#BlackOnRes: Pitman Hall working on safer space for Black students

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By: Samreen Maqsood

A group of Black students are working at Ryerson to address the experience of Black students on campus—specifically, in residence.

Black Talk is part of a series of events called #BlackOnRes. It’s being organized by a group of Black housing and residence life employees in Pitman Hall, in honour of Black History Month. The purpose of the talk is to give Black students an opportunity to start discussions, rant and bring up concerns in a comfortable environment on residence.

“We’re trying to create a safe space for Black students to feel like they can talk about their experiences on res so far,” said Zanele Chisholm, a second-year English student and one of the organizers of the initiative. “Especially because we don’t really have that sort of space.”

“I found that living in Pitman Hall last year was a really isolating experience as a Black woman, specifically because of the micro-aggression and passive aggressive racism I experienced on a daily basis,” Chisholm said. “I found a safe haven through friendships and bonds with other Black students.”

She described being called “Lil Yachty” because of her red braids and having to hear non-Black students say the n-word when singing along to popular rap songs at parties during her year-long stay on res.

A qualitative study from 2017 found that Black students living in residence experienced difficulty finding a safe space that catered to them in residence. Participants described instances of racial microaggressions and hyper-surveillance as part of their residence experiences.

To decrease these interactions in university residence halls, the study recommends “recentering historically marginalized group narratives through Afrocentric event programming,” and restructuring housing organizations to include more BIPOC representation.

While all of their other events on res are open to everybody, Black Talk is in collaboration with several Black student groups on campus and is dedicated to only Black students. Chisholm said having an event for only Black students might be a source of tension for some. 

“I feel it’s more that people are not willing to spread the information, probably because it’s uncomfortable to talk about specific events that are for specific minority groups,” she said.     

Chisholm, who is a residence desk agent at Ryerson, said that as Black staff members, she and the other organizers are a minority and want to make sure their voices are being heard.  

The organizers of the events have had some trouble promoting these events with Ryerson residence administration.

Chisholm said it’s been a “difficult time trying to make sure the word is [getting] out,” as she was not sure that everyone on the staff team could promote things the way they wanted to.

As of now, Chisholm said word of mouth has been their biggest tactic to get people involved. She and the other organizers have also been promoting the event via posters, floor meetings and emails to residence advisors and housing staff.

Black Talk will be taking place on Feb. 25 at Pitman Hall. #BlackOnRes will also include an art showcase on Feb. 9 and a movie night on Feb. 18.

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