The issue of racial profiling and discrimination was at the centre of King’s College London University this week, there have been accusations that the University discriminate against students after many were unable to enter buidings and ‘ID cards were cancelled’ , the reasoning that they were deemed a ‘security threat’ during a royal visit.’ by the Queen.
‘Campus security told students that KCL had been advised by Metropolitan Police to ban students who are considered a potential security threat during the visit’, the letter added. It also alleges that student names ‘were passed onto the Metropolitan Police by KCL Security with no evidence of law-breaking’.
Two students, two Muslim women who wish to remain anonymous candidly share their experiences and their thoughts below:
Universities have been the home of resistance movements for time immemorial, and for anti-Muslim sentiment and policy to be rising on campuses despite this reflects an Establishment that is keen on testing the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ oppression on those most likely to resist.
As visibly Muslim women, our place at KCL has always been in question. This has been made undeniably clear by recent events. Despite having been racially profiled thrice over the past few weeks, our experiences on Tuesday (March) were unquestionably the single most alienating experience of our time here.
Student 1: I tilted my head back and sighed, eyes closed. ‘Are you serious?’. By the third failed tap, I knew that my inability to access the building was entirely intentional, my activism has exposed the violence with which KCL operates too many times for me to have entertained naivety in that moment. I would be lying if I said I was surprised, but as I watch over the videos taken when I questioned reception and security as to why my ID card had been blocked, the interwoven emotions of disgust and shock are evident. ‘Are you being serious? For security reasons, they’ve (KCL) chosen students who can’t go in?’ The receptionist, a fellow person of colour, looked at me with dismay in his eyes and answered honestly, ’Yes.’. His apologetic manner could not contrast more with the hard, defiant and almost amused tone with which the head of security, a white man, retorted that ‘The Metropolitan Police.’ had requested that my card was blocked. It sickens me to recall the audacity with which he denied the fact that I had been profiled, and the smugness of his silence when I questioned him after noticing my name written on a piece of paper, with a box drawn around it, on the reception desk. Throughout this ordeal with the head of security, another receptionist had called extra security to remove me from the building. Exasperated and outraged at the fact that I was being labelled and treated like a ‘security threat’, I strode out of the building.
Student 2: The incessant beeping was the first sign. Every time I attempted to enter my university, the beeping would let me know that my ID card was being rejected. The security were the second sign. Surrounded by tall, predominantly white, men in suits, I was unavoidably aware of my vulnerability as they watched me try and fail to enter the building. Three tries was as much humiliation as I could take. I retreated to the reception desk with a plea for permission to attend my study group, and was baffled to be met with cold glares and uncompromisingly short responses. One look at my ID card was all it took for them to begin aggressively demanding that I leave the premises outright despite my status as a KCL student. That was the third sign. Having now been reduced to tears by the hostility of the situation, I attempted to implore one final time for at least a reason as to why my access was being restricted whilst we watched my fellow students enter and exit the building at will. The answer, which in the eyes of the institution of KCL justifies one of the most distressing experiences of my student life, was delivered with brutal frankness: “That’s what happens when you take part in protests.” That was when it became clear: I had been profiled.
Our encounters on campus with KCL security and the narratives of security which they weaponised against us, alongside their callous disregard of the implications of their actions on our lives, is eerily reminiscent of the shallow discourse regarding anti-Muslim sentiment which exists within wider British society. Our campuses are microcosms of the nation’s approach to marginalised groups, with universities acting as glorified Petri dishes in which to test policy and approach. On the whim of the Establishment, our rights were infringed upon as we were excluded from a public institution which we are students of – this decision regarding our rights was dictated to us, with no semblance of a discussion or attempts at justifying this decision. As if our political views imply that we are inherently violent and therefore deserve to be written off.
Whilst we were outraged by the overt political and racial profiling, we were by no means surprised. Despite KCL management suggesting otherwise, the decision to selectively exclude students is not an exceptional one but rather one that is made routinely. In particular, students advocating for Palestinian human rights have been repeatedly and indiscriminately targeted by the Prevent duty at KCL. Only a fortnight ago, the College recommended that KCL Israel Society selectively exclude students using a system of racial profiling which targeted those who were regarded as having traditional Muslim or ‘Arab’ names.
The environment of suspicion surrounding Muslim students that is cultivated by such actions has normalised Islamophobia to the extent that it has become accepted by the Muslim community as an unavoidable obstacle that must be tackled every day that one wishes to enter university.
What can be accepted on campus, even if it is reluctantly, can be accepted across society. It is vital that such violent and dangerous narratives not be allowed to unquestioningly fester on our campuses. We cannot be silenced. We must make reclaim our narratives and make ourselves heard.
By Selina Bakkar