C/O NSBE McMaster

McMaster NSBE’s current president met with its first president to discuss the history of the organization and where it is today.  

The National Society of Black Engineers is an American organization with numerous pre-college, university and alumni chapters both throughout the United States and beyond. The goal of the organization, as explained by the website, is to empower more Black students to enter engineering and to find success in the field.  

The website explains that NSBE was originally started in 1975 but that it has grown significantly since then, beginning at only six members and currently featuring around 31,000.  

On Feb. 28, NSBE at McMaster posted an interview between Mosana Abraha, current president of NSBE McMaster and Tolu Falade, co-founder of NSBE McMaster. Falade and Abraha took turns asking one another questions about the significance of NSBE and, more generally, about the experience of being a Black student in engineering.  

Falade started up NSBE McMaster in 2010. According to Falade, the 2010 NSBE National Convention was held in Toronto, which was the first time the convention had been held outside of the United States. Falade had been encouraged by friends and family to get involved with the conference, which then kickstarted her involvement with NSBE.  

C/O McMaster Engineering

Falade and her co-founder attended the conference as volunteers and found the experience to be energizing and impactful. According to Falade, she left the convention feeling certain that this was a space McMaster needed. So, she and her co-founder developed the McMaster chapter in response to that.  

When asked about her goals in founding NSBE McMaster, Falade emphasized the importance of community in education. Both Falade and Abraha reflected on the fact that there were very few other Black students in their respective programs and Falade pointed out that NSBE McMaster allows Black students in engineering to find and connect with one another. 

Abraha noted that, when she asked Falade about her goals when founding NSBE at McMaster, she was struck by how consistent the goals of NSBE have remained over time.  

C/O NSBE McMaster

“They've been pretty constant in terms of what we're doing now and that mission statement is still the same,” said Abraha.  

Falade and Abraha also discussed the new NSBE McMaster Chapter Entrance Award, a scholarship that will be awarded to Black Canadian students entering McMaster engineering programs.  NSBE McMaster has a fundraising goal of 62,500 dollars; reaching this goal would allow them to provide 2,500 dollars per year to several Black engineering students.  

As of March 11, the award has received 30,250 dollars of donations online, from 41 different sources. 

“I like to describe that scholarship as the missing puzzle piece in terms of our mission statement. We do a lot of the pre-work [or] outreach work and then we do a lot of the work for students currently in university. But I find that the scholarship is that perfect bridge,” said Abraha.  

Due to NSBE’s outreach and support work, Black engineering students have greater access to communities and resources at McMaster.  

C/O Christian Braun

Please introduce yourself. 

I am Glenda van der Leeuw. I am a student counselor with McMaster Student Wellness Center and a registered social worker.  

Last summer, you ran a program called "You Belong in the Room" [with McMaster University’s Student Success Centre]. How was it?  

I decided to facilitate "You Belong in the Room" for Black students to create a safe space for them and talk about imposter syndrome from a Black lens. [In the program] we talk about how that sometimes hinders our drive and, often, how our confidence is really harmed when we have self-doubt . . . We're really trying to stress with students that yes, of course the system is broken. We can all acknowledge that. [But] what do we do from here? In order for those systems to be corrected, dismantled or fixed, there needs to be leadership spaces for racialized people in those spaces.  

Another part of the program and my work was learning how to manage the stressors from discrimination. I hope to empower our students [to] learn to love and value their own identity. I'm hoping this group will give a lasting confidence, highlight their value and the unique strengths they bring. Altogether, it also relates to courage. Recognizing your own value can be the instant courage when we’re afraid to take action. It motivates students to seize opportunities and encourages them to step out of their comfort zone to transcend the lack of diversity and racism that's keeping them down. 

Since “You Belong in the Room” has ended, have there been other, similar programs? 

