Scoping out opportunities and charting out the next step in a career post-graduation is a daunting task for most students. But for Black students, making the connections that lead to success can often be even more difficult.
4th year student Tatyana Graham heads up the Black Health Studies Network, an organization that aims to provide a space for Black students in Health Studies to network, receive career advice, and learn about opportunities for research.
“It’s a common trend I see,” explains Tatyana, “Black students often feel like they don’t belong or feel they don’t have the space to network with other Black students.”
Tatyana credits Professor Obidimma Ezezika with the original idea for the group. “He saw there was a gap between Black students and Black faculty, and other Black students as well. We wanted to create a network where Black students will have opportunities to connect with other Black students, find research positions and become comfortable with talking with faculty, especially since Black faculty have a lot of opportunities in research and give the students advice about their future path.”
The group holds regular career workshops, and collaborates with health centres across Scarborough to provide mentorship to Black middle and elementary school students to help them with their educations and help them feel welcome in University.
It can be hard for black students to find resources, and get up the confidence to interact with faculty and find opportunities, says Tatyana. In addition to a historical gap in resources for Black students, there can also be a lack of awareness in what is available.
“I find a lot of students in the health program don’t know exactly where they want to go in Health Studies, they just know they like health,” says Tatyana. “We want to give them an idea of all the different pathways they can take and what it takes to get there.”
The Black student experience is very distinct, adds Tatyana. “I think in my own experience, and talking with a lot of the members and Black students on campus, it’s a very unique experience in that some of us are out of country, some are domestic, and we’re very diverse in that sense. There are many different cultures, and our cultural experiences affect how we learn.”
Even on a diverse campus such as UTSC, diversity in faculty is key. “For me when I came to UTSC I felt really welcomed because of the diversity but I felt there was not enough representation in terms of Black faculty,” says Tatyana. “That affected how comfortable I felt even going to office hours, just because it was intimidating. On top of that I wanted to go into medicine, so I needed a research background, and how do you get that research experience?”
“When we bring the Black community together, we’re able to provide opportunities for research, opportunities for networking and understanding what Health Studies really is. And through learning from other Black faculty and other students we’re able to come together and understand that we all belong at UTSC.”