Statistics Canada data suggests that persons with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized identities are vastly underrepresented in workforces in Canada. To help marginalized students and alumni seek employment, the Student Success Centre launched the Career Access Program for Students, a suite of services offered in collaboration with the Student Accessibility Centre and Maccess.
CAPS focuses on skill building and career development through career advising, strategic goal setting and personal branding. Students also work on creating an employment action plan that is customized to meet their needs.
The program is for students and alumni that identify as persons with disabilities, First Nations, Metis and Inuit persons, members of racialized communities, First Generation students and LGBTQA2S+ students.
Students and alumni can book one-on-one appointments through OSCARPlus, participate through events, or utilize online resources to learn about financial accommodations for students with disabilities, wellness support services, a transit accessibility initiative and campaigns to promote diverse practices.
The SSC also introduced a new position.
Katherine Hesson-Bolton started her position as the diversity employment coordinator in July 2018.
Her initial goals were finding her way around campus alongside first-year students, reading reports, developing a network with faculties, students, campus services and partners and identifying service gaps and needs.
Hesson-Bolton’s role places her in a unique position as a connecting link between McMaster and the greater community.
She regularly meets with employers in hopes of coming away with jobs and opportunities for students while also having conversations around diversity hiring and removing barriers.
She then is able to provide employers with on-campus and external resources, such as ones coming from Pride at Work Canada, to help them address diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
“It’s really about having a conversation with the employer to hear what their needs are, what McMaster students’ needs are, and then finding that fit… So it’s really about relationship building on both sides,” said Hesson-Bolton.
“It also comes back to reaching back to those campus partners, whether it’s student accessibility services or Indigenous services,” said Hesson-Bolton. “I also work a lot with and involve students on campus because it’s really important to get students’ perspective and their feedback.”
Hesson-Bolton also strategizes with employees on branding. Some employers have identified that they want to focus on inclusion, but do not know how to identify and address the needs of new employees.
“You may have employers who will want to hire students with disabilities. And the question back is ‘have you thought about how your workplace is set up? What are your policies, procedures, your staff education, so that the new employee feels included?’,” said Hesson-Bolton.
Hesson-Bolton starts the conversation by discussing meeting the needs of new hires, whether that be identifying the accommodations that would allow persons with disabilities to work, establishing prayer spaces or recognizing that always having social events in establishments that serve alcohol may exclude some individuals.
Hesson-Bolton also has important conversations with students and alumni around disclosure in the workplace and accommodation plans.
She also provides a space for students to talk about their frustrations, experiences with discrimination, while also connecting them to mentors and peers with similar lived experience.
There is a strong need for university services to support students entering the workforce and address the barriers to diversity and inclusion. The CAPS program and the role of the diversity employment coordinator are just getting started.
By: Donna Nadeem
In the fall, An’am Sherwani, Asha Smith and Garry Vinayak, three students taking the SUSTAIN 3S03 course, conducted a new study on food insecurity on campus.
The results reveal that 39 per cent of the 204 student respondents have experienced moderate food insecurity and 12 per cent have experienced severe insecurity.
Food insecurity refers to the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food.
Meal Exchange is a nonprofit organization that tackles issues such as student food insecurity in Canadian post-secondary institutions.
In 2016, Meal Exchange worked with university campuses including Brock University, the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University, Lakehead University and Ryerson University to survey students using the “Hungry for Knowledge” survey guide and framework.
The objectives of the study were to determine a ‘prevalence estimate’ of students experiencing food insecurity, identify key factors that contribute to student food insecurity and raise awareness about various services that address and help reduce the issue of student food insecurity.
As part of the course, Sherwani, Smith and Vinayak created an online survey for the McMaster student population to collect information about students who are at most risk of food insecurity.
The survey also asked respondents about the various barriers and factors that influence and contribute to the emergence of student food insecurity.
The goal of the project was to use the survey data collection to gain knowledge and a deeper understanding about the social issue of student food insecurity.
The team advertised the survey through social media, posters around campus and class talks. They obtained 204 partial responses and 185 complete responses.
Their findings indicate that 39 percent, or 71, of respondents have experienced ‘moderate’ food insecurity while 12 per cent, or 22 respondents, experienced ‘severe’ food insecurity.
Respondents indicated that their food insecurity was largely the result of factors including financial barriers, having limited time to cook and the lack of healthy and diverse food options on campus.
They also reported that food insecurity impacted their physical health, mental health, social life and grades.
The most common experiences amongst those dealing with food insecurity included relying on low-cost foods, not eating healthy balanced meals, and prioritizing other financial needs before securing adequate food.
The study also suggests that food insecurity also results in skipping meals and sometimes not eating the entire day.
Of those who identified as food insecure, only 24 per cent utilized programs and services at their disposal, such as the McMaster Students Union Food Collective Centre.
Nonetheless, as there is a stigma associated with these services, it is unclear the extent to which respondents underreported their use of them.
After analyzing the results of the survey, the team shared their findings were shared with MSU student clubs and services.
These groups can use the results of the study, particularly the one about students’ use of food services, as a springboard to explore new ways of outreach to McMaster students experiencing food insecurity.
The increased usage of these services and clubs may aid in the reduction of food insecurity at McMaster.