We’ve established the Black X-scape. It’s a support group for students that centers mental health. It's only been running for the last couple weeks and it's a drop-in. When I first facilitated “You Belong in the Room,” I saw these conversations needed to be furthered. So, we created this space where students can reclaim their mental health and have discussions about the barriers they're experiencing. It's all students, a lot of shareable knowledge. That comfort, that support is really valuable. Our wellness is so important, especially when we're experiencing racism. We need a space to talk about these things and unpack them. That's where community really steps in. Community support is so, so important to thriving. It's where we learn, feel safe and also where we can acknowledge how to navigate these spaces. I'm learning from my past and sharing it with the students in a way we can reflect so they can take away something from these experiences and use it to their own advantage. 

What are your goals, both personal and related to your work?  

I always strive to reach my own potential. I have my own imposter syndrome and underlying doubts. We talk about the upper limits that, sometimes, we are afraid to reach. We each have to reflect on our upper limits, our fears and how we can confront them. So, I think I want to do some speeches talking about that in conjunction with anti-Black racism. In terms of the students, the students are just amazing. That's really what I want to do with my own role: use my experiences and create a platform for them to share and express whatever they would like. I'm hoping with Black X-Scape, students will further explore what they need and be able to showcase their skills. 

Have there been any experiences that really stand out to you? 

We talk about celebrating your achievements, something that really internalizes confidence. It prepares you for the next challenge. When you reflect back on all of your skills, your assets, what prepared you for this moment. When I think about that, I feel overall just happy with myself and my drive despite the struggles and barriers I’ve overcome. This last year at McMaster has been a whole new journey for me. I'm really excited to see what McMaster has in store, to expand on the potential and go from there. Not to mention, I’ve really enjoyed learning from my Black elders. Listening to them has created positivity for me and informs how I’m moving forward, understanding my role as a learner and as a leader, developing further understanding and honouring our identities. That's what I aim to do in my space: honouring students' intersectionalities, their whole identity. It's so important to live completely in your own identity and be confident. 

ElevateYourSkills allows students to gain professional learning alongside their degrees, helping students increase their chance for jobs

C/O ElevateYourSkills

The ElevateYourSkills option at McMaster Continuing Education enables Mac students to gain professional learning alongside their degrees. ElevateYourSkills an accessible and flexible way for students to gain career skills in a wide variety of areas.

Lorraine Carter, director of McMaster Continuing Education, explained that, with the competitiveness of the job market, this option can equip students with the tools that they need to succeed professionally. Carter also added that the option was particularly built with students in mind. 

“Now there is great attention by industry, employers [and] government on not only academically prepared students but also students who have a practical skillset when they graduate. This idea of elevating or enhancing the skills that you can utilize shortly after graduation is what ElevateYourSkills is all about,” said Carter.  

Carter emphasized that traditional university education, which often includes more theory-based learning and less practical knowledge, is also incredibly valuable for academic enrichment and skill development. She further emphasized how academic skills are even more valuable when complemented with practical skills.  

“If we think about, for instance, the social sciences and the humanities, they cultivate many important skills, but they can be hard to articulate. Whereas, if you are an English student or history student and you can complement your studies with courses and programs that are focused on career development, then I think you are in a better and easier place to leap forward and secure work that is ideally meaningful for you,” said Carter.  

Michael Foster, a communications student at McMaster, completed a digital marketing certificate through McMaster Continuing Education. As a fourth-year student applying for jobs now, Foster is glad he did the program. 

One of the greatest benefits, Foster said, was being able to put the theoretical knowledge he learned from his communications classes into practice. 

“[T]here were some aspects that I got taught through communications that complemented the different technical skills [in digital marketing] such as search engine optimization or digital marketing strategy, market analysis or Google ad campaigns and how to properly write different captions, closed captioning and blogs for different companies . . . I thought it was really, really good to understand that, while also understanding my theoretical side, so I can put everything into my best practice,” said Foster. 

The number of courses that a student takes for their certificate depends on their area of professional study. For Foster, he took five courses which he finished in about two years, all of which he took online. 

The flexibility to study online and use the courses in his certificate as electives towards his communications degree helped Foster complete the certification alongside his busy schedule. 

Now, as he is about to graduate and enter the workforce, Foster said that he is getting a lot of job interviews and believes the extra certificate has helped prepare him for the job market. 

