On February 11, the Department of Student Engagement launched its first session of the Black Student Support Review. The sessions, which are hosted through Zoom, aim to gather feedback from Black undergraduate students about the support offered at UTSG. The sessions are an hour long and will run until March 15 at various dates and times.

In an interview with The Varsity, Amna Adnan, the coordinator of the sessions, talked about the format of the sessions and how she hopes they will bring change at U of T.

Session structure

All the Black Student Support review sessions follow the same structure, which includes an introduction, guiding questions, and providing participants with student resources. Students also have the opportunity to share which resources have resonated with them and what support they want to have implemented going forward.

Adnan also shared that the sessions aim to create a “low-key environment” so that “students feel like it is a safe space for them to be vulnerable.” She added that another focus of the sessions is to “leave a lot of room for students [to] bounce ideas off of each other and have [a] discussion.”

“We’re looking to have as informed [of] an approach [to] our programming as possible,” Adnan said. “The feedback sessions [factor] into it because it’s good practice to get the insight from the community that you’re looking to support instead of… [popping in] like, ‘I know exactly what you need.’”

Allocation of funds

Adnan explained that the sessions were created after the Department of Student Life received additional funding. 

Though Adnan didn’t comment about the source of this funding, she highlighted it would in part be put toward gifting participants a $10 gift card of their choice. Participants can also fill out an anonymous survey about the sessions to be entered to win a $50 gift card of their choice. 

Adnan explained that these incentives are to “recognize and honour students’ time and energy in attending… whether they are acting as a student organization representative or they’re just coming as a Black student themselves.”

“It takes that extra step of vulnerability and effort [to] share these stories,” Adnan added. “And what [the sessions are] asking them to do is share their honesty with a stranger.”

Next steps

Adnan described the feedback sessions as a “consultation phase,” noting that the Department of Student Engagement aims to present the feedback it receives to the different divisions of the Department of Student Life. These divisions include Health & Wellness and Academic Success.

“[We want] to see what is already in existence,” Adnan explained. “The research that is being done [is to] inform how we create, for example, a mentorship program. Or how do we improve orientation and transition?”

Adnan also highlighted that future programming would be created around the three areas of mentorship, orientation, and transition. 

“Our department already works to support [students in] those three areas — we’re looking [to] see how we can better support the Black undergraduate student community in those areas as well.”

Although Adnan noted that students who have attended the feedback sessions have “really appreciated being able to share their thoughts” and have “enjoyed the atmosphere,” the Department of Student Life is unsure if the sessions will run again next year. 

“It’s not intended to be necessarily a repeating process,” Adnan said.