Growing up in Brampton, Brock students Temi Odunuga, Akua Asare and Christabel Oghinan all have the common experience of living in one of the most diverse cities in Canada. Together, they are creating a safe space for Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (FAHS) students to talk about their Brock experiences as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC). The student-led virtual Town Hall will take place Thursday, April 1.
“Working in partnership with the Faculty, our goal is to help leadership learn about issues BIPOC students face and find ways to provide more support in future,” says Odunuga, a third-year Medical Sciences student. “Our courses have taught us some of the language and tools to recognize discrimination and microaggressions. Now, we want to use our voices to advocate for change and show Brock there is an amazing community of BIPOC students here.”
Feeling a need to formalize their advocacy work and explore appropriate ways to stand up against human rights violations, particularly in health care, Odunuga, Asare and Oghinan founded the first chapter in Canada of the Physicians for Human Rights National Student Program.
Their mission is to create a community of future health care leaders committed to ending human rights violations through careers guided by a human rights framework.
“When Temi and Christabel came to me with the idea for this group, I thought ‘this is a good idea, but I’m in fourth year, how much can I really contribute?’” says Bachelor of Sciences student Asare. “I decided even if I only have a short time at Brock left, I can contribute to changing the culture of our school for the new students coming in and for all students enrolled here.”
The chapter, known as BrockPHR, is striving to be inclusive of all FAHS students beyond those who are aspiring to become medical students or young health professionals. They welcome all students who have a passion for advocacy and human rights, inclusive of those whose future careers will lead them to sport, recreation, teaching and more.
“The beauty of FAHS is we are all connected and not restricted to those who are health-care bound,” says Odunuga. “Many of our programs intersect and there are more opportunities than ever to meet with like-minded peers and participate in multi-departmental courses and student-run initiatives.”
One of the purposes of the Town Hall is to share significant student experiences regardless of year or degree program, to anonymize and assemble the information and present it back to the FAHS Dean Peter Tiidus’ office in a way that promotes positive change.
“We all have unique experiences with the types of racism and discrimination we’ve had to deal with and don’t always know how to respond,” says Oghinan, a third-year Medical Sciences student. “For example, I’ve been in situations where there are only two Black students in a class, and someone repeatedly mistakes me for the other Black person in the room. To me, it seems like we’ve been boxed up together and I’m not seen as an individual.”
To provide support to Town Hall participants who may also be having difficulty with some of the scenarios they are or have been in, Brock Human Rights and Anti-Racism Advisor Kattawe Henry will moderate, deliver an educational presentation, share terminology that helps define student experiences and provide additional resources.
“Education has helped me to turn reconciliation into reality,” says Oghinan. “My mother taught me this when I was in Grade 7, but it wasn’t until I came to Brock that I fully understood its meaning. My experiences and learning about racial disparity and the social determinants of health in the classroom have motivated me to become an advocate and spread awareness.”
While it is anticipated the Town Hall will explore some difficult, but necessary, topics and student experiences, there is an emphasis being placed on doing this in a good way and moving forward for positive change. The planned format will include icebreaker prompts, facilitated small group discussions in virtual breakout rooms, a debrief session and the opportunity for a larger group sharing circle.
“Coming to Brock can be a culture shock for People of Colour. It was for me,” says Odunuga. “I’ve been one of only four Black people in a lecture hall. My first year in residence, I was the only Black person on my floor in a dorm of very few People of Colour. I know I’m not the only person to experience this.”
Odunuga and Oghinan add they had the benefit of being high school friends before coming to Brock, so they rely on each other for support, but Asare’s experience was very different.
“When I arrived at Brock, I didn’t know anyone,” says Asare. “After first semester, along with some other Black students, we began purposely enrolling in the same labs so none of us would have to be the only Black person in the room. We are anticipating Indigenous students and students of Colour who participate in the Town Hall may share similar stories.”
As Brock’s multi-cultural population grows, so too do the opportunities to create a ripple effect for change in the community. The Town Hall is intended to be an uplifting event where all participants will be asked what changes they would like to see.
“We are open to all ideas and want to talk with as many students in the BIPOC community as possible because while our experiences may be similar, they are not the same,” says Oghinan.
The event organizers are confident the Town Hall will be an important step toward laying a strong foundation and building relationships with Faculty allies.
“The FAHS BIPOC Town Hall is an incredibly important event from which Dean Tiidus and I will be eager to receive students’ authentic feedback to more deeply understand their subjective experiences and challenges with discrimination at Brock,” says FAHS Associate Dean, Teaching and Undergraduate Studies Kirsty Spence. “I have been heartened to work with and learn from FAHS student leaders in developing this initiative and expect only positive momentum, as we move forward with further concrete actions as a Faculty to meet the challenges presented by racism.”
What: FAHS Town Hall on BIPOC student experiences
Who: BIPOC students enrolled in an Applied Health Sciences
Where: Register online at Eventbrite to receive a participant link
When: Thursday Apr. 1 from noon to 2 p.m.
For more information, email email@example.com