“When I first went into my certificate program, I was looking at the industry and how future jobs in my industry are kind of difficult to come by at the time. [I] saw what the requirements were for those jobs and I promised myself that after my undergrad I don’t want to try and get any big education again for another two years. I just want to go into the workforce, start making good money and certainly get a name for myself in the work experience. So, as I was looking for what these jobs needed, I realized my degree is kind of missing some of these things,” explained Foster. 

Given that completing an extra certificate is not something everyone does, Foster emphasized that doing so was a way to stand out in the workforce and be ahead of other competitors. 

“It helps when [employers] are scanning through your resume and see your technical and theoretical skills that come from your undergraduate degree,” said Foster. 

Foster encourages students to consider the ElevateYourSkills approach especially if their degree does not directly lead them to the workforce.  

“If you’re a person who is kind of looking for a route that’s not necessarily given to you directly through [your] degree program, look to expand, look to create your own path because there are options out there and ElevateYourSkills is one of them. It helped me out a lot and it gave me a little insight into the real world. That helped me get to where I am today,” said Foster.  

Interested in learning more about ElevateYourSkills and how you can get a career certificate alongside your degree? 

Visit: mcmastercce.ca/elevateyourskills.   

C/O Yoohyun Park

Intersections between Blackness, culture and self-acceptance essential in constructing individuals unique experiences 

By: Ahlam Yassien, contributor 

As an Ethiopian woman in Canada, I haven’t had the opportunity to think concretely thought about my identity and what my identity means to me.

Instead, my identity has been constructed through experience and at least, for myself, experiences of self-hatred and acceptance were intrinsically intertwined.  

For example, as a child I begged my parents to allow me to cut my hair and perm it, not because I hated my hair but because I felt it would be easier to manage and would make it stick out less in public. Nonetheless, my hair remained long and curly, in part because I did genuinely like my hair long even if I felt my frizzy hair made me stand out, but also because hair is a prized possession in my culture. 

So, on one end my culture encouraged me to value my natural hair while on the other it also taught me my worth was directly connected to my hair. However, the desire to have straighter hair has been promoted in many Black communities and myself alongside other Black women have been simultaneously fighting for different kinds of acceptance which were all rooted in confronting anti-Blackness, whether that be acceptance from our White peers, from within our culture or from within our own communities. 

When I found myself styling it to appear more similar to the hair of those around me, I fell into a hamster wheel of self-hatred as my hair lost its volume and curl, making me feel as if my worth had also decreased. The desire to remain valuable in my culture was clashed with my desire to fit into Western culture.  

These experiences of trying to reconcile cultures as well as ideas of self-hatred and self-acceptance are common for many Black folks. 

“Since I was a kid my parents have always reminded me to love and embrace my country, my history and my culture. Ethiopian culture is very religious and is all about celebration — celebration of life, culture, family and God. However, my [culture] also categorizes their own people . . . an example is like skin color. They're always uplifting and loving lighter skin tones more than darker skin tones. Body shaming and sexism are also common,” explained Beemnet Feleke.  

Though it’s also worth noting that while many Black folks have these shared experiences of self-hatred and discomfort, the experience of being Black is still felt differently across groups. For myself, the desire to remain beautiful both within and outside of my culture had been at the forefront of my struggle with self-hatred and self-acceptance but my experiences as an Ethiopian Black woman are certainly different from the experiences of many others not only within the Black community but within my own culture as well.  

For example, in certain Caribbean communities, anti-Blackness rhetoric is so heavily ingrained in the culture and history it often goes unnoticed. Consequently, children grow up maintaining and enforcing it in their communities.  

“Throughout her childhood, [my mother] was taught that if you were of lighter skin and had looser curls, that you were “prettier” or superior than others who didn’t have these characteristics. She was also taught that one with Eurocentric facial features had “nice” facial features. Unfortunately, as a child these notions were passed on to me as well. I used to project my feelings and perceptions onto other classmates and friends, which, unbeknownst to me, was [perpetuation of] anti-Blackness. Now, as a young adult, my perceptions of Blackness have changed drastically. I hope that with the knowledge I have today, I can educate others in hopes of eradicating texturism, featurism and colourism,” explained Donelle Peltier. 

