King's College London
Equality is taken very seriously at King's College London, and Atelier has been at the forefront in using design to ask important questions of its students, staff and visitors. There are two strands to these questions of equality: gender and race. We want everyone at King's to ask of themselves: 'What do you really think and know about these two issues?'
King's principal efforts are focused on tackling inherent unconscious bias — biases we are not aware of, based on our background, cultural environment and experience. Atelier's first project, 'Meet the Professors', addressed the cliché of how a professor is generally perceived: an aging man, wearing a lab coat and glasses, balding and slightly scatty. Confronting this stereotype, we developed two giant displays that feature successful female academics at King's. It was a rallying call for the 63% of female students at the university, encouraging them to consider academia as a career option and helping dispel the notion that it is a male preserve. See Meet the Professors.
Following on from this project, we turned from gender to race. Atelier attended meetings and workshops where it became evident that race was 'the elephant in the room' — a much more difficult subject to bring out into the open. We heard emotionally charged accounts from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students who felt dissociated from their classmates and culturally ignored by the curriculum. Staff and student surveys were not favourable either; BME participants felt they did not belong, were isolated and underappreciated.
Staff and senior managers feared discussing the subject of race. Meanwhile, the Students' Union was pressing hard to engage the new Principal Ed Byrne in open campus meetings, where he was held to account; there was an uncomfortable atmosphere and an impatience for immediate change.
The Principal's office, together with the senior management at King's, worked to effect institutional change. Faculties were tasked to close the BME attainment gap; resources were put in place to help teaching staff adopt more inclusive practices; a BME student mentoring scheme was introduced; and there is now support for the Students' Union drive to see greater diversity within curricula.
With tangible change underway, Atelier was commissioned to address the fact that BME students and staff at King's felt dissociated.
Mindful of the stories we had heard from students who felt dissociated from their classmates, we chanced upon the vision windows in lecture room doors. Staff and students open these every day, expecting to encounter new ideas. The metaphor of opening doors to new ways of thinking seemed a strong message. Our project acquired an appropriate location and a name; 'Open Doors...'
This important project for change required the support of senior academics, so our design proposals highlighted what was being achieved within each Faculty. In essence, we created an internal competition, requesting representatives at all levels, undergraduate and professional. BME staff and student candidates were nominated by each Faculty, photographed, and short biographies were composed. Atelier spent a day measuring doors and as all were different, we prepared individual site-specific artwork. Each Faculty was allocated a colour in contrast with their doors.
The 'Open Doors...' launch day saw doors across all three central London campuses dressed, and a simultaneous website launch.
As a project, 'Open Doors...' is owned by each Faculty and is an opportunity for BME individuals to be placed at the centre of their own success. Classmates can no longer ignore their BME peers, because they greet them every day as they enter their lecture rooms. Future BME students on open day visits to King's see possibilities that they can identify with, and King's continues to emphasise its international and multicultural standing in the world of higher education.
President of KCLSU
Year 3 student, BSc Biomedical Science
Ed Byrne, Principal
Other King's projects: Ripple Effect , Shoulders of Giants , On the Front Line , Meet the Professors , Making a Difference , Puzzling Moves , University Alumni , University DNA , Selling a University