February is Black History Month. It is a month-long observance to celebrate Black achievement and give visibility to the people and organizations creating change. This year’s theme is, Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.
Throughout the month of February, the University of Ottawa will host events commemorating Black history. On each Monday of the month, the uOcampus Instagram account will share its platform with a Black Student Club to encourage important discourse and discussion. We invite you follow along and get to know the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE), the UOSU RISE Centre and the Black Student Leaders Association (BSLA).
When it comes to higher education and professional careers, black people are underrepresented. For a large portion of the minority demographic at uOttawa, access to representative clubs and resources is crucial to the full university experience afforded to their majority counterparts. “It is very easy [..] to feel as though we as a minority group aren’t large contributors to the student community and that can lead to many black students feeling alone, unseen and left out of the university experience” says Reema Adan, VP Internal for the BSLA. “Although there are different services on campus for students, nobody can represent us the way that we can so it’s important that we’re able to have leaders/services for black people by black people that can truly express our needs and understand them on a personal level.” Says Bayza Woldermariam, from the NSBE. Participating in black-lead and black-supported clubs allows students to learn from one another and share their experiences from different walks of life. Additionally, joining a club challenges one to step out of their comfort zones and become leaders, friends, and mentors within the community.
The NSBE is a black student club committed to building a community of black STEM students and increasing the number of culturally responsible Black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community. The club provides access to a black student space to build shared experiences, academic support and increase professional development exposure through networking. “An experience many black-identifying STEM students face is the isolation and roadblocks many international students face personally, academically, and/or professionally. Being an international student and doing online school is a difficult and isolating experience. But the [NSBE] has made it an easier one. I’ve been able to meet a lot of great people that have taught and supported me so much.” Says Bayza. “As an executive member, I’m really passionate about the idea of ‘for us, by us’. I wanted to help by creating spaces for people like me. I thought it would give me a chance to meet people who look like me and are working toward similar goals. I’ve been challenged to go outside of my comfort zone and learned so many things that you can’t in a classroom.”
The BSLA is a black student club which offers a place for the black community to be seen and heard for the dynamic group that they are, and to provide support in academic and social contexts by preparing events for student to discuss pressing social issues, sports or pop culture, their overall experience as black Canadians – or to simply do something together such as studying. For Reema Adan, VP Internal of the BSLA, she knew she wanted to get involved in the club “because a large part of feeling isolated was not having a community of people whounderstood me. Being a part of this committee allows me to not only get to know other like-minded black individuals, but also allows me to contribute something positive to the black community at UO.”
Racialized and Indigenous students can equally access the RISE Centre, a UOSU Student service offering workshops, events, discussion groups and organized resources for and from the racialized/indigenous community. The centre is a safe, anti-oppressive and judgement-free space located in room 030A of the University Centre. Its mission is to highlight the diversity, empowerment, successes, and growth of the many different racialized and indigenous communities here at the University of Ottawa.
Bayza and Reema have gained enriching experience thus far by joining the executive boards of their respective clubs and services. They understand that university is full of challenges and not a journey to be undertaken alone. Their advice to incoming black students—or black students not currently involved with a club—is to put yourself out there! There is a misconception that you’ll have absolutely no time for anything fun, but that’s false. No matter your interest, there’s a club or student organization for it and a community that wants to uplift you, that genuinely excites you, and that can help you achieve your goals.
For more resources and available services, visit the Resources page for / from the Black Community collated by the University of Ottawa Student Union.