It’s also important to note it is not the fault of these cultures themselves but rather the result of the White supremacy and colonialism that run rampant in many histories. Interrogating anti-Blackness remains an important goal within and outside of the Black community.  

While sharing these experiences can help with this and highlight diversity within the Black experience, they still only paint a fraction of the full picture, a picture which may never be entirely clear. However, that doesn’t mean sharing these experiences is any less important, particularly because of the essential part culture plays in upholding and denouncing anti-Blackness.  

C/O Jessica Yang

The Art Gallery of Burlington is creating a more inclusive world one book club discussion at a time 

By: Emma Shemko, contributor 

Hosted and facilitated by Jasmine Mander, the Art Gallery of Burlington’s new Echo Black, Indigenous and People of Colour book club works to create a safe, inclusive and accessible space for marginalized folks. The club prioritizes the lived experiences of BIPOC folks through reading and discussion of critical texts written by BIPOC authors. 

Currently the curatorial assistant at the AGB, Mander has worked at a number of art organizations over the years, including Hamilton Artists Inc., where she coordinated Incoming!, an initiative to address and support the needs of newcomer, immigrant and refugee artists.  

Mander is passionate about uplifting BIPOC voices and she wanted to create such a safe space for BIPOC folks to talk about their experiences and ideas, where they felt they could bring down their walls and share openly without fear of being judged. 

"[The book club] is an opportunity to come together, discuss as a group and unpack ideas. It's like learning together . . . Maybe you see somebody who looks like you and there's this sense of guard that's just dropped. And then, the more you get to know the people in the group, the more times people voice their opinions or their stories and really express themselves, you just grow more and are confident in being able to discuss your ideas," explained Mander. 

Echo’s reading list consists mainly of memoirs and personal accounts of BIPOC authors. Mander hopes book club attendees can see their experiences represented and feel seen and heard when reading these stories. 

The book club is geared towards youth aged 16-25, with the idea of facilitating the sharing of knowledge between generations and encouraging conversation around how BIPOC communities move forward with these histories.  

“A lot of the work and the knowledge that I've gained, I feel is super important to pass on to this next chapter in this next generation. You're passing on the knowledge. All the work that you've done is not lost, but you're investing in the youth so that you're providing them with spaces, mentorship and support," said Mander. 

At its heart, Echo is about creating safe spaces and part of that is ensuring the club itself is as accessible as possible. The monthly sessions are held online, eliminating the need for a commute. The online environment also allows participants to leave their cameras off and participate as much or as little as they wish. 

Mander also wanted to move away from the constraints of the average book club, encouraging readers of all levels and experiences to join and removing the usual obligation to finish the book before attending. Echo is about the quality of discussion over the quantity of books read, so participants are welcome to join monthly discussions even if they've only read a few pages. 

"I try to think about myself as a participant, I try to think if I was entering this conversation, how would I navigate it? . . . Part of that, for me, is encouraging people to be able to come and go in space as needed, based on their energy levels," said Mander. 

Additionally, Mander recognized the increasing cost of books might pose a barrier to some and to ensure Echo does not become a financial burden, a free physical copy of each month's book will be mailed to registered participants a month in advance. Participants are encouraged to sign up as early as possible as space is limited. 

The Echo book club is meant to be an inclusive space for all BIPOC community members and allies, offering the opportunity for them to learn and grow with these stories and to feel part of a community. 

"One of my key phrases and one that I always like to repeat in my mind over and over again is this: I want BIPOC folks to feel like they can go from a place of just surviving to thriving. I want to see that happen. And so this [book club] is my way of contributing a space to my community," said Mander. 

