By Sahara Mehdi
Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) Black Excellence Committee held its first in-person mixer for Black students, staff and faculty since the COVID-19 pandemic began, on Feb. 16.
The fourth annual mixer took place on the eighth floor of the Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC).
The mixer opened with a land acknowledgement delivered by its two student hosts, Isioma Uwadiunor and Kristian Senior, accompanied by a sign language interpreter.
“We get to learn about our culture, our race, our colour, our history”
Tanya De Mello, who was recently appointed as vice president of equity and community inclusion at TMU, was present at the event. She began her speech by acknowledging the impact the pandemic has had on the school community.
“Many of us feel we’re still thinking about the pandemic,” De Mello said. “We are thinking about family members and the disproportionate effect [COVID-19] has brought to our communities, especially the Black community.”
According to the Black Health Alliance, COVID-19 infection rates for Black people in Toronto were three times higher than white Torontonians.
First-year urban and regional planning student Aryam Abdalsed wasn’t aware of the event beforehand but stumbled upon it with her friends when she came to the SLC to study.
“Having events like this helps us get engaged with our people,” she said as she played Uno. “We get to learn about our culture, our race, our colour, our history.”
The mixer included a lunch catered by Robbie’s Jamaican Cuisine and there were board games, a photobooth, music and a raffle for all attendees, featuring prizes provided by local Black-owned businesses.
Eboni Morgan, the Black Student Support Facilitator for the Tri-Mentoring Program (TMP), said her goal for the event was to create a fun and relaxed environment.
She said when planning the event, she focused on one central question: ‘How can we make sure Black faculty, staff and students are able to come into a space where they can mingle and feel the comfort of community and have the opportunity to share a meal together, share conversations together, share joy together?’
“Everybody’s smiling and enjoying themselves,” Adbdalsed said. “It’s nice, I see everybody’s really comfortable. They’re having fun.”
Morgan said the organizers wanted to remove the pressure that exists in more professional settings. “Sometimes students might not want to approach