD LABOUR.

Beyonce is re-evaluating Marx’s famous first line of the Communist Manifesto: she is arguing that the ghost of the dead labour of workers is a spectre haunting the bourgeois music industry. Beyonce is predicting the proletarian revolution.

KCL iFemSoc cannot fault this argument. Capitalism harms all working women: A+


bey 2

In this video Beyonce claims “Yonce” is on HIS mouth like liquor. But notice how there are no men in this video. The two women are dancing to and for each other. This guy in the club (who is so unimportant he doesn’t feature in the video) can keep staring, but Yonce isn’t interested. The argument here is subtle but poignant: the combination of the masculinization of the grillz and the lesbian BDSM nudge in the last scene make it clear: Yonce is Beyonce’s lesbian alter-ego.

The experimentation with sexuality is interesting. But, we have to say, the juxtaposition between the lyrical content (“Yonce on his mouth like liquor) and the visual content (Yonce obviously getting with a woman) is too subtle; it portrays lesbian sexuality as deviant or deserving of secrecy. We’re not down with this.

We at KCL iFemSoc demand that all sexuality is the expression of human potential and we must smash through this notion that we should attach different values to different expressions of sexuality.

Beyonce, we feel you only go half of the way here: C-


bey 3

Here Beyonce comes out strong against women being alienated from their own sexuality and she smashes through the long held, patriarchal assumption, that women are simply a means to someone else’s sexual ends. The argument here is women should enjoy sex too (couldn’t disagree here!).

While we think this argument is convincing, and a strong feminist principle, it’s inherently reformist. We need to argue that yes, it’s important we try hard to overcome alienation in our personal relationships, but that alienation of sexuality can only be over come once alienated labour is smashed.

Good effort though Bey: B+


bey 4

Nice one. Beyonce reveals her black nationalist tendencies by reversing the racial roles of the aristocrat and the domestic maid.

Obviously we need to wage the argument that black and white unity is the way forward but nevertheless, this is subversive: A


bey 6bey 5

Beyonce and her crew confront the hard hand of the state: the police. Here she gives a clear nod to the recent student protests against police repression on our campuses. However, she confronts repression by holding her partner’s hand; she seems to be saying LOVE will get #copsoffcampus.
We at KCL iFemSoc disagree, and feel this argument is quite utopian. We’d argue the student movement would be better off with a mass movement of students and workers. But, we should accept pluralism in the movement. It’s a nice idea Bey, we can’t fault your effort: B+
In Part 2 we’ll be discussing some of the nastier elements of the album. That’s right Jay Z, KCL iFem Soc are coming for you.

– KCL iFemSoc 😉 x


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A Brief History of Intersectionality and the Question of Class

by Shanice McBean (3rd year BA Philosophy student, activist and KCLSU Welfare officer)

Feminism is on the rise and with it, Black feminism. In the early years of the Women’s Liberation Movement in America (WLM) during the 1960s and 70s the voices of women of colour were either deemed misplaced (“You belong in the Civil Rights Movement”) or ignored (“Your issues are not important here”). This is why the lightning rise of intersectionality in mainstream feminism today is a good thing. Women of colour are not only making noise, but we’re being listened to much quicker than back in the heydays of the WLM. It’s difficult to envisage feminism in 2014 that doesn’t have a strong element of anti-racism.

It goes without saying that the prominence of intersectionality has been aided by the efforts and struggles of women of colour before us. But who were they, what did they have to say, and why?

