Nova Scotia

LGBT students to get new access to bursary program from province

LGBT students say getting access to bursaries and scholarships can be difficult, as many are not geared toward their community or are not well-publicized.

Communications Nova Scotia bursary for diversity previously did not include LGBT students

Madeline Mitchell is the vice-president of advocacy for the Mount Saint Vincent University Students' Union. (Shaina Luck)

The Nova Scotia government will broaden who is eligible for a bursary meant to promote diversity in the communications field, after Mount Saint Vincent University students and staff said they were concerned it excluded LGBT students.

LGBT students say accessing bursaries and scholarships can be difficult, as many are not geared toward their community or are not well-publicized.

The Communications Nova Scotia annual diversity bursary offers three $1,000 bursaries each year to post-secondary students enrolled in courses such as public relations, journalism or photography.

Until now, the bursary has been open to students who are either Indigenous, have disabilities, are black or other visible minorities, or who speak French as a first language.

Pamela Lovelace is an adjunct professor in the communications studies department at Mount Saint Vincent University. (CBC)

Pamela Lovelace, who teaches communications studies at Mount Saint Vincent, was initially pleased to learn about the bursary.

"I thought this was wonderful. I wanted to send it on to my students," she said Monday. "But when I read the eligibility I was a little disappointed to see that youth that identify as LGBTQ or trans were not part of that definition of diversity."

Lovelace began urging Communications Nova Scotia for a change.

The vice-president of advocacy for the Mount Saint Vincent University Students' Union said she was also concerned when she looked at the criteria. Madeline Mitchell said there may be a tendency for people to think the LGBT community has achieved equity in many fields, but this is not always the case.

"When we really delve deeper into the issues we see that people are kind of using this current state of acceptance as a way to not do better and not continually work towards even more equity," she said. 

"We're kind of seeing that LGBTQ folks are being left out of conversations on diversity, perhaps due to a false rhetoric that we're no longer marginalized."

Communications Nova Scotia said the bursary has existed since 2007 and has distributed more than $30,000 to students in that time, but this is the first time anyone has questioned why LGBT students were not included. 

On Monday, the agency committed to extending the deadline for this year's applicants, broadening the criteria for this year, and reviewing the eligibility criteria for the future.

Brian Taylor is a spokesperson for the provincial agency Communications Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Brian Taylor, a spokesperson for Communications Nova Scotia, said when the bursary was set up it used the same terms as those used in the 2007 employment equity policy, which is currently under review. Taylor said the bursary criteria can be changed more quickly. 

"We will be reviewing that to make sure that the original intent is still reflected in the criteria," he said. "We want to be as inclusive as possible, obviously; it's the intent of the bursary."

Taylor encouraged students who feel they are from any "under-represented or marginalized group" to apply and explain their circumstances in their application.

Challenge to get funding

LGBT students face many challenges accessing bursaries and scholarships, said Mitchell. For example, she said many bursaries are set aside for one male and one female student. Those who identify as non-binary may be unable to access that funding.

As well, Mitchell said the number of bursaries dedicated to LGBT students are few, and usually come from organizations that already work with LGBT youth.

"The rates of employment among university students and financial insecurity are massive, massive gaps," Mitchell said. 

"We find that it's especially so in the queer community where folks may not be finding employment at all. They might be discriminated against for who they are and not hired because of that. So any bit of this financial aid geared towards our community is extremely helpful." 

Taylor said Communications Nova Scotia doesn't offer any bursaries specifically for LGBT students, aside from the diversity bursary.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority and QEII Foundation offers a similar diversity bursary for students in health-related occupations. Previously, the eligibility criteria didn't include LGBT students, but a QEII Foundation spokesperson said the new criteria for the 2019 application includes trans and gender diverse students studying in health care. 

The QEII bursary includes 10 spots, with an award of $1,000 for each student.

About the Author

Shaina Luck

Reporter

Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca