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How I made the most of my time at King's as a Black student

Sapphire Francis
Senior Student Content Officer (Interim), MSc Mental Health Studies

17 October 2023

Hi, my name is Sapphire and I’m studying MSc Mental Health Studies. I arrived at King’s in 2019, away from home for the first time, at what I thought was a ‘predominantly white institution’. I wondered how I was going to survive the next couple of years as a Black student. If you’re anything like I was, this piece is for you. I have navigated this journey and I think I can say I’ve made the most of it. In this article, I will share some tips based on my four years at King’s.

Build a support network

Finding and connecting with people who share your experiences can be extremely beneficial when at university. A support network does not have to share your cultural identity, but it does often help to know that there are people who have a shared understanding of things like institutionalised racism and microaggressions and won’t look at you funny if you choose not to code switch. Joining BME student societies and networks can offer a sense of belonging, understanding, and support.

Embrace your cultural identity

King’s is a diverse community, and your heritage should be a source of pride. KCLSU runs a series of events for Black students, particularly in Black History Month, while cultural societies run events and workshops that can also enrich your experience throughout the year.

That being said, I encourage you to explore your whole identity. Coming to university in London, where there is a dominant Black culture, can make you feel like being Black means a certain way of life. Don’t be afraid to try new things, new looks or new hobbies even if they don’t fit other people's pre-conceived notions of what it is to be Black.

Seek academic support

Nationally, BME students are consistently awarded fewer 1sts and 2:1s compared to white students. Research attributes differential attainment to, amongst other factors, non-inclusive curricula and learning practices, limited sense of belonging, and lack of ethnic diversity among role models and staff. You can read more in the Degree attainment: Black, Asian and minority ethnic students report. Don’t hesitate to seek academic support when needed and make use of existing resources. Speak to your personal tutor, or Faculty Wellbeing Advisor.

Seek mental health and wellbeing support

Statistically, Black people have been treated unfairly in mental health services, facing differences in the access to and quality of support. Moreover, with ideas like 'the Strong Black Woman' and 'Black men don’t cry', I understand why you might be reluctant to seek mental health or wellbeing support. I was too. However, hearing about experiences with Student Services from other Black students encouraged me to try it. King’s offers support for everyone, but they also provide tailored support for students from minoritised backgrounds. You can also find resources from organisations like Black People Talk to support your wellbeing at university. 

If you unfortunately experience harassment, bullying or microaggressions, you can also access support via Report + Support. Also, take time to familiarise yourself with the inclusion and race equality support available at King’s – you might be surprised by the breadth of resources available!

Explore Equality, Diversity & Inclusion courses

Consider exploring courses that focus on diversity, inclusion and social issues, when available. Some programmes offer optional modules that provide a unique perspective to enrich your overall educational journey. For example, in my Masters, I enrolled on the Decolonising Mental Health Research module, which champions a decolonised and inclusive approach to education.

Network and get experience

I can’t say I’m a fan of networking, but I see why it is important. Explore networking opportunities in cultural societies like African and Caribbean Society or King's BAME in the City Society, particularly for competitive industries like finance, consulting, or law. These connections can be beneficial for success, especially as a Black individual facing potential discrimination and bias.

Internships are a valuable way to gain practical experience and mentorship. They can be found independently, through organisations like 10,000 Black Interns, or through King's. Personally, working as an Inclusive Education Student Partner and my internships with Student Mental Health and Wellbeing and Student Knowledge & Information provided me with valuable career experience.

You can stay updated on opportunities through King's Talent Bank and King's Careers Connect. Kings Careers + is designed to support students from underrepresented backgrounds with career development. Instructions on how to access it can be found on KEATS.

Finally, take up space!

I know I wasn’t alone in my experiences of imposter syndrome, or fears of not belonging. Let me tell you, you belong here! I have proudly worn my blackness throughout my time at King’s (take this article as an example), and I encourage you to do the same. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, no matter what that looks like. You’ve worked hard to be at King’s, and your voice is valued here. Don’t be afraid to use it.

Read Sapphire's Top tips on how to make the most of your time at King's as a Black student on Student Services Online.