UBC student union calls for dedicated Black space as Black students face feelings of isolation

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الثلاثاء 7 فبراير 2023 10:57 مساءً

Joann Anokwuru remembers feel extremely isolated when she first moved the Vancouver as a UBC student. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Joann Anokwuru remembers feel extremely isolated when she first moved the Vancouver as a UBC student. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

When Joann Anokwuru first moved to Vancouver in 2013 from Nigeria, she was quickly hit with a sense of isolation.

She was the only Black person on her plane, on her bus and even at her on-campus UBC residence, where she studied and will soon complete her doctorate in education.

"It was only me. It was tough. It was a very big shock," said Anokwuru.

"I left the residence and started crying, literally crying leaving the residency."

She struggled to find community, a sense of belonging and people with a shared culture; groceries stores didn't carry Nigerian ingredients. And Anokwuru rarely saw other Black students in her classes.

Her experience is a reality shared by many Black national and international students at UBC. Now, the school's Black Student Union [BSU] is calling for resources to help expand its services for the Black community.

According to the 2021 census, there are 61,760 black people in B.C., comprising a little more than 1.2 per cent of the population.

Student union calls for dedicated Black space

UBC's BSU was created to connect the school's Black community, where students like Anokwuru could feel safe and supported.

The organization hosts weekly events for Black students to congregate and socialize.

Harmela Kassa, an organizing member of UBC's BSU, says being Black on campus can often lead to feelings of alienation, especially if you're also an international student.

"Finding community here at UBC, it's hard," said Kassa.

"And then you add on being a Black student [in] a city that has a one per cent Black population, and that magnifies even more so. And then you add on the additional factor of being so far away from home, being in a new culture, and it just is magnified times 1,000."

Ben Nelms/CBC

Ben Nelms/CBC

She says the BSU lets students know that they are heard and seen. But as the organization keeps growing and supporting more students, it says resources are being stretched thin. The group is organized and led entirely by students.

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Around 50 students attend the weekly events, according to the union.

Kassa says the organization is pushing for UBC to help develop a Black space on campus for Black students and the BSU.

"There is a demand. There is an audience. There are Black students on this campus who need a space, who want a space to connect with other Black students on campus, and we need to facilitate that," she said.

Ainsley Carry, UBC's vice president of students, said his office started working with students in 2020 to identify such a space.

After the consultation was halted for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carry said these conversations have resumed.

Carry said some students have asked for a multicultural space for different groups, while others prefer to have a designated space for Black students.

"We are leaning toward a multicultural space where different cultural groups can share a large space and, within that large space, have some individualized identified cultural space for Black students.

Building a community

While at UBC, Anokwuru found herself leaning on other Black students for support. Now, she's paying that forward.

Over the years, she has opened her home to more than 100 international Black students, offering a home-cooked meal, mentorship, or even just a listening ear.

"I've gone through it. I've gone through the pain. I've gone through the challenges of settling in," she said.

Ben Nelms/CBC

Ben Nelms/CBC

Anokwuru has built the community she longed for as a student.

"My door is open 24 hours. I will keep smiling. I'll keep supporting new people who are coming in."



For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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