By: Evan Jamieson-Eckel, Contributor
On Nov. 8, 2019, Indigenous women took to Twitter to call out Ainsley Whynacht. Whynacht applied for an Indigenous Student scholarship through the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and received one of the six awards worth $1,500. Her paper, which was required to apply for the scholarship, discussed the negative conditions experienced by people living on reservations. Here’s the catch: Whynacht is not Indigenous (and, no, claiming fake Indigenous identity doesn’t count).
From the scholarship committee who gave an indigenous scholarship to a white girl who gleefully posted her deception on social media: we’re letting her keep the award, and shame on you ndns for being mean to her. https://t.co/Tx3bGGWuoR
— tara houska ᔖᐳᐌᑴ (@zhaabowekwe) November 11, 2019
The issue here is theft of opportunity for Indigenous Peoples that may otherwise allow us to reclaim our voices. If we look at this issue on a broader level, it is more common than you might realize. In this era of reconciliation that we are currently in, it has become acceptable for mainstream society to consume anything Indigenous without reciprocation or even a basic awareness of the consequences of consumption. This non-reciprocal consumption occurs here at McMaster University, where settlers can major or minor in Indigenous studies.
You read that right: our university provides the means for settlers to establish a career in dominating Indigenous voices.
This is a core issue with reconciliation-driven initiatives. Instead of creating opportunities for Indigenous People to reclaim our voices, make a living and rebuild Indigenous Nationhood, mainstream Canadian society maintains the oppression of Indigenous Peoples by supporting the creation of settler “Indian experts”. Settlers like William Fenton, an anthropologist who rewrote Haudenosaunee history as he saw fit throughout the mid 1900’s, have dominated Indigenous knowledge and its reproduction for centuries. Twisting the truth of our Nations and cultures to better suit settler needs and wants has always taken priority over undoing the destruction caused by settler colonialism. Institutions like McMaster University allow settlers to continue to have our cake and eat it too, in 2019 and beyond.
Now using reconciliation as their excuse, settlers are all too eager to find the next way to benefit from Indigenous experience. With most of our land base taken from us, the knowledge we’ve protected as Indigenous Peoples is more valuable than ever. While Whynact’s theft of $1,500 is wrong, it is also a drop in the bucket compared to the wealth that settler graduates in Indigenous studies will generate at our expense in the future. There are various lucrative jobs that having a degree in Indigenous studies will allow you to be considered for, including in education and politics. As of right now, the average annual salary for these kinds of jobs is around $94,743. Having a minor or major in Indigenous Studies acts as a resume buffer when reconciliation is positively regarded in hiring processes. These institutional preferences may prevent employers from addressing discrimination in their hiring practices, as credentials such as a university degree will outweigh actual Indigenous experience. This is a major problem since many Indigenous Peoples do not have the ability to attend university to obtain a degree in something that is clearly for us, yet it is all available on a silver platter to be consumed by those who can afford to enroll in the Indigenous studies program.
The issue goes deeper on the local level. Even before settler students at McMaster University graduate from the program, they are also able to obtain employment as teaching assistants in Indigenous studies classes. I took this issue to CUPE 3906, who are now bargaining to give preference to Indigenous applicants in the TA hiring process. This is common practice in other Indigenous-focused organizations and programs. Beyond obtaining a degree in Indigenous studies, employers will also be looking for graduates with experience. By allowing settler students to be TAs in Indigenous studies courses, it sets them up for further success and profit when they enter the job market as settler graduates will have the added experience of being a TA. Worse still, the dynamic of settlers marking Indigenous knowledge is problematic in its own right. Considering how unemployment is often referenced in anti-Indigenous racism through laziness or lack of intelligence, it is a wonder that settlers will also take away employment opportunities that are best suited by Indigenous peoples ourselves.
To be clear, settlers that take advantage of opportunities that are meant for Indigenous people are not helping us. The impact of their actions will always outweigh their intent. If they were committed to real reconciliation, settlers would learn how to not take up space and know when it is time to stay in their own lane for once in the history of Indigenous/settler relations. They would only take Indigenous studies courses to supplement their learning, not as a minor or a major that allows them to establish authority over the subject. They would support Indigenous peoples in their efforts to rebuild their Nations. They would not be looking for the next way to make a buck at our expense. They would take the time to educate themselves about the settler-colonial foundation of Canada, understand their complicity in it and seek out Indigenous written resources for how to commit to genuine reconciliation.
