Nova Scotia

Incoming Dalhousie student president ready to challenge 'status quo'

Aishwa Abawajy, a first-generation Canadian, is committed to support black, Indigenous and people of colour to take on leadership roles and be involved in student politics.

Aisha Abawajy, is one of five winners of a top award and the incoming president of Dalhousie's student union

Aisha Abawajy is a winner of the Board of Governors' Award. (Dalhousie University)

The next president of Dalhousie University's student union, Aisha Abawajy, is being recognized for her work in creating a supportive environment for black, Indigenous and people of colour to take on leadership roles.

Abwajy was one of the five recipients of the university's top award for student life. All the winners were nominated by their peers in the Dalhousie community and chosen by a committee.

The Board of Governors' Award is  "presented annually to recognize exceptional contributions or leadership in the extracurricular realm — building community on campus, service in the broader community, improving diversity and inclusion and much more."

'Challenging the status quo'

"I think it's really cool for an institution like Dalhousie, which often is … upholding the barriers and challenges that exist for BIPOC [black, Indigenous, people of colour] folks, for them to reinforce the work I am doing," said Abawajy.

"And saying that this work of organizing the students, having these tough conversations and challenging the status quo is valuable and it's something that the university believes in and wants it to be done on a higher scale."

Abawajy is a fourth-year student in applied computer science. She grew up in Halifax as a first-generation Canadian, with Oromo parents originally from Ethiopia.

She is the founder of BIPOCUS — the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour Caucus — which was created in 2017.

Creating a new diverse society

The society consists of around 50 core members who, according to Abawajy, focus on addressing "racial inequities and the barriers that exist for black, Indigenous and people of colour to succeed academically as well as in leadership roles, student organization and student politics."

She said the group created a community that didn't exist before.

"We've had in the past various societies, for example, the Syrian student society, or the Caribbean student society, and I think what BIPOCUS did that was super cool is bring folks together under the umbrella of people who face racial barriers," Abawajy said.

"It's really about understanding how we are all so diverse within our diversity," she added.

Carving a space for black, Indigenous and people of colour

Some of the events planned by BIPOCUS were "exploring anti-oppression" and "organizing workshop 101." But one of its most popular events is "Dreaming in Colour," which is held in orientation week geared towards first-year students.

The event is a three-hour show that showcases black, Indigenous and people of colour artists, performers and vendors from the local community.

Abawajy will start her term as president in May and hopes to continue supporting and uplifting students from marginalized communities.

"Folks have been coming and telling me that I've inspired them to take on a leadership role, or to see themselves as student leaders, and that to me is the most important thing," she said.

"Because I have this privilege and opportunity to do all this work, if I'm not bringing my community with me, if I'm not giving opportunity or space for other folks to see themselves in the position I'm in, then I think I have failed."

About the Author

Aya Al-Hakim

Reporter

Aya Al-Hakim is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. She can be reached at aya.al-hakim@cbc.ca.