LABS is working to improve virtual safety measures and support fellow future Black lawyers
C/O The Silhouette Photo Archives
The Law Aspiring Black Students group at McMaster University is creating space for Black and other racialized students to learn about the legal profession, find mentorships and grow their networks. LABS is an McMaster Students Union club and an affiliate of the University of Toronto’s Black Future Lawyers program.
Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, LABS has hosted a range of events and have seen increased interest and enthusiasm within their organization.
The LABS presidential team is composed of three fourth-year justice, politics, philosophy and law students. Brianna Fable-Watson and Elizabeth Oyegunle are the club’s co-presidents and Nicole Anozie is the vice-president.
“[LABS] was intended to be a space where People of Colour, Black-focused but not Black-exclusive, but People of Colour on the spectrum could find a community and establish some kind of space where they could really talk about their experiences, one in which we felt was necessary, especially in the field of law,” said Oyegunle.
Fable-Watson explained that she and the other presidents are three of five Black students in their majority white class cohort.
“That’s very minute in comparison to the amount of white counterparts that we have in our classes and so we all found each other and realized that we all had the same struggles and issues. It’s this constant feeling of being out of the loop that we wanted to change for incoming Black students and minority students,” Fable-Watson said.
LABS has changed that feeling and has seen increased interest and engagement with their programming throughout the year.
“This is an initiative that people want to be seeing because it’s catering to their needs, at least right now,” said Anozie.
Throughout the year they have seen increased interest and engagement with their programming.
“Not a lot of people knew what LABS was, who we were [last year] and I feel like this year we’re really making our footprints in the McMaster community,” said Fable-Watson.
In November 2020, the club hosted LABS Chat on Zoom to discuss racialized students’ experiences with the pandemic, the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement, diversity in the workplace and more.
The event was intended to be a safe space for students to share, to be introduced to the club and for LABS to share plans for the school year. However, in the midst of introductions, multiple participants began saying and typing racial slurs and sexual profanities. One participant changed their Zoom name to Brianna Fable-Watson and used a mirror effect so that there were two screens of her in the call.
The perpetrators of this attack on the event added and re-added each other but the LABS team was ultimately able to remove each of them. In the process, a genuine attendee was accidentally removed and denied access from the event. Another attendee felt too uncomfortable and took a step back, though they did rejoin.
The event continued and according to the executives, they were not going to let the attack affect the rest of the meeting.
“Honestly, I think it added to the chat because it just made it more apparent [that] that’s why we need events like this because things like this happen all the time,” said Fable-Watson.
Fable-Watson, whose computer appeared to be hacked, reached out to the Hamilton Police Services about the incident but was only told to have her computer checked out.
“You would hope that something can be done, an investigation can be done, to see who these people are. Even tracing an IP address or something, you have resources at your disposal. It’s a matter of using them,” said Anozie.
The identity of the perpetrators are still unknown as of publication of this article. A lot of students have reached out to share that these hateful ideologies are present at McMaster.
“What made it even more concerning and worrisome to me was that it literally could be anybody. It could be somebody that’s in my tutorial or in my lectures and that we’d have no idea,” said Fable-Watson.
“I was completely distraught cause I was like, if this were to be even more severe or if someone was actually harmed where would I go? Who will actually listen to me because I know that the dean of [students] McMaster would not be listening to me. Who will I be able to actually tell my problems to and would they actually be concerned for me?” said Oyegunle.
The LABS team is focused on moving forward and ensuring that this does not happen to other students. Oyegunle noted how McMaster’s Equity and Inclusion Office has resources but that a lot of students are unaware of them.
“We really want to use our platform now to really allow people to know about and really learn about [these resources],” said Oyegunle.
“I feel like now moving forward it’s a matter of assessing and seeing what can we put into place to ensure that security measures are there so that things like this don’t happen,” said Anozie.
The team described the attack as a learning opportunity to implement increased measures and to continue to create safe spaces for racialized students to network and build community.
“We are still going to move forward. We’re still going to be here and it’s not going to stop us. It’s not going to deter us from holding future events,” said Anozie.
“As students of colour, especially Black people and Black women in general, we face so much more hardship and barriers in our lives that something as simple as a zoom infiltration, obviously it’s horrible, but that’s literally not going to stop us. The whole point of LABS is that we’re so focused on success that it doesn’t matter what you do. We’re all here for each other. We’re all united,” said Fable-Watson.
Since then the LABS team has worked with Tolulope Ojo, from inclusion and anti-racism programming in the EIO and Faith Ogunkoya, a student services team lead, to learn more about navigating Zoom safely and to share these resources with other clubs on campus. LABS has successfully implemented these measures in other events, such as a career panel in January 2021.