On Feb. 2, Sonia Igboanugo, a fourth-year McMaster biomedical discovery and commercialization student and co-founder of Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster, received the Lincoln Alexander scholarship at the John C. Holland awards, which celebrates African-Canadian achievement in Hamilton.
Igboanugo and McMaster grad student Kayonne Christy launched BAP-MAC during the 2016-2017 school year to support Black McMaster students striving to become physicians and other healthcare professionals.
Igboanugo was inspired to create the club following her attendance at a University of Toronto summer mentorship program geared towards Indigenous and Black students interested in health sciences.
“I felt like that program changed my life in terms of inspiring me in what I thought I could do and what my capacity was as a potential health care professional,” Igboanugo said. “I felt very empowered and I felt very interested in this in bringing the same experience to McMaster.”
Since then, BAP-MAC has steadily grown. Currently, the club has over 100 members, proving a variety of resources to its members.
As part of the BAP-MAC mentorship program, younger students are paired with a mentor who provides academic and career guidance.
Throughout the year, BAP-MAC also arms students with information about research opportunities and hosts workshops and talks led by healthcare professionals.
At its core, however, BAP-Mac simply serves as a community for Black students on campus.
“For me, the biggest part has been connecting with older students who can help me navigate through university,” said first-year kinesiology student Ida Olaye, who aspires to go to medical school. “BAP-MAC gives you that support group, to know that you’re not alone, that there are a lot of people trying to pursue the same dream that you are pursuing and it is very doable.”
This past year, BAP-MAC received a three-year grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
The grant has allowed BAP-MAC to host a conference for the first time. The event is scheduled for this upcoming May.
The grant also allows the club to expand its vision to empower Black youth on a larger scale.
“Because we have a pretty good campus presence, I would say, but the goal was to address the issue of lack of diversity on a more systemic front,” Igboanugo said.
Part of that is a new initiative aimed at incorporating high school students into the BAP-MAC program by connecting them to undergraduate student mentors.
Second-year human behaviour student Simi Olapade, who is also the associate director of multimedia for BAP-MAC, sees a lot of value in the initiative.
“Reaching out to those high school students is an opportunity that I even wished I had to be honest. Seeing someone like you in a place where you want to be helps so much in terms of making you focus more on achieving that goal, making you more goal-oriented and making you more focused,” Olapade said.
Reflecting on the award she recently received, Igboanugo says the work she does as part of BAP-MAC only reflects how others have helped her.
“It was very humbling to actually be recognized for the work because it is the greatest thing or greatest privilege I have to always serve my community or use my strength to better my community and the people around me,” Igboanugo said.
Students wishing to get involved with BAP-MAC can learn more about the group’s initiatives on BAP-MAC’s Facebook page.
It’s scholarship season. If you’re like me, you probably spent a few days scouring Mosaic to find a list of awards to apply to, in hopes of receiving a subsidization of your degree, no matter how small. Many of McMaster University’s largest scholarships are merit-based, which strike me as odd; would it not be more beneficial to assist students demonstrating financial need?
A good example of such a merit-based scholarship is the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award, awarded annually to three undergraduate students and three graduate students. Recipients of this award, known as Wilson leaders, receive up to $25,000 and gain access to an incredibly exclusive leadership program, meant to connect them with other leaders.
If you are a Wilson leader, you are probably a bright and capable person and there is no denying that. But it is important that we interrogate what being a person of merit typically means and how other factors may affect someone’s ability to achieve that image of success.
A high grade point average and involvement in extracurricular activities often help someone win merit-based awards. But there are very obvious roadblocks that can hinder someone’s ability to achieve both, especially if they do not have financial support.
More often than not, lower-income students take on part-time jobs in order to pay for school, taking away valuable time that may otherwise be used to study or be involved in the community.
These students are still incredibly impressive; it is no small feat to finish a degree while also supporting yourself. Many students are also still engaged within their community, but in ways that cannot be put on a resume; running a babysitting ring in your neighbourhood, for example, does not have the same ring as volunteering for a daycare centre despite it being similar work. It just seems a little unfair to pit students who may not have the time nor resources to be involved with multiple clubs, maintain their GPA and live comfortably against those who do.