A History of Exclusion 

“Every women’s movement in America from its earliest origin to the present day has been built on racist foundation – a fact which in no way invalidates feminism as a political ideology. The racial apartheid social structure that characterized 19th and 20th century American life was mirrored in the women’s rights movement. The first white women’s rights advocates were never seeking social equality for all women; they were seeking social equality for white women”

 – bell hooks [1]

One thing we should be able to say – without controversy or equivocation – is that women’s liberation is about liberating all women from oppression. This means feminists should actively campaign for the liberation of all women. Unfortunately, this is not how feminists have operated throughout history in practice. A very good example is that of reproductive justice. One of the central aims of the WLM was to achieve abortion on demand; of course, a rallying point for all women. Not only does abortion on demand give women autonomy over their own bodies, it also affords women the ability to control how many children they have thus freeing up space for work (or leisure). Economic independence has always been, and remains, a key factor for women’s fight for independence. It allows for some economic separation from male partners, but also provides women with power at the point of production, as workers. Therefore being able to control how many kids she has is crucial to any woman’s autonomy.

Nevertheless, there was a key battle missing from the aims of the mainstream WLM’s fight for reproductive justice: the battle against sterilization. While the WLM was fighting for abortion rights, working class women – particularly black, native American and disabled women – were being scouted out by the sick hands of eugenicists, classified as ‘undesirable’ and sterilized: often without their consent. Of course, women who were being affected did rise and did campaign, but their efforts never reached the mainstream. Part of this was because the big organizations of the WLM failed to recognise this issue as a deservedly feminist one. This failure, which coupled snuggly with unchecked racism in the WLM, led to fragmentation just as the WLM was otherwise reaching its apex.

The abortion rights activists of the early 1970s should have examined the history of their movement. Had they done so, they might have understood why so many of their Black sisters adopted a posture of suspicion towards their cause. They might have understood how important it was to undo the racist deeds of their predecessors, who had advocated birth control as well as compulsory sterilization as a means of eliminating the “unfit” sectors of the population. Consequently, the young white feminists might have been more receptive to the suggestion that their campaign for abortions rights include a vigorous condemnation of sterilization abuse, which had become more widespread than ever.

– Angela Davis [2]

women race and class

‘Women, Race and Class’ by Angela Davis is a classic of black feminist literature.

It’s because of this, and much more of the same, that Black feminists began to split from the main movement and form separate Black organisations. This splintering occurred before the general decline of the WLM and move rightwards that happened towards the latter end of the 70s. Hence, in 1973 a group of Black feminists in New York break from the main movement to form the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO). Only a year later a group of class-conscious Black feminists split from the NBFO because of its “bourgeois-feminist stance” and they formed the Combahee River Collective (CRC). The CRC were a major ideological pre-cursor to the concept of intersectionality.

This history of feminism highlights why you can’t discuss sexism in abstraction from race: the gendered oppression that some women face is inextricably linked to other material constructions of oppression, such as racism. The result is, for millions women, to fight for liberation from women’s oppression means to simultaneously fight for liberation from racial oppression. Capitalism contains within its very fibres various material structures of exploitation and oppression (wage exploitation, racism, homophobia, gendered oppression etc) and these structures overlap and reinforce each other. This means that for an individual “…gender is constructed and defined in conjunction with elements of identity such as race…” [3] so a feminism that isn’t also firmly against all other kinds of oppression is a hollow feminism.

The Question of Class

Intersectionality has been great at raising the banner of total liberation. But total liberation from what and for who?

Very briefly I’d like to touch on the question of class, and a misconception that exists about it amongst feminist groups. Often feminists talk about ‘classism’; classism can be summed up as income inequality, rich-man snobbery and stereotypes like ‘Chav’ that are perpetuated against working class people. Quite rightly, an intersectional framework pits us against these things.

Nevertheless, feminists, even Black feminists, often neglect the other understanding of ‘class’ and that’s the one defined in terms of exploitation of labour. Under this conception, you are part of the working class if your labour is exploited by the capitalist class for profit. Because it is not common sense for feminists today to think of class in this way “most Black feminists acknowledge the systemic roots of racism and sexism but place far less emphasis than Marxists on the connection between the system of exploitation and oppression.” [4] This, I’d argue, leads us again to missing key aspects of oppression, but, also, a central source of agency.

