Seana Adams is a second-year medical student at U of T and a senior executive member of the Black Medical Students’ Association (BMSA).

She is also the co-founder of Mental Health in the Black Community, a speaker series in which experts discuss the mental health issues facing the Black community and share resources for navigating the health care system.

Adams spoke to The Varsity about what it means for an institution to be equitable and the challenges along the way to realizing that equity.

Path to medicine

Until 10th grade, Adams was interested in investigative journalism. A teacher then advised her to continue with science and to address the social justice issues she was passionate about through STEM. 

The next day, she changed her courses for grades 11 and 12. 

Growing up, Adams found the idea of Black physicians very normal; her paternal grandfather was a doctor in Jamaica. The realization that Black physicians were underrepresented in Canada only came to her later, and it motivated her to pursue medicine.

“I just got more passionate about getting involved and really seeing how we can use our privilege and our positions of power in our career to actually help society in a lot of the inequities that surround us,” she reflected.

Involvement in the BMSA 

As a senior executive member of the BMSA, Adams fulfills a role that traditionally entails community outreach with clubs and associations both on-campus and off-campus. Her focus is the Mental Health in the Black Community speaker series that she co-founded. 

She organizes the events for the series, arranges speakers, and works on outreach emails. Currently, the series has over 600 email addresses on its mailing list, which receive resources such as mental health directories, including those specifically for Black therapists.

“It’s not only running these events, but it’s creating a sense of community and solidarity with the communities that we came from,” Adams explained. 

Adams first became involved with the BMSA in her first year of medical school. Many in her year heard about the group from Chika Stacy Oriuwa — the only Black medical student in her class at the time and valedictorian of the Class of 2020.

She describes her motivation as wanting to “[connect] very strongly with these students and also [see] a community with them.”

She said that it’s important for organizations like the BMSA to exist because “we’re advocating for more spaces for students from underprivileged backgrounds… [and for them] so that we can actually give back to these communities that have been underserved for decades.”

Challenges in equity work 

“I think one of the challenges that I personally face is understanding the endurance that’s required for equity work,” Adams said. 

She noted how equity is a moving target. Although recent years have seen increased representation for Black medical students at U of T, Black graduates have been an institutional rarity for decades. 

“What that means is, in our community alone, it’s going to take a long time for these numbers to start reflecting the community that we serve,” Adams said. “And it’s very hard to be in institutions where you may feel as though they weren’t created with inclusivity in mind, especially [for racialized groups] or people from a low social class.”

She described that the most difficult part for her is understanding that change doesn’t happen instantaneously. However, she said that it is exciting to see her colleagues work on equity.

On representation and allyship

“Representation means having institutions reflect the community they’re based in and ensuring that all voices at the table are heard and considered for,” Adams said. 

She described how true representation does not exist until an institution reflects the composition and diversity of its community, including among leaders such as deans. 

She believes that an ally should be “someone who’s very genuine.” 

“They approach you, and they’re not coming from a place of power or knowledge, but they’re coming from a place of just wanting to learn,” Adams said.

While the equity work Adams does can be draining, she said that it is important to have “mental stamina and strength.” She had similar advice for other women in STEM. “Keep thriving, keep shining, keep pushing,” Adams said. “I stand with you; so many more people stand with you.”

“There are so many allies out there who, once again, like I said, genuinely are here to help… improve our environments. So the advice is to keep going and [stand together].”