Nova Scotia

St. FX event brings together Black students to talk about university experience

The university held its first ever Dr. Agnes Calliste Black Student Voices Circle on Thursday evening for African Heritage Month.

'Racism isn't something that Black people created,' says keynote speaker DeRico Symonds

Tara Reddick chaired St. Francis Xavier University's first Dr. Agnes Calliste Black Student Voices Circle. (Tara Reddick)

It's an especially turbulent time to be a Black student at university, says St. Francis Xavier sociology student Tara Reddick.

It's why she chaired a virtual discussion Thursday night with the intent of bringing together Black students to talk about their post-secondary experiences and the systemic and overt racism they face.

"Right now with anti-Black racism so rampant and right-wing thought and white supremacy on the forefront, we thought that we needed to create a deliberate space that brought together our Black students," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning

Reddick, the recipient of the McKenna Centre racial justice leadership grant, said with few Black professors, students often don't see themselves reflected in what's taught at university. 

Portia chats with the leaders of a virtual discussion that will convene Black students to talk about their post secondary experiences. 10:59

"It seems that Black people are the exception when they make it to university — and that there is the problem, but we know that. It's because of the Nova Scotia education system and the treatment of African Nova Scotians," she said. 

Reddick's son also attends St. FX and is in his second year. She said she's guiding him through an educational system that was not designed for him.

DeRico Symonds, a community advocate and the keynote speaker at the event on Thursday, said it wasn't that long ago that Black people could be jailed, or worse, for being educated. 

DeRico Symonds is the first director of opportunity and belonging at NSCAD University. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"That's something you could get killed for if you were caught reading," he said. "So I think it's especially important that we raise these concerns and sort of take stock of where we are right now because this was something that was not meant for persons of colour."

As NSCAD University's first director of opportunity and belonging, he said it's time universities overhaul their curricula and provide more supports for students of colour. 

He said he wants to challenge everyone to live out the meaning of Black Lives Matter, and for Nova Scotians to see they have a collective responsibility to eliminate racism.

"Racism is made to be a Black issue," he said. "Racism isn't something that Black people created, but yet we have to present the problem, defend the problem, because we're often not believed, and then asked to provide solutions to a problem that we didn't create."

A University of Ottawa professor's use of the N-word last month has ignited a firestorm. We hear from Black university students about what they say needs to change to help them feel supported on campus. Our guests are fourth-year University of Guelph student Laila El Mugammar; first-year Mount Saint Vincent University student Priscillia Olawunmi; and University of Ottawa student Jamal Koulmiye-Boyce. 20:46

In honour of Prof. Agnes Calliste

The student discussion on Thursday, which was livestreamed on Facebook, comes about two weeks before the university's annual Dr. Agnes Calliste African Heritage Lecture Series, which will happen on Feb. 24.

It honours Calliste, a sociology professor at St. FX who researched the treatment of Black railroad porters and nurses. Reddick, who knew Calliste, said she was also a pioneering community activist and an inspiration to all students of African descent.

"She also served as a Black student adviser at one point at St. FX so she was all for bringing Black students together to have opportunity, to be treated fairly," she said.

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.


With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Halifax and Sydney