Seven clubs that are leading the foundation for change at McMaster

C/O @bapmac

In response to the resurgence of Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, new clubs focused on Black, Indigenous and People of Colour were introduced to McMaster University. They have tried to foster community, break down barriers and create space for important conversations. 

These clubs, run by BIPOC students for BIPOC students, are working tirelessly toward fulfilling student needs and establish spaces necessary for students to flourish, receive support and form valuable relationships.

“The reason why I am part of these clubs is because I want to do whatever I can to best support the Black community. Because oftentimes a major issue is just lack of information. People aren’t aware of these opportunities. In being in these roles, we’re able to share different opportunities with the people who are part of our club . . . and just keeping them tapped in because that’s really important. Overall, [I am] just looking for ways to support the community in whatever capacity that I can. That’s why I’m involved in these clubs,” said Anu Popoola, a second-year student involved in the Black Student Mentorship Program and Black Aspiring Physicians McMaster.

“The reason why I am part of these clubs is because I want to do whatever I can to best support the Black community. Because oftentimes a major issue is just lack of information. People aren’t aware of these opportunities.”

Executives and members of these groups have already made a significant change, however, this is just the beginning, as Sammi Yahya explained, a second-year student who is part of the McMaster Muslim Students’ Association’s Anti-Racism Racism Committee and Black BHSc Student Association. They will continue to set far-reaching goals and advocate for their community. 

“This can’t be this can be the end, we can’t just fall off the wagon once all this buzz dies down.  I just really hope that even as time passes and the impact of the BLM movement and all of that becomes distant, hopefully the passion never dies out, and we continue to make steps towards equity, inclusion and diversity, not only within [health sciences], but within the McMaster community and beyond,” said Yahya.

Whether you are a Black Muslim student, Black first-year student seeking mentorship or 2STLGBQIA+ BIPOC student looking for a community with similar intersectional experiences, there may be a community waiting for you. Here are seven new and existing BIPOC-focused clubs and the work they are currently doing to promote change.

Canadian Black Nurses Alliance McMaster

A McMaster chapter of Canadian Black Nurses Alliance (CBNA) was introduced this year to promote community within Black nursing students and inspire Black students with an interest in healthcare and nursing leadership. However, the club is also open to other students of colour.

Previously, the group has hosted events such as Black voices in healthcare institutions, new graduate nursing student panels and resources night for exams. They also run an anonymous online forum where students can share their experiences of microaggressions or discrimination and receive advice and support from other Black nursing students.

Queer and Trans Colour Club

The Queer and Trans Colour Club is a club dedicated to fostering community building within LGBTQ+ identifying BIPOC students at McMaster. They host 2SLGBTQIA+ identifying BIPOC exclusive socials, discussion panels and other events, including collaboration projects with other clubs on campus, such as a poetry slam night. From Feb. 21 to 27, they are holding an aromantic spectrum awareness week to debunk stereotypes and myths and spark conversation on being aromantic.

McMaster Muslim Students’ Association: Anti-Black Racism Committee

The Anti-Black Racism Committee of McMaster Muslim Students’ Association is a new committee of the club. The committee primarily focuses on welcoming Black students into the group and promoting a sense of community within Black Muslim students on campus through various events.

In the past, the group has hosted socials such as Black Muslim Jeopardy night and Speed Friending. Currently, they are working with the Equity and Inclusion Office to make reporting incidents of discrimination more accessible.

“It’s really easy to just brush off [experiences of discrmination] or microaggression, and a lot of people think they can’t report this stuff when you can,” explained Yahya, one of the executives on the Anti-Black Racism Committee. 

Yahya hopes that through the committee’s work, more students will know about the tools and resources they can use to speak up against racial discrimination.

Black Student Mentorship Program

The Black Student Mentorship Program is a new initiative in which Black first-year students are paired with a Black upper-year student, Black upper-year students are paired with a Black graduate student and Black graduate students are paired with a Black faculty member.

A pilot version of this program ran last year with about 10 first-year students, but it has now expanded to over 60 first-year students in the program. It currently offers both one-to-one and group mentoring. 

The mentors provide guidance and advice on academics, navigating school and finding opportunities and resources for professional pursuits. Most of the events this year have been geared towards first-year students to help them connect during times of online and at-home learning.

However, they are also planning events with the African Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster to help both mentees and mentors of the program socialize and develop themselves professionally.

Popoola, a second-year student who was part of the pilot program last year as a mentee, is now currently an executive member of the program.

“We’ve really created a space in which the first years are able to share their experiences and bring up concerns about things that happened in their classrooms. It’s been really rewarding just seeing that we’re able to impact them, even if it’s in the smallest way,” said Popoola.

Black BHSc Association

Following the death of George Floyd, Black health sciences students came together to support each other and share experiences of microaggressions and racism. They also discussed changes they wanted to see within the program and McMaster. These discussions led to the formation of Black BHSc Association with the aim to increase equity, inclusion and diversity in the health sciences program.

One of the most exciting changes brought on by the club is Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants. It is an optional application stream for Black applicants which allows their supplementary applications to get reviewed by other Black students, alumni and faculty of the program in order to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias in the application review process. Currently, Black identifying students make up less than two per cent of the bachelor of health sciences population.

“It’s not going to be easier to get [into the program] which is very, very important for people to understand, but it just pushes down or breaks down some of the boundaries that might stand in the way of Black students coming in,” said Yahya, president of BBA.

Another goal of BBA is to reach out to Black high school students who have an interest in the program and show them pathways in academia, healthcare and medicine. They have already received great response and excitement from their application info nights. 

“It’s not only about helping current Black BHSc students or prospective Black BHSc students, it’s about going all the way to the roots . . . . [Black students might not be getting in] maybe because not as many people are applying, but it’s also because maybe they’re not getting the opportunities to even go to university . . . or not knowing what university is about and just opting for college,” explained Yahya.

Blackspace 

The main objective of Blackspace is to empower Black women in the classroom and the Hamilton community and enable them to collaborate and gain access to opportunities both at and outside of McMaster. The club was founded because there weren’t many spaces for Black women students to connect on campus.

This year, the club has focused on professional development with events and workshops featuring professionals from humanities, business, sciences, math and other fields. They spoke on the experiences of breaking into these fields as Black women and shared advice. Every Monday, the club also hosts an Instagram live series called Moscato Monday where they discuss current events. 

On March 6, they are organizing an event with different Black companies and small businesses from McMaster and Hamilton who will speak about entrepreneurship and what it means to be a Black entrepreneur. There will also be more networking events coming up in March.

“I’ve never really interacted with many of the clubs on campus, let alone a Black club. I wasn’t even aware of half of their existences until I got to third year, which was last year . . . [Through Blackspace I have had] not only the opportunity to help people with what I couldn’t do, but also help myself while learning about all of these opportunities that I would’ve had to dig for otherwise,” explained Makena Githinji, the current co-president of Blackspace.

Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster

Black Aspiring Physicians of McMaster aim to support Black students in their pursuits to enter a career in healthcare. They host events such as MCAT and MMI prep nights, research info nights and the iRise conference. In March, they are planning an event with the Indigenous Health Movement at McMaster which will feature healthcare leaders and BIPOC student advocates in a panel discussion.

Outside of events, they also have a YouTube channel where you find webinars on topics related to healthcare and interviews with guest speakers. Additionally, the club has a mentorship program to pair students interested in medicine with a medical student.

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