No matter how successful these students are, it can feel daunting to apply to major merit-based scholarships with the knowledge that someone without any financial barriers is also applying and was able to dedicate more time into resume-building activities.
This is not to say that wealthier students do not work hard and should not be offered any sort of award—we should just reconsider what that award should look like. This also is not meant to deride merit-based awards as a whole; people should absolutely be recognized for their hard work, no matter their financial situation. But it is worth considering how students would benefit if scholarships were restructured.
What if, for example, the Wilson Leader Scholarship offered their cash prize on a needs-based system, but offered the mentorship program to all those who receive it? A simple change would not only incentivize lower-income students to apply, but it would still preserve the program’s goal of recognizing student leaders.
Offering the title and its other benefits still recognize a student’s accomplishments but providing the monetary award on a need-be basis allows McMaster to support students with financial need. Imagine how much more a student leader could do if they were able to quit their shitty part-time job?
While it is important to recognize student merit in whatever shape it takes, McMaster should take a more formalized approach to support students who demonstrate financial need. Offering large scholarships on pure merit alone does not ensure that funds are being distributed equitably, and efforts should be made to mitigate that.
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On Nov. 9, recipients of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award, one of McMaster University’s largest scholarships, held a dinner meeting in partnership with the Socrates Project to discuss free speech and McMaster’s current guidelines in light of the larger province-wide focus on the issue.
The event was invite-only, consisting of nine Wilson Leaders and alumni and approximately ten additional guests.
The topic of free speech was chosen as a result of the Ontario government’s recent announcement that all Ontario universities must formulate a “free-speech policy” by January 2019.
McMaster currently has a “guidance document” outlining “acceptable” forms of protest for event organizers.
[spacer height="20px"]The Wilson event allowed participants to share a meal and exchange ideas on free speech and how McMaster should move forward. The focus, according to Wilson scholar Monish Ahluwalia, was simply to promote critical discussion in an open environment, not to come to any definitive conclusion or recommendation.
“We are all from very different backgrounds and programs and experiences,” Ahluwalia said.
“We are hoping we can end with a group of people who have had this discussion and who will open their minds up to some different views hopefully and come out with a more holistic understanding of what free speech is.”
The Wilson Leadership Scholar Award is an award given to three undergraduate students and three graduate students each year. It provides them with up to $50,000 in funding and unique mentorship and leadership opportunities.
This small dinner was the first of its kind that the Wilson scholarship had hosted. However, the event was also an extension of the Socrates Project, which has facilitated many events this year on social issues and art projects.
Wilson scholars Josh Young and Ahluwalia agree that the small size of the dinner helped promote dialogue and dissent.
[spacer height="20px"]“Smaller group-oriented discussions seem to foster more organic discussion. It is not forceful,” said Young.
“We’re curious to see if this is something that students find valuable,” Ahluwalia added. “Moving forward, we are not decided on whether we want it to be invite-only or public. We fear that with too many people, it might get hard to control. It might lose its value.”
The idea of more productive discussion in small groups of select students raises questions about inclusion and exclusion and how to best ensure that everyone’s voice is heard and respected when it comes to contentious issues.
In effort to include more voices, yesterday, the McMaster Students Union hosted a town hall open discussion at TwelvEighty. MSU President Ikram Farah, McMaster President Patrick Deane and McMaster associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion) Arig al Shaibah were there to field questions from students.
Both the Wilson dinner and the MSU town hall are products of the university’s focus on the issue of free expression against the backdrop of the provincial government mandate.
Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario both released free speech policy drafts in Oct. 2018. Last month, both the MSU and the University of Toronto Students’ Union condemned the government’s free speech mandate.
As the January policy deadline nears, McMaster students can expect more dialogue and speech on the question of “free speech” on campus.
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Ronald Leung / Silhouette Staff
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UBC futures market facilitates student bets on provincial elections
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Introduction of scholarship benefits students with ADD/ADHD
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Laurier professor addresses shaky job market for young Canadians
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New Ryerson Student’s Union policy passes without challenge
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