25 Feb 2022

Exploring marginalisation with ‘compassion and empathy’

Eight students working in six countries have developed powerful activist research initiatives in their local communities, highlighting issues of diversity and discrimination.

In an ambitious project, undergraduate students from the faculties of Arts and Humanities and Social Science and Public Policy at Kings College London, were partnered with community researchers to identify issues of marginalisation or exclusion in their local areas.  

Funded by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the students were supported through training and mentorship, provided by The Young Foundation's Institute for Community Studies (ICS).

Undisciplined Spaces saw students engage with issues in communities across six different countries and produce everything from photography and films to zines, policy briefs, visual art, and books to display their findings. The programme gave students a unique opportunity to develop their skills and gain experience in community research while making a meaningful positive impact in their local communities.

Many students were motivated to explore issues that were personal to them and that reflected their experiences. Through interviews and visual storytelling, Martina Chen (BA European Politics) investigated the racism, marginalisation, and emancipation experienced by the Chinese community in Prato, Italy. Her findings were summarised in an impactful and emotive participatory film (available to view on YouTube) that aims to, “meaningfully connect with the community, amplify community voices and experiences, and produce collective knowledge that can empower the community and increase civic engagement and social mobilisation.” 

Thanks to Undisciplined Spaces, I am now more confident about pursuing a career in research and further exploring community research in the future. [...] The programme has taught me important research skills and practices that are rarely taught at university or emphasised in traditional research, such as compassion, empathy and sensitivity. These are practices that I will definitely be incorporating in my future projects.

– Martina Chen, BA European Politics 

Sameera Mohammed (BA English) focused on a topic close to home as she investigated issues of diversity and representation in higher education by interviewing fellow Arts and Humanities students from London universities. She used infographics to highlight how students feel silenced, including direct quotes from her interviews because, as she put it, “Voices of these people are the most important if you want to make change.”  

Also drawing from the familiar world of higher education, Laura Maxwell (BA History) explored young people's experiences of mental health and isolation in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions. 

My project stemmed from the frustration I felt for marginalised students who don't know what they're capable of[…]  to encourage them to know their worth, realise their potential, and do their best to take every opportunity they can.

– Sameera Mohammed, BA English 

Many of the students saw this programme as an opportunity to shape and inform local policy. After conducting one-to-one interviews online and via telephone, Carolin Klein (BA Political Economy) produced a policy proposal to advise local authorities on the integration struggles of female refugees in Germany.  

“The aim of the study was to give a voice to the marginalised group of refugee women, presenting them as active agents for change while demanding policy action to recognise their unique struggles,” she said.  

Carolin also reflected on her own role in the project and the community: “The programme helped me use my privilege for good. In collecting data on the needs of refugee women in a policy paper, I could amplify the voice of a marginalised community, finding my role as an ally.” 

Also interested in public policy, ByeongKyu Jun (BA International Relations) researched how homeless people find and receive available resources and support, using Whitechapel, London, as a case study. After carrying out a survey in conjunction with local charities, ByeongKyu produced a small card that details relevant support for homeless people. He highlighted how in public policy as well as in his studies, community experience is often side-lined but, through Undisciplined Spaces, he was able to gain a new perspective on the importance of lived experience in policymaking. As he put it, “While I always focused on big actors in the international community in my studies, I started to see more diverse - smaller or often unheard - voices in our society [...] The programme indeed made me consider wider perspectives.” 

It was fantastic to work with King’s College London on Undisciplined Spaces, co-creating a pioneering programme of creative, activist research projects. The event showcased some inspiring student-led projects, highlighting the value of peer research, which we promote and support via our Peer Research Network. Through Undisciplined Spaces, students around the world demonstrate the power and potential of community research, connecting young people with issues that matter in their communities.

– Emily Morrison, Head of The Young Foundation's Institute for Community Studies 

Other student projects focused on local communities in London, including one by Saffron Brown Davis (BA French & Philosophy), which shared experiences of people affected by displacement in Brixton in a zine. Also in London, Rebecca Lindsay (BA Philosophy and Spanish) conducted one-to-one interviews to explore the gentrification of the Latinx community in Elephant and Castle.

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For more information about the Undisciplined Spaces project, visit: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/research/the-institute-of-community-studies-undis… 

If you would like to speak to the Institute for Community Studies about carrying out a similar project, please contact emily.morrison@icstudies.org.uk

The student projects: 

  • Afra Fathibitaraf (BA English), Leaves in the Wind: Stories of Iranian-Canadians in Toronto 
  • ByeongKyu Jun (BA International Relations), Exploring understanding of homelessness and the accessibility of support services for people experiencing homelessness in Whitechapel 
  • Carolin Klein (BA Political Economy), The Gendered Problem of Migration: A Policy Proposal for Integration in Germany 
  • Laura Maxwell (BA History), Exploring young people's experiences of mental health and isolation against the backdrop of Covid-19 restrictions 
  • Martina Chen (BA European Politics), Understanding Collective Action in the Chinese community of Prato 
  • Rebecca Lindsay (BA Philosophy and Spanish), Elephant & Castle: A tale of gentrification
  • Saffron Brown Davis (BA French and Philosophy), A community Influx: Perspectives on displacement in Brixton 
  • Sameera Mohammed (BA English), We are Here: ethnic minority experiences of Arts and Humanities courses in higher education