U of T program with roots in black community still helping mature students 50 years later

The Transitional Year Program was designed to help adults from underrepresented communities acquire the knowledge and skills they need to enrol in university.

Since it was established, the program has helped 900 black students enrol in university

Wendy Olunike Adeliyi, right, with her daughter Alesha Bailey in 2013. (Supplied/Wendy Olunike Adeliyi)

Wendy Olunike Adeliyi is a single mom, an accomplished actress, and now a full-time university student, thanks to a program that gives people like her a helping hand.

The 42-year-old graduated from high school in Brampton, Ont., and went on to attend theatre school in New York City, before pursuing an acting career in Canada.

But in 2016, she decided to go back to school, so she enrolled in the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) at the University of Toronto.

"I knew that having an education as a young black woman was an extremely important thing," Adeliyi said. "Because you can be set back quite a bit if you don't have it."

Because of the program, she says getting a university degree no longer seemed impossible.

TYP is designed to help adults from underrepresented communities who lack the qualifications necessary to enrol in university acquire the knowledge and skills needed to be admitted.

A group of students enrolled in the Transitional Year Program in the 1970s. (Supplied/Keren Brathwaite)

But enrolling in the program had a deeper purpose for Adeliyi.

"Yes it was for me, but it was also for my daughter," she said. "So that she can see that in any age in life, at any time in your life, when you would like to pursue something, that it's possible."

Her 23-year-old daughter, Alesha Bailey, enrolled in a similar program shortly after Adeliyi graduated, and now they're both at the University of Toronto.

Program has roots in black community

In 1967, when Keren Brathwaite moved to Toronto on a scholarship, she noticed there was a lack of black students at the University of Toronto. That's when she and others decided to address the problem.

She never imagined that two years later, they would go on to create a program that would continue to have a positive impact on the lives of students 50 years later.

Keren Brathwaite teaching students in the TYP in the 1970s. (Supplied/Keren Brathwaite)

It started in the summer of 1969, but it was only the beginning for Brathwaite.

"The second summer program is even more significant than the first, in that it opened up to Aboriginal and other students," she said. "When TYP started there was almost a non-representation of Aboriginal students at the University of Toronto."

Since it was established, the program has helped 2,500 students enroll in university, 900 of them black.

It now runs as a full-time, eight-month program with a permanent home at the University of Toronto's St. George campus.

Still, while years have passed, Brathwaite says TYP remains an ongoing project.

"We continue to need this program to help working class students, black students who have been streamed out of school, and Aboriginal students who need their space in university."


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