Echo will be launching April 25 at 6:30 p.m. with the discussion of Eternity Martis’ They Said This Would be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up

C/O Lohifa Pogoson Acker

New Blk-Owned Hamont and BACEL training program helping Black-owned businesses grow 

Blk-Owned Hamont, started in June 2020 by Ashleigh, Alexandria and Abygail Montague, continues to model what it means to celebrate, showcase, explore and support Black-owned businesses through the new Black Youth Entrepreneurship Hub (BYEH): Trailblazer bootcamp

BYEH: Trailblazer bootcamp was created in partnership with Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA)’s Black African and Caribbean Entrepreneurship (BACEL) Training Program. Trailblazer is an 8-week program, running from March 5 to April 14, for Black-identifying entrepreneurs aged 18 to 39.  

As part of the program, attendees will have the chance to hear from guest speakers, mentors and coaches on topics such as marketing, sales, supply chain management and many more. The cost to sign-up is $200, however, the fee will be reimbursed by the BBPA upon successful completion of the curriculum.   

First bootcamp day. C/O Ashleigh Montague

Trailblazer consists of bootcamp and workshop days. Bootcamp days will explore multiple areas of business operation and management.  

In contrast, the weekly Workshop Wednesdays will delve deeper into more specific topics covered during the bootcamp and are optional and free for the campers. The public can also attend the workshops for a fee of $25.00 per session. Registration can be done through Blk-Owned Hamont’s Eventbrite.  

“[The workshops] give the large community an opportunity to see what it is that we are teaching in our cohort program . . . We also saw it as a great opportunity for folks who may not yet be sold on the bootcamp that they could give these workshops a try,” said Ashleigh Montague.   

In addition, the program offers mentorship and networking for participants.  

“What we’re hoping the business owners will take away are new skills they can use to tap into their business for growth, resources they can take away and apply to their businesses for growth, as well as, hopefully an expanded network,” said Montague.  

Trailblazer mentors. C/O Lohifa Pogoson Acker

The idea for Trailblazers came about last summer. The Montague sisters behind Blk-Owned Hamont wanted to address barriers for Black business owners and they conducted a feasibility study to better understand the existing gaps. From February through June 2021, the Montague sisters connected with over 100 business owners in Hamilton and ran a focus group.  

The results of the survey and their focus group showed a need for Black business owners to develop skills, have greater access to resources and build networks. The sisters also found most of the Black Hamilton business owners were young, in the age group of 17 to 45.  

The findings of the study led to the first Blk-Owned pop-up market in August 2021. Efforts to launch BYEH began shortly after.  

In total, 11 entrepreneur and business owners signed up to the pilot program and the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The feedback form after the first bootcamp day revealed the participants enjoyed being able to engage in the program in-person, felt safe to share their experiences and enjoyed hearing from the speakers and facilitators.  

“It was just so amazing to hear that our hard work over the last year was for something positive,” said Montague.  

Aside from the Trailblazer program, Blk-Owned Hamont has organized numerous markets and grown drastically over the past year.  

CO Rose Senat 

Through counsel with their advisory team, lawyers and consultants who helped conduct the feasibility study, Blk-Owned Hamont launched their social enterprise, BMRKT, to continue highlighting local businesses while continuing Blk-Owned, which will continue to focus on education, advocacy and research.  

During Black history month, Blk-Owned Hamont also organized a merchandise box in partnership with McMaster Innovation Park. Purchase of one vendor boxes allows folks to support up to nine business owners in the greater Hamilton area. It has been a success and they have already sold over 90 vendor boxes. The organization released Black History Month hoodies as well, designed by Aaron Parry, a McMaster alum. The colours in the BLK logo are representative of various skin tones.  

Coming soon, Spring Ting market is scheduled to be held in St. Catharines on April 10. It is open to vendors in the greater Hamilton and Niagara regions. In May, they are hoping to organize a party event on James Street North. It will be in collaboration with local Black-owned storefronts.  

With all the work Blk-Owned Hamont has done and is continuing to do, the Montague sisters continue to be at the forefront of change in support of local Black-owned businesses. 

