Celebrating our Black nurses
Dr. Josephine Etowa is a professor and Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) Chair in Black Women’s HIV Prevention and care at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, and a leader in the African Caribbean and Black (ACB) community. She is a community-engaged scholar with extensive projects on inequities in health and healthcare including perinatal health, COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, nurses’ work life, community health nursing, and the health of African, Caribbean, and Black (ACB) Canadians. Her research studies are informed by an intersectionality lens and Community based participatory research (CBPR) approach.
In keeping with Black History Month 2022’s theme of “February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and everyday”, Dr Etowa urges everyone to continue to engage in the important work of dismantling anti-Black and structural racism all year round. Engaging in anti-racism work happens every day, not only in February, so she and her team will continue to engage in and advocate for anti-racism research, practice and policies especially in Ottawa where the population of ACB people is growing at a fast rate.
Mwali Muray, RN, BScN, MBA, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, School of Nursing. Her doctoral research focused on official language minority communities in Ontario, examining the experiences of Francophone patients and their nursing care providers. She has taught courses including “Cardiac Arrhythmia” and “Complex Nursing Care,” and has guest lectured for several undergraduate and graduate courses in both English and French. Her research interests include the health needs of linguistic and visible minorities, as well as inequities in health and health care. She is also interested in health administration research, in addition to topics in acute and critical care nursing. She is currently accepting graduate students and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) students.
As we celebrate Black History Month, Dr. Muray is proud to identify as an African Canadian of Congolese descent. She shares that “it is important to surround ourselves with people who encourage us to do difficult things. Otherwise, we can easily lose sight of our dreams and ambitions. Be strong and courageous and do it afraid. Your journey may inspire others along the way. While the journey is not always easy for individuals who are Black, or for BIPOC populations in general, everyone needs to remember that persistence is key. Although others may not always see your potential, never lose sight of your goals and ambitions… There is much work to be done and progress to be achieve, and we all have a part in moving forward towards excellence. Do not count yourself out.”
Seynab Sougal is very committed to addressing social and racial inequalities, and actively seeks to enhance the role of Black people in society. She exemplifies what is means to be a Black nurse and faculty member within the School of Nursing. As a graduate student, in 2011, she joined the rank of part-time professor, and currently, she is a doctoral candidate. Professionally she is a clinical nurse specialist and certified in psychiatry/mental health and community health. She is interested in issues related to child and youth mental health, equity, social justice, and health care accessibility for immigrant and Black people.
"As a young teenager in the 1990s, I remember how rare it was to see a culturally and/or racially diverse person in high school in Ottawa. As a first-generation immigrant, you had to quickly create your own role models in your head. As a part-time teacher, I hear many of the students from Black communities say they identify with me and feel inspired to pursue higher education. I have come to realize - over time - the importance of representation.
I’ve been at uOttawa for all my degrees, bachelors to doctorate. Unfortunately, I’ve had very few BIPOC leaders to look up to in the School of Nursing. When I was in my undergrad, I often heard stories highlighting the systemic racism present within academia, and some of my fellow black students experienced discrimination during their studies. I pursued my masters and PhD to become a teacher and role model for future black students – I did this because representation matters. I worked as both teaching and research assistants, and sat on every committee possible, to fight for fair treatment for black students. My goal is, and has always been, to change the racist culture within nursing. I am very proud to be a woman of colour at this school, which is lacking adequate representation of diversity in its faculty.
While I appreciate this initiative for Black History Month, I feel there is tremendous work to be done at uO, and within academia generally, regarding racism and discrimination. Three years after completing my PhD, I am still struggling to solidify permanent employment. As a student, I lived experiences where my teachers doubted my abilities, questioned my integrity, and told me that I was “too critical”. Reflecting on these experiences, I believe that I was treated this way because I am black.
We need tangible and concrete actions to dismantle systemic racism in nursing and to stop tokenism. We need to treat the BIPOC students fairly and not judge them. We need inclusive hiring practices and to foster diversity in all areas of nursing, not just in practice. This requires an authentic commitment from all levels of leadership – actions, not just words. February is Black History Month, yet we must not forget that racism is hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Be real, be intentional. Stop the affirmative action. Be intentional about tackling systemic racism and institutional oppression. Do better.
For my students, I would like to say: “Systemic racism will always be there, you will face adversities at every corner. Do not quit, do not give up. Dare to dream and achieve your dreams, however impossible they may seem. Look for support. Seek help. Give your 100% to achieve. Do not be afraid to ask for help - from a teacher, a tutor, or your friends – you are not alone.”