In the second week of Black History Month, the University of Toronto’s Black Student Association (BSA) hosted their three-day event series, Siblinghood Love and All the Above, at the William Doo Auditorium. As the Equity Officer of the BSA, I had an amazing experience planning and organizing these discussion-based events regarding topics from a variety of perspectives and common situations individuals in the Black community have either experienced or resonated with.
In a predominantly white institution like U of T, Black students can feel isolated from their community and culture. Consequently, it’s the BSA’s mission to create crucial safe spaces where Black students can feel comfortable and explore their identity, as demonstrated in their Siblinghood series.
Black Brotherhood: A Conversation With Black Men
On February 6, BSA President Etienne Oshinowo, Vice President External Liam Cousineau, Financial Director Djaouar Yahaya, and Social Media Director Dummie Abdul spearheaded the first part of the series with Black Brotherhood: A Conversation With Black Men.
As Cousineau explained in an interview with The Varsity, Black men do not get adequate chances to engage in open dialogue about their emotions and insecurities. “Especially with traditions in Black culture surrounding men… it is not acceptable to be able to just sit down and talk about different things,” he said.
As such, this event sought for and established a place in which men from all parts of the African and Black diaspora could discuss topics such as stereotypical Black masculinity, hustle culture’s influence on Black men in the Black community, and vulnerability among their fellow Black men peers.
“It was a perfect mix of serious topics, but also [done] in a way that promoted engagement and allowed people to open up,” Yahaya explained in an interview with The Varsity.
Black Sisterhood: Chronicles of A Black Woman
On February 8, Education and Outreach Director Belissa Rugamba, Political Directors Vanessa Mutai and Nazareth Tsegay, and Equity Officer Doyin Adeyemi moderated the second part of the series Black Sisterhood: Chronicles of A Black Woman, the BSA’s first-ever event dedicated to discussing the Black woman experience.
The event focused on Black women in pop culture and academia, the Black beauty standard, and what it means to build Black sisterhood within the Black community. Mutai said in an interview with The Varsity that creating questions was an enjoyable process since “a lot of the questions came from personal experience.” The event was an incredible success, with over 50 Black women attending.
“As a moderator, it was interesting to be on the sideline and see conversation start between the participants,” added Mutai.
As a member of the planning committee and event moderator myself, I personally felt the event created one of the most welcoming environments for Black women here at UTSG that I have ever seen. Rugamba said in an interview with The Varsity, “It provided a wonderful space for specifically Black-identifying women. There’s rarely instances where that type of space is created.”
At a predominantly white institution like the University of Toronto, Black women often experience imposter syndrome. However, at this event, one could almost see the wash of relief on participants’ faces, seeing that there are other individuals on campus who not only look like them but share their same experiences. “Having that realization that you are not the only one feeling this notion of imposter syndrome… that’s a bit of closure that ‘I can do it’ [and] there are other sisters that understand me,” Rugamba added.
Politics of Black Love
On February 11, Political Directors Vanessa Mutai and Nazareth Tsegay, and Oshinowo moderated the finale of the three-part series, Politics of Black Love. This was the first time the fan-favourite event was held in person since the pandemic, so expectations were high. As such, the organizers worked hard and successfully encompassed as many facets of Black love as they could, such as tokenism, fetishization, desirability, platonic love, and what it means to build a community based in love.
“We didn’t want to leave any aspect of Black love out… figuring out which questions to ask and what would create a good sense of conversation among everyone who attended was definitely a challenge,” said Tsegay in an interview with The Varsity.
In previous iterations of the event, opinions regarding topics were contrasting and incredibly diverse, but this year, participants reached a fair amount of consensus regarding controversial topics, and even if there were opposing takes, they were expressed in a respectful manner.
Building safe spaces for the Black community on campus
The Siblinghood Love and All the Above series fostered a safe space for Black individuals to feel comfortable enough to express themselves and expose an element of vulnerability they do not often get the luxury of being able to do, especially at a predominately white institution like U of T. As such, we at the BSA will work to continue to provide safe spaces where Black individuals can be comfortable and celebrate their Blackness, all while empowering our community.
Doyin Adeyemi is a third-year student at Trinity College double majoring in ethics, society & law and psychology. She is the equity director at the Black Student Association.