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Building community for Black students, faculty and staff outside of the classroom, office

Student groups, employee networks offer supportive spaces for self-identifying Black members
By: Antoinette Mercurio
September 11, 2020
Five people sit around a table talking.

The Black Students Support Group and Black Faculty and Staff Community Network provide learning and development opportunities for students, faculty and staff who self-identify as Black. Photo by Christina of Women of Color in Tech via Pexels, external link.

Two groups will be re-launching this fall to create a safe space for Black-identified students, faculty and staff to connect, share and build community.

The Black Students Support Group, hosted by Ryerson University, Student Life and Campus Engagement in collaboration with the Tri-Mentoring Program, is an online space for Black-identifying students to share their unfiltered feelings about actions against the Black community. Topics discussed will include police brutality, anti-Black racism and discrimination as well as others. The weekly sessions will start on September 17 and run from 3 to 5 p.m. Students can submit the following google formGoogle form, external link to sign up.

The Black Faculty and Staff Community Network, one of Ryerson’s seven employee community networks, will be starting similar sessions this fall where Black-identified faculty and staff can gather, share concerns, discuss current issues, and receive advice and resources available to them on campus. The next virtual meeting will be on September 16 at 1 p.m. - visit the event listing for more information. 

“We want this to be a space for personal and professional development, a space where we can problem solve together. We definitely want to serve Black faculty and staff, but also want to serve the larger Ryerson community as well,” said Nikki Waheed, manager, experiential learning, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching and co-chair of the Black Faculty and Staff Community Network.

She co-chairs the network with Amiga Taylor Wheatle, program administrator in the Faculty of Law. Waheed added that, “for anyone or any department needing assistance on any topic or issue around Blackness, or anti-Black racism, the network is a space that you come to for recommendations, support or collaboration. Network members have expertise and skills that can support the university in this work.” 

“I would echo that, that the Black Faculty and Staff Community Network could be the go-to space for our Black peers and colleagues,” said Darrell Bowden, executive director, Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion. “The origin of all community networks was this idea - that they become the voices of their community, specifically around issues that are complex and complicated. This is the ‘about us for us, not about us without us’.”

Finding community on campus

Stephan Allen, orientation and campus events facilitator, Student Life and Campus Engagement, created the Black Students Support Group and recalled how as a student (Allen is a 2019 nutrition and food graduate), being a part of student groups such as the United Black Students at Ryerson, helped him find a community outside of his program.

“When I was a student, a very valuable thing for me during my Ryerson experience was being a part of student groups where there were opportunities to have only Black spaces where you could talk about your experiences navigating university as a Black-identified student,” Allen said. “Around the time when the George Floyd incident occurred, in our department, we were thinking what is it that we could do immediately to support students and it made sense to be able to just continue to do what I was doing when I was a leader within the student groups. We initially wanted to create a safe space for folks to talk. But what we noticed is that it evolved into a space where we could cover different topics, how other Black professionals could come in and share their insights and experiences as well.”

Allen shared that while the group was created after a tragedy, the weekly sessions also included lighter, varied conversations about music, what people were watching on Netflix and how people were coping during the pandemic. The collaboration with Tri-Mentoring is also an important part of the student sessions so that Black students can learn more about Tri-Mentoring and their mentorship opportunities to students of all identities across all faculties.

Both Bowden and Waheed see the employee network as an opportunity to bridge the generational gap between Black professionals on campus and students. One of their goals is to create a connection between employees and students as a means of mentorship, something that has been started with the Black Excellence Committee.

Using data to measure progress

Overall, the groups represent a need for spaces where Black community members can let their guard down and feel a sense of togetherness amongst peers. One of the ways that community members can help participate in creating more spaces that are unique for various equity-seeking groups is by completing the Diversity Self-ID. The Diversity Self-ID Program collects data that is used to determine where Ryerson stands currently, to set realistic equity, diversity and inclusion goals and measure our progress. In turn, Ryerson is able to create plans and strategies that improve the learning and work experience on campus. 

There are two different Diversity Self-IDs, one specific to students and employees. Results will be shared later this year about students but the PDF file2018 Employee Diversity Self-ID Report outlines the representation of each racialized group at Ryerson. Black employees were listed at 16 per cent. 

“Black spaces provide a sense of community, camaraderie and belonging. There's not always a space where Black people see other Black people on a day-to-day basis,” Bowden said. “The need for the community to come together in this way is ancestral, it's historical, it's part of who we are. It's easier for me to be able to engage with somebody that has similar backgrounds, similar lived experience.

“I was always part of a strong Black community growing up in Montreal and Toronto. No matter what, I could always return to my community to seek support, problem solve and celebrate,” Waheed said. “That's why I decided to take part in the community network. ​I want to contribute to the ongoing and collective efforts to strengthen the Black community at Ryerson. I'm hoping as a result, our members will be able to find support and thrive, but more importantly, that we can influence greater change beyond the university.

“I believe this can further solidify Ryerson's role as a community and city builder.”

The network invites faculty and staff who identify as Black to join in this effort, especially those that are new to Ryerson. Anyone interested in joining can fill out the following google formmembership form, external link. For students interested in signing up for the Black Students Support Group, please submit the following google formGoogle form, external link

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