The SUSTAIN 3S03 team has sent their study to a graduate student, who will continue to pursue and examine the research. Further exploration and follow-ups are currently in progress and the study will be continued into 2019.
By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele
The Student Success Centre is pleased to launch the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network (UPTN), a new network for students to access affordable, quality student tutors, both in-person and online. The platform is powered by TutorOcean, a relatively new start-up company that was selected in partnership with the McMaster Engineering Society. Differing from other academic services available, this network is a chance to connect with another student who successfully completed the course; tutors must have received an A- to provide services.
“Through the Student Life Enhancement Fund, all McMaster undergraduate students who access the network receive a subsidy for the first seven sessions, meaning they only pay $9 per hour,” says Jenna Storey, Academic Skills Program Coordinator for the Student Success Centre. “Tutors are available from all Faculties and an important part of this service.”
Gina Robinson, Director of the Student Success Centre, adds, “Providing quality and affordable tutoring is an important objective of this initiative. Finding sustainable funding for subsidy will need to be part the plan moving forward.”
Understanding that there are a number of gatekeeping courses (mandatory courses for students to complete their degree), the Student Success Centre continues to work with Faculties to ensure that these courses are available on the network. The Student Success Centre has also incorporated measures to ensure that tutors are well-prepared, offering a number of different sessions for tutors to become “McMaster Certified.”
As Jenna shares, “Students are encouraged to find a tutor who has a ‘McMaster Certified’ badge on their profile, indicating they have completed the tutor training session in accordance with best practices. This training focuses on running an effective session, ethical standards, and communication skills.”
The Undergrad Writing Centre continues to be another support available for students, and can be used at any stage of the writing process. All Writing Tutors have undergone training through the Student Success Centre, which has been externally recognized by the College Reading and Learning Association (CLRA).
Students can book up to ten appointments per semester for free. This semester, new drop-in writing support is also available Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The Undergrad Writing Centre is located in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library.
Jill McMillan, Academic Skills Program Coordinator of the Student Success Centre, shares, “Writing remains is a key academic and life skill requirement. We are thrilled to have received certification recognition that demonstrates the quality of this peer based service. Students are supported in meeting their writing potential.”
Students looking for quick study tips and other academic support can connect with Academic Coaches, located in the SSC Lounge as well as in the Learning Commons on the second floor of Mills Library every Monday-Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Learn more about the Undergrad Peer Tutoring Network here.
Learn more about the Undergrad Writing Centre here.
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The MSU is well on its way to launching Maccess, its newest service. As the name suggests, Maccess will cater to students with both visible and invisible disabilities, with the goal of peer-based support and advocacy.
“What's different about this [service] is that it's peer-centric and that it also helps to capture students who maybe suffer with acute disabilities, so that captures students who deal with mental health concerns,” explained Giuliana Guarna, VP (Administration) of the MSU.
“We know there's a desire for peer support and we know there's also a desire to have an advocacy component that teaches students self-advocacy and also in the sense of campaigns and educating the campus, and advocating to the university.”
Guarna hopes the service will help prevent students from feeling “othered,” and while Maccess does not have a confirmed space yet, due to the logistics of physical accessibility concerns, she stressed the importance of finding a non-medical space. “Many students don’t find the medical resources to be sufficient,” she explained.
She also hopes Maccess will pioneer a better ally system for students with disabilities. While Student Accessibility Services runs its own version of the program, she said, “Many of the students who are part of the ally program don’t actually have a disability. So they don’t really appreciate the nuances of navigating the university while having a disability.” The service would hopefully launch a version of the program where students with disabilities could share tips about accommodations.
Ultimately, it will be Alex Wilson, the service’s newly hired coordinator who will work to shape the service. The selection committee, made up of Guarna, Brandon Stegmaier, the MSU Services Commissioner and Nishan Zewge-Abubaker, the MSU’s Diversity Services Director, worked with a set list of competencies to find a candidate who fit the job description. “[We wanted] someone who understands what is currently happening on campus with regards to disability and what services already exist,” explained Guarna. “Second, we are looking for someone who can build an inclusive space that would operate under an anti-racist framework and that had knowledge of intersectionality.”
To Guarna, Wilson displayed all the qualities the committee looked for. “I think he has a very thorough understanding of the role of peer support based on his role with SHEC. He also has a very strong understanding of working with campus and our community partners,” she said.
In regards to the role that lived experiences with disability played in hiring, Guarna said that the committee never said that they were exclusively going to hire someone with a disability, visible or invisible.
“We never even said we were going to hire someone with a disability. I mean, obviously we would hope that we do, because they're going to have that more nuanced understanding; however, I don't think it's even fair for us to have to expect a student to self-identify, because again, that is a barrier. And that in itself creates a barrier for those students, having to say, ‘I have this disability.’”
Wilson, for his part, is looking forward to taking on his new role. Starting in January, he will work six hours a week on developing the service, a job he will continue over the course of the summer, the goal being to officially launch the service September 2016, though it remains to be seen in what form.
“The next few months will be very dynamic as we look at how the collaboration between SAS, SWELL, SWC, HRES and Maccess turns out.” He also cited that finding a permanent, readily accessible space was another factor that would be vital in getting the service set up.
While progress has been made, the Maccess has a long way to grow yet, and it will be exciting to see how the new advocacy service develops.