This notion of class – as exploitation for profit – is the key source of misery for many people, particularly women, world-wide. It is the very machinery of capitalism and class exploitation at the heart of most issues that affect working class women globally: jobs, pay equity, working conditions and welfare are but a few. But class exploitation also precipitates gendered violence and plays a far greater role than young feminists today acknowledge. To give a very clear example we can look to the Export Processing Zones of the Global South. Tithi Bhattacharya explains:

The use of cheap female labor within special “economic zones” free from the labor laws of the country in which they are based, was first tried in South Korea during its “economic miracle.” Economist Alice Amsden argues that the key to South Korea’s success was the wage gap between male and female labor. These zones mimic in truly macabre ways the contours of the home under capitalism. Like homes they are private, shielded from social and state scrutiny, produce items of social provisioning (clothes, shoes, food processing, toys) by female labor, and are secret theaters of rampant violence. 

Women working in EPZs are subject to widespread verbal abuse, unpaid overtime, sexual harassment, forced sex, and physical violence. Women applying for these jobs have been forced to take health tests, including pregnancy tests, and examined naked and asked questions such as “Do you have a boyfriend?” and “How often do you have sex?” In Kenya, more than forty EPZs employing more than 40,000 workers produce close to 10 percent of the country’s exports. Here the job competition between men and women results frequently in women being forced to have sex, despite HIV risks, in order to secure a job. International Labor Rights Fund revealed that 95 percent of Kenyan women facing workplace harassment do not report the crime; women working in the EPZs formed 90 percent of the women studied in this report. [5]

In EPZs the violence of sexism and abuse goes hand in hand with the exploitation of women as cheap sources of labour; sexual violence is used to boost profit by disciplining the work force and driving down wages. We shouldn’t think of this process as isolated from us here in the UK. Domestic abuse is known to increase during economic crisis and times of austerity, and crisis and austerity are currently knitted quite neatly into the fabric of neo-liberal capitalism. But importantly, the goods produced off the back of abuse in EPZs are bought and sold for the profit of very rich people in Europe and the United States.

Nevertheless, a flipside: class exploitation affords women an important level of agency. The labour of working people makes the world go round. Collectively organising labour, and removing it through striking, can be both a liberating experience but can affect real change. We only have to look to the Grunwick dispute, where migrant women organised, ran, and led a 2 year strike and, as workers, took their liberation into their own hands.

It’s a disaster the radical and powerful history of women as working class fighters (who often fought alongside men) has more or less been wiped from feminist consciousness. Feminism needs to be removed from the cosy confines of an ideology that is consistent with capitalism and placed into the radical framework of a movement that wants to totally revolutionise society. If intersectionality is to mean what it claims it means, this part of women’s history needs to be reclaimed and feminists need to begin locating key areas of struggle in their workplaces.

jayaben desai

Jayaben Desai was a leading striker during the Grunwick dispute that lasted 2 years, 1976-1978

What does this mean for us?

The fantastic thing about intersectionality is it raises the banner of liberation for all women, be they black women facing sterilization, university women at the sharp end of lad culture or Indian women in EPZs. However we have to start putting these theoretical conclusions into practice.

For example, cleaners at King’s – who are very likely to be migrant women with children – are fighting for the living wage; we need to support their campaign. Our support needs to be more than a nod in their direction: it needs to be a show of student solidarity with workers and a celebration of people willing to fight for change.

Women throughout history have fought for a completely new vision of society; one without exploitation, one without oppression. Feminists today should follow in their tradition, but we can only do so by positioning ourselves against every injustice and actually fighting like we care.


  1. Page 124, ‘Ain’t I a Woman’, 1982, bell hooks
  2. Page 215, ‘Women Race and Class’, 1981, Angela Davis
  3. Page 175, ‘Inessential Woman’, 1988, Elizabeth Spelman
  4. ‘Black Feminism and Intersectionality’ – Sharon Smith
  5. ‘Explaining Gendered Violence in a Neo-liberal Era’ – Tithi Bhattacharya


If you want to write for us, come check out our Writing Topics Page. Or if you want to find more fantastic intersectional articles from us, go check out our Contents Page