C/O Yoohyun Park

The McMaster Ukrainian Students' Association tells us how we can support their community during this time 

In the few weeks since Russia’s initial attack on Ukraine, citizens have been devastated by the effects of war. It’s not only affecting the more than two million forced to flee their home, but also Ukrainian people around the world who worry for their country and families. 

As the number of involved countries rises, including the latest addition of the famously neutral Switzerland joining on Feb. 28 when it declared it would be freezing all its Russian assets, Ukraine remains under attack from the Russian military. 

From Mar. 7 to 9, the Ukrainian Students’ Association held a booth educating students on how McMaster can show support for Ukraine during these times. Along with their in-person outreach, MUSA has also been posting education information online. Jessica Aranyush, a MUSA member and Laryssa Pichocki, the vice-president social for MUSA, helped to collect signatures and provide resources at the booth. 

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A post shared by MUSA (@musa_hamilton18)

The main focus of their work was getting students to sign and send letters to members of parliament and members of provincial parliament, calling for both military and humanitarian assistance, encouraging them to attend information sessions and donating to the cause.  

“If you are able to donate, donations are great. We've been told monetary [support] is more important right now, just due to there being lots of fights, but even [if you’re not able to donate] just reaching out to any Ukrainian students you know . . . And then don't always ask students about explaining the whole war to [you] because you know, a lot’s going on. Do your own research,”

Laryssa Pichocki

Pichocki mentioned that it’s also possible to show support at rallies that have been happening around Canada and that MUSA has been posting the dates. The latest student support night at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Hamilton was on Mar. 7. 

“I think [the student support night] was really good for solidarity and just support in general. Even the young people and older people that attended said it was really good to have that solidarity,” said Aranyush. 

While the Ukrainian students find support in each other and the Hamilton Ukrainian Community, it is still difficult to go through school or work knowing what is happening half a world away. 

“I think anyone who's been affected by war in general, not just Ukrainians, I think your life kind of shifts all of a sudden . . . [For] me directly, my grandparents are still there. Literally everyone except my parents. So, it's like now I wake up and school’s put on the backburner and instead of that I'm kind of waking up to the news every day,” said Aranyush. 

News coming out of Ukraine has also highlighted how Black immigrants and Ukrainians of colour are having more difficulty leaving Ukraine and are facing mistreatment when they are able to leave. The MUSA shared an educational post in support of Black Ukrainians along with resources for Black, Brown and Slavic Ukrainians.  

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Ukrainian Antiracist Community (@ukr.antiracist.community)

The most recent rally shared by MUSA took place on Saturday, Mar. 12. To show support right now, you can educate yourself on the evolving situation through reliable, unbiased news sources and keep up to date on new ways to support the McMaster Ukrainian community by following MUSA online. 

C/O Black Students' Association

From relationships to entertainment and wellness, BSA invites Black students to relax and chat with different editions of the MacChats series 

In a school of over 30,000 students, how do you find community? Sometimes it might be about connecting with those who share the same interests and passions; sometimes, it can be about finding a bond in shared experiences. 

Created about two years ago, McMaster’s Black Students’ Association recognized the minority of Black students on campus and aimed to create a community where all Black students can connect with one another. 

Ashley Assam, BSA’s president, explained that the importance of creating unique spaces for Black students lies in the uniqueness of Black experiences in the first place. 

“There's no secret that Black people have been marginalized for a very long time, especially given everything that happened a couple years ago with all these cases of police brutality and obviously the murder of George Floyd. It definitely took a hit on the community and I feel like having a space is necessary because Black students also face these mental health challenges that have to do with their own experiences, but [these] don't often go addressed or they will need to get addressed by someone else who understands their experience,” said Assam. 

One of the events that BSA has been hosting is called MacChats. MacChats invites Black students to get together for casual conversations. Usually, a theme will be announced for each MacChats discussion, but students are not limited to speaking about those topics only. 

This winter semester, BSA has hosted a total of three MacChats so far with varying themes. This includes conversations about relationships, sports, entertainment and well-being. 

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A post shared by Black Students’ Association (@bsamcm)

Assam explained that during these events, BSA members will pose a number of questions to the group and allow students to carry their own conversations. With limited capacity for in-person events, MacChats have been held on Zoom so far and breakout rooms are often used for people to divide into smaller groups. 

Although MacChats serve as a space for casual conversation, Assam shared that MacChats help cultivate deeper, meaningful conversations as well. For example, in their first event about relationships, there were discussions about what it means to engage in relationships with other races as a Black person. 

Some of these discussions may be more sensitive or up for debate, Assam explained, but what’s important is that BSA wants everyone to learn from each other. 

“The whole purpose is not to like shut down other people's ideas; it's just a place for you to voice your opinions and also kind of learn from other people and learn about what they think,” said Assam. 

With its unique role on campus, BSA acts as a social group where students can relax and bond with one another during events like MacChats, but Assam added that BSA is also there to help Black students succeed. BSA will often share resources to help connect Black students with opportunities in hopes of helping them feel supported throughout their time at McMaster. 

To Assam, BSA is about having a safe space with this special community.  

“BSA really just means having a community of people on campus that truly just want the best for you. So, what we tried to do with BSA is let every Black student know that you don't have to be any way — any certain way. You don't have to adhere to any stereotype. You don't have to look a certain way just to exist as who you are. [Y]ou're free to be who you are and we accept you as who you are and we want to see you succeed,” said Assam.

C/O Jessica Yang

How nursing fails to accept and equip a diverse range of students 

In Canada, healthcare is a highly selective field to pursue. Unfortunately, within such a selective process of selecting students, the student body is not fully representative of the population it’s supposed to help. 

Tsinat Semagn, the president of the Canadian Black Nurses Alliance McMaster, shared how the small number of Black students present within her nursing cohort at McMaster leads her and her Black friends to become hyper-aware that they are among the only Black students in the program. 

“The number of Black students in the McMaster site in my year is four out of 120 students, which is 3.3 per cent. This is the total number of students who were enrolled in the basic four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing program in 2019,” 

Tsinat Semagn

Nursing students participate in care scenarios three to five times per semester depending on their classes. Yet, within her three years as a nursing student, Semagn said that only once was a Black person used for these kinds of case studies. 

“A lot of these scenarios are white people. There are a few Indigenous people but you rarely see diversity. There are very, very few Black patients represented in these care scenarios. I think I can only remember one time where we actually had a scenario, in my entire three years and we do three to five per semester, every semester . . . A week ago I did my first Black patient,” said Semagn. 

Over a long span of time, these disparities in learning can lead to disparities in the healthcare provided to Black patients. 

“In healthcare, there are studies that show that white physicians and healthcare professionals have this perception of Black patients, that Black people are stronger [and] don’t experience pain the way that other races do. So that of course affects their care,” said Semagn.  

Within the health sciences program, to encourage equitable admissions, McMaster created the Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants process. It allows for self-identifying Black students to have their applications processed by a panel of Black faculty members, alumni and students. This came to be implemented because the faculty of health sciences noticed that black students were underrepresented in the program.  

However, an admissions process like the EABA is not offered to nursing students. Moreover, nursing is one of the only faculty of health science programs that do not have a supplemental application.  

“On top of [grades and the CASPR test], having a supplementary application where we are talking about life experience and bringing more of us and what we have to offer . . . being able to articulate that as a written [component] would be beneficial. They can see that this person has a lot to offer,” said Semagn. 

Semagn noted that McMaster doesn’t promote a lack of diversity on campus. Instead, the university only mentions there are ways in which they can improve and allow for a more diverse atmosphere. 

“I don’t know if I could say that I feel like McMaster as a whole is adding to [racial biases in the education system]. But I do know that there are some things that they are not doing — that they should be doing — to promote diversity,” said Semagn. 

Programs like nursing at McMaster serve as an example where Black students are disproportionately underrepresented. In a field where lived experience affects patient care, lack of diversity fails to prepare them for the populations that they will meet in the future. It is up to universities, to decide to listen to the students and patients around them to better the systems they have created. 

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