BY Humans of KCL
Introduction by Alicja Krawczun-Rygmaczewska
You can find them on Instagram, Facebook, or perhaps you have already featured in one of their stories? Humans of KCL is a community project inspired by the success of widely known Humans of New York. Their idea is simple: cronicle stories and connect members of the King’s College London. This is not an easy task, considering that our community counts over 30,000 members. They do it one story at a time, each of them honest, unique and important in many different ways. Here is a small taste of the stories featured on their platforms:
When you’re growing up, you often don’t realise that your sense of “normal” isn’t everyone else’s sense of “normal”. I thought it was normal to have parents that didn’t have any money, worried about rent all the time, and focused on how we were simply going to get by on a permanent basis. Even though you see rich people on TV all the time, in real life, actually meeting people who went to private or grammar schools and had parents who did something that wasn’t a minimum wage job is rare – I’d never been friends with people from circles like that.
My first year of studying Biomed was the first time I made friends with people who didn’t go to a state school, weren’t surrounded by poverty and didn’t have a backdrop of social issues always following them. I guess that’s what really stuck out to me. When I was growing up, there was a lot of “stuff” that was happening in my area. I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about it – the people that I’ve grown up with and look up to from where I come from are some of the strongest and most resilient people you’ll ever meet – but there’s a lot of trauma and poverty present. These conditions are normal for a lot of people that live and grow up in such environments, but it’s not at all relatable to the vast majority of people in university.
For someone living in Zone 3, train tickets to campus add up to a minimum of £1000 a year. Then there’s food to think about – a minimum spend of £5 a day. Overall, it works out to about the same thing. £100 a month minimum on food and then another £1000 on top of it per year on transport. That’s £2000 minimum just to stay alive. Then you’ve got items like books, clothes and other normal, regular things. Where are these going to come from? The grant was a big help with all of these things, and once that got cut by the government, things just went sideways for a lot of people. All of a sudden, if you have 2 people on the exact same course with the same enthusiasm and one of them has a 12 hour a week job and the other doesn’t, the latter obviously has 12 hours a week of extra time to revise – 12 extra hours to participate in extracurriculars or simply socialise.
In my year out after my Biomed degree, I got a job to raise money. Since I’ve come back, I’ve had to work a lot and what it’s meant is that I just have to go the extra mile – I feel like a lot of people I know have to go the extra mile – to simply live the same sort of life that everyone else is living. I’m not going to act like I’m a big victim here. I only want to point out that this is a structural thing affecting millions. I’m talking about us as a group of people – working class students and students from poorer backgrounds – who have to work more than twice as hard.
1 in 25 people from my borough are homeless. Facts like this accompanied with the worrying that “maybe I need to help my mum with rent and shopping” or “how am I going to live in damp, overcrowded housing that has been left to rot” just has an effect on you and ultimately how well you do. You can literally just walk into campus and see the person you’re standing next to in their comfortable life, and then go home to find that your mum has just been handed an eviction notice. This is a real thing which happens and I feel like it’s a bit invisible.
My family was evicted from our house and we were declared homeless when I was in primary school. I was a little kid at the time, and didn’t know or understand what was going on. I remember my mum and dad being very stressed, with my mum trying to frame it to us kids as some big adventure to find a new home where we would live happily ever after. You don’t have to have caused any sort of problem to be evicted – you’re just gone, you’re finished.
Being a kid and being told that you don’t have a home has an effect on you. Right now, my sisters are applying to study nursing and my mum is being told that her child benefits are being cut. All of a sudden, they’re thinking about getting jobs and supporting her. Just think about these two girls who, before even starting university, are having to think like adults. When they start uni, what’s the likelihood that they’ll be given equal footing to someone from a richer background who doesn’t have these worries? It’s just not the case.
King’s is a rich institution and the fact that they only give a bursary of £1,600 is diabolical. Both Imperial and UCL provide a greater amount, even though King’s has a higher number of working-class students than both of these unis. A solution is to give poorer students better support and services and not cut them. The government cut the grant, but the King’s bursary is still nowhere near enough.
I don’t hate people who went to private or grammar schools. All I want to do is address the fact that, clearly, there’s some inequality. I think every single person that goes to university or lives in this country should understand that inequality exists. That doesn’t mean that poorer people are bitter about it. It just means that they wish that at the very least, this inequality is acknowledged as existing, and not denied.
To anyone who relates to this at all, I’d say nothing is going to happen just by itself. At the end of the day, when there has been any form of inequality or oppression, there isn’t any instance in history that I can think of where the people in power just gave out help. They didn’t just do it and make society more equal for the sake of it. The only reason it happened was because the people at the bottom put great pressure on the people above them. It’s a big ask but once you make it to university, you’re in a position of privilege. You can challenge things more and most importantly, you can gain more knowledge. Use that, and don’t forget the people you left behind.”
“Around this time last year, my friends – who are Iranian, Pakistani and Indian – were racially abused near Dover Castle by three final year King’s students. They were chanting “Brexit means Brexit”, “Go back to where you came from”, “Paki” and “Paki-Jew”. They told my friends they were UCL students, but after a thorough investigation and social media stalking, we discovered that they were in fact King’s students and that the main attacker had previously been pulled up for his bigoted views online. Though we were slightly hesitant to move the matter forward, we ended up contacting King’s and the police. Sadly, because these students were in their final year, it made it increasingly difficult to ‘catch’ them. This reinforced the idea that universities are becoming more and more of a business nowadays.
Over the past two years, King’s has been pulled up for incidents of racial profiling and my friends’ story was just one of many. This got me thinking about ways universities could be preventative – how can universities stop these incidents from happening in the first place? Perhaps one day in the future there could be some kind of screening process or background check for anyone and everyone who would like to be part of the King’s community, in order to ensure we exist in a safe, inclusive space.
I used to go to the University of Manchester and one of the reasons I dropped out in my second year was due to a racial profiling incident between a member of the security staff and I. My friend and I had been stopped from entering the library like anybody else with our ID/student cards. They didn’t believe our IDs were in fact ours, and when I tried to prove it to them (which I was under no obligation to do) they laughed at me and said I was lying. They never said anything ‘overtly’ racist, but covert racism is equally as problematic because it goes unrecognised and is undealt with for most people. We took it to the university ‘court’, but ended up losing the case. I felt belittled, patronised and embarrassed to be honest. I almost felt as though I had made it up, like the experience wasn’t racist, and that I had been ‘dramatic’ or that I was ‘overreacting’.
It took me a couple of years to get over it and reassure myself that I did the right thing by taking it the courts and that I wasn’t the problem. To be honest, I hope the change we are all fighting for encourages people – all people – to speak up: white, black, brown, whatever the colour of your skin, silence is definitely a form of violence.
All photographs are credited to Bilal Malik.
Please note that those interviews were conducted virtually.