Black academic experiences in Canadian universities, focus of webinar series
Five-part series kicks off on Thursday
Graduate school can be a solitary, isolating experience for many students, but add on top of that the feeling of being the only Black student in your department or faculty, and that experience can become more insulating.
That isolation is the topic of the first in a five-part webinar series called "The Good and the Bad of Black Grad" by Evelyn Asiedu.
The series provides a platform for Black academics to share their stories and find some commonality between their experiences, said Asiedu, a post-doctoral fellow for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
"We're hoping that in creating this community and inviting people in that we'll be able to move the conversation forward in terms of anti-Black racism, but specifically for equity and inclusion of Black people in higher education," Asiedu said on CBC's Radio Active on Wednesday.
The first instalment of the webinar starts Thursday at 1 p.m. MT and is free to register and join over Zoom through the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies.
The idea for the series stems from an article Asiedu wrote for Maclean's magazine last summer.
When she was working on her PhD thesis at the University of Alberta she was inspired to write a letter for her friends after the death of George Floyd, the ensuing protests and conversations about the treatment of Black people in Canada.
"It felt like a lot, and it felt like I didn't have anyone in Edmonton to talk to," Asiedu said.
The letter grew into a full article published in Maclean's that called for universities to collect race-based data, a common practice in American schools but seldom done in Canada.
She also wanted to convey how anti-Black racism manifests in her daily life.
After the article's publication, Asiedu heard from academics around the country who thanked her. Some told her she wasn't alone and they also felt isolated. Others said she had written about a perspective they hadn't realized.
'Being the Only One'
The debut episode of the webinar on Thursday is titled "Being the Only One" and examines the burden of being the only Black person at a post-secondary school.
Asiedu will be joined by students who've studied in Vancouver, Toronto and Halifax to represent the experience in Canada.
Future episodes will cover topics like Black representation in universities, mental health, peer support and mentorship.
In the year since her article was published, there seems to be more of an appetite for conversations about race and equity on campus, Asiedu said.
But more race-based data about university students and staff, as well as improved practices in hiring and recruiting is still needed, she said.
"We as Canadians pride ourselves on being multicultural and being diverse, and I think that that is true of our country.
"But the challenge is that if we don't have the facts and the numbers to assess that and back it up, then how do we know how the people in our communities are doing, or where they are and how to build communities?"
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.