Nfld. & Labrador

'Not much diversity': MUN Black Students' Association aims to provide sense of unity

​For Ladan Mowlid, a fourth-year student at Memorial University, transferring to MUN in 2015 was a real eye-opener.

President of new society says transferring to N.L. university was eye-opener

The Black Students' Association, from left: Cuthbert Arcard, Upendo Minja, co-founder and president Ladan Mowlid, co-founder Daniel Businge, Karen Monie and Ellisa Waithe. (Submitted photo)

​For Ladan Mowlid, a fourth-year student at Memorial University, transferring to MUN in 2015 was a real eye-opener.

"It was definitely different, different in the sense of I walked into classes and I was, whoa, there's not much diversity," said Mowlid, who grew up in Toronto.

The communications and sociology student transferred to MUN, along with her brother, to take advantage of cheaper tuition.

I was oftentimes the only person of colour in my classroom, so I felt like that in itself was already hard to adjust to.- Ladan Mowlid

She immediately noticed a couple of differences: one was the fresher air in St. John's. Another was that classrooms in St. John's weren't quite as diverse as she was used to.

"I was oftentimes the only person of colour in my classroom, so I felt like that in itself was already hard to adjust to."

Mowlid said that as she spoke to other students of colour, she noticed they were experiencing a lot of the same difficulties she was, "whether it was adjusting, or learning how to deal with and react to forms of discrimination," she said.

Some of it qualifies as incorrect assumptions being made, she said.

"For example, if a prof said, 'You know, for a person whose first language isn't English, you did really good in this class this semester. Do you need any extra assistance?' — Even though you've stressed that English is your first language and you are from Canada." 

Missing out on work placements

Other problems prove more challenging, said Mowlid, who found that her black classmates in business programs were often having difficulty landing co-op placements required by some courses.

 Those work placements can lead to jobs post-graduation, she noted, making them crucial for all students to get.

"They felt like it was because of the colour of their skin, because white students were being given more privilege, more opportunities." 

Most members of the Black Students' Association are international students, and Mowlid said it's often a case of students from Newfoundland and Labrador having connections through friends and family that students from out of province, and out of Canada, haven't made yet.

"Everybody said Billy's and Bob's dads knew each other, so Bob's dad would help Billy out in Newfoundland," she said.

"I feel like the university should have put a structure for students who are not from Newfoundland, to help them get work placements, whether it's on or off the island."

'Let's do something about it'

Last summer, she and a friend were discussing their shared experiences in and out of the classroom, on and off campus, and the Black Students' Association was born.

"I said, 'I'm so tired of just dealing with this. Let's do something about it,'" she said. "It was really insane that we both had the same idea at the same time, but we were both too afraid to do anything before."

We thought, if nobody's going to help us, we'll help ourselves.- Ladan Mowlid

The association, which was formed in August, has contacted the Black Business and Professional Association of Toronto to help business and commerce students find placements, and is hoping to help engineering students as well.

Mowlid, the president of the association, said she hopes it provides a sense of unity to students of colour, as well as letting the administration and other students know that their voices need to be heard.

"We thought, if nobody's going to help us, we'll help ourselves," she said.

With files from the St. John's Morning Show.

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