C/O Jayhan Kherani
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Kayla Willis-Simmonds. I'm the president of LABS, which is the Law Aspiring Black Students club at McMaster [University]. This club was created on the basis that we have a disadvantage when it comes to having the correct information when pursuing law and what law school is going to be like. We're here to provide members in our community with information, essentially and give them viable pathways [and] show them something that they can see themselves doing. We also connect them to like-minded individuals not just here at McMaster, but in other universities as well. It's also corresponding to the BFL chapter, the Black Future Lawyers. That's orchestrated by the University of Toronto. All of this is to just help Black undergraduates know what law school is like and prepare them for their futures.
What kind of law are you interested in?
That is something that has varied. Of course, with How to Get Away with Murder and Suits, a lot of people want to do the corporate route. But after seeing the competition and the environment there, I don't think it's the right fit for me. Now, I'm thinking about either family or immigration law. I definitely think immigration could be beneficial and a better fit for me.
What are your goals?
One of my personal goals is more immediate: to graduate this semester and get on the Dean's List. Then, another goal that's personal to me is to take the LSAT. I was supposed to last summer, but my anxiety stopped me and I ended up canceling. I think my anxiety came from just not wanting to fail . . . What happens when everything you've constructed from childhood to young adulthood to prepare you for this might "fail" here? It hurts, so I think that's one thing that prevented me from at least attempting and trying. However, I'm going to be a little bit more mature about the situation and tap into my mental health to know when I'm feeling too anxious so I can be in a good mental state and prepared.
What was your favourite experience with the club?
Just recently, in this academic year, I would say our most successful event was with the Black Student Success Centre. We partnered with them and our members got to ask an ex-lawyer about her experience. We asked what her experience was like, manoeuvring that type of journey . . . as a Black woman. We really got to ask any question we wanted from an expert. We're really thankful for her expertise. She really did put us in a good position to move forward and know more about what to expect.
With everything you've learned, do you have any advice for your younger self?
A big thing would be to enjoy the process. I would tell her to relax and not be so headstrong . . . Tell her to enjoy the many aspects of university, high school — all of it. In terms of first-years, my advice is just to connect with us. You're not the only one that's going through this journey. I know that was my biggest thing coming to McMaster, just finding like-minded people, people who are going through my journey. It's very hard to find people that identify with your race who are also going through the same journey. That's why LABS was created.
You said that it was hard for you to make those connections. Do you mind elaborating?
Being a minority here at McMaster, it's hard to make friends and make those connections and it's even harder when you're really passionate about something. So, again, that's why I'm here. That's the biggest thing, just making those connections with like-minded people. I think McMaster should try to acknowledge that there's an issue when it comes to making connections. There should be ways to make it easier, especially for the first generations [university students]. I know that universities are trying to tap into the minority groups in terms of admission and things like that. That's a great goal, but that's not where it should stop . . . Sometimes, we don't have parents or grandparents to ask for advice. Even with the Black Student Success Centre, that is a great system but so many people don't know it exists. It's great that [universities] want to extend your admissions to minority students, but once we get here it shouldn't stop there.