The Bursary Organizers (left to right): Top row: Nicholas Tong, Ryan Frederiks, Hun-Je Park; Middle row: Nizar Hassan, Anthony Albina, Phil Wilson; Bottom row: Darren Weaver | C/O Anthony Albina

A tangible support for Black students in academia

Following the death of George Floyd, a surge of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement has been occurring across the United States and Canada. The continued injustice and systemic racism against Black folks inspired seven McMaster University and Mohawk College alumni to create a bursary for Black students of the McMaster Health Sciences Program. 

Nizar Hassan, one of the organizers for the bursary, recalled how the group of friends thought of the idea. 

“It came up fairly organically in the context of hearing about all the injustice, starting mainly with the George Floyd story, and reflecting about what we can as a group do to try and make some sort of a difference. The conversation then moved from there to the underrepresentation of Black-identifying students, particularly in science academia and in our program of health sciences,” said Hassan.

One of the other organizers, Anthony Albina, added that the group hoped to provide tangible support for Black students.

“It just became painstakingly clear that listening was just not enough . . . We actually wanted to do something concrete and something that would touch a program that is very near and dear to us and had a really big impact on our lives,” said Albina. 

“It just became painstakingly clear that listening was just not enough . . . We actually wanted to do something concrete and something that would touch a program that is very near and dear to us and had a really big impact on our lives,” said Albina. 

Currently, a fundraising goal of $20,000 has been set in order to establish a yearly bursary worth $800 in perpetuity. If more money is raised, the bursary can also be increased.

The bursary will be provided to one Black BHSc student with financial need each year, with a different student receiving the bursary every year. Hassan and Albina said that criteria for financial need are not handled by the organizers and will primarily be handled by the Student Financial Aid Services in addition to other departments of the university such as the Alumni Advancement Office or the BHSc program.

The organizers also expressed that other than financial support, there are ways McMaster can provide greater support for Black students within the local community. 

“Other things to consider [include] more active community engagement and trying to get people who come from a low socioeconomic background or are less likely to choose to go to university and try to engage with them and try to bring them into McMaster,” said Hassan.

Screenshot of the bursary’s iFundMac page (link accessible through clicking photo) Urszula Sitarz / News Editor

Hassan and Albina expressed that McMaster could do more to actively reduce barriers, similar to what Queen’s University has planned. Announced on July 24, Queen’s will allocate ten of its 100 seats to Black and Indigenous students for each cohort of its Doctor of Medicine Program, effective for the 2020-2021 application cycle. 

Albina also elaborated that though the fight for social justice is not new, something was different this time around. 

“What was nice or different about [the support for Black folks] this time is that people were more [active in] looking for actual tangible ways to help . . . We just felt like we had to do something. You can’t just keep listening and letting this issue go. By no means do I think we will be fixing the issue of inequality in sciences, but hopefully this could be a small step in the right direction,” explained Albina.

Hassan and Abina shared that they have been encouraged by donations from many different folks, including those who are still in school and may not have a significant income.

“It’s been nice to see that kind of positive feedback and people putting their money where their mouth is,” said Albina. 

“It’s been nice to see that kind of positive feedback and people putting their money where their mouth is,” said Albina. 

As of Sept. 23, the bursary fund is at $8,100. The bursary will begin distribution as soon as enough funding is collected. With no deadline to reach target funding, the organizers wish to collect enough donations as soon as possible and have the bursary established for future students.

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