C/O Jessica Yang
By: Nethra Wickramasinghe
A safe space for Black women to empower each other and build community
Blackspace is a student-run organization at McMaster University aimed at fostering the empowerment and collaboration of undergraduate students who identify as Black women. The group consists of over twenty-five members and has an expansive alumni network dating back to the organization’s initiation in 2019.
Within the club, students are able to join a safe space to discuss issues pertinent to the Black community, taken from a female-centralized perspective.
Blackspace co-presidents Zainab Salami and Nana-Afia Agyeipah aim to fulfill the organization’s mission of connecting Black students, despite the challenges presented with COVID-19.
Salami, a third-year student in the life science program and Agyeipah, a fourth-year honours life science student, are passionate about welcoming first-year students and helping ease their transition to university life.
In response to the restrictions imposed by the advance of COVID-19 in 2020, this year, the organization had pivoted to an online format, with virtual events held over Zoom and Facebook live.
On Feb. 9, Blackspace held its second general meeting via Zoom to allow members to reconnect and discuss plans for the remainder of the term.
In the past, the organization has held initiatives such as the Black Business Space event, which allowed students to connect with Black-owned businesses.
The group has also held an academic panel discussion, Workspace, which allowed Black professionals in the arts, business and science industries to speak to students about their achievements and career paths.
Salami and Agyeipah both stress the importance of showing undergraduate students success stories of Black women and building community on a smaller, close-knit scale.
“It’s so rewarding to be supported by other women and knowing that we’re working towards something bigger. Seeing other women succeed, I think, I can do it too,” said Agyeipah.
Seeing representation in undergraduate studies allows students to enter a community where their experiences and voices are validated, and their opinions are heard. Fostering a community is essential for undergraduate students, both co-presidents expressed, especially when the majority of students surrounding you neither look like you nor share your experiences.
Salami attributes the importance of this sense of solidarity to the broader context of education.
“A large determinant of academic success is social support,” said Salami.
Not only does this foster more robust academic success, but it also creates a ripple effect in uplifting a greater population of BIPOC students, creating a university environment that supports diversity, and values the distinct perspectives of all students.
In recognition of Black History Month, Blackspace held an event that took place on Feb. 28 on Zoom.
At this event, Blackspace facilitated discussions focused on the mental health of Black women and non-binary members of the Black community. This includes topics such as pretty privilege, colourism and texturism.
The event also included a raffle draw with prizes such as a Google Nest Mini and McMaster Campus Store gift card.
Blackspace is an integral part of McMaster and essential to the promotion of Black female voices and perspectives. By creating a space for undergraduates to see the achievements of fellow Black women and finding solidarity in a safe community, members have the opportunity to explore their potential, both as students and as individuals.
Students are welcome to join Blackspace at any point during the year. Students interested in joining the organization or learning more about upcoming events can contact Blackspace on Twitter, Instagram or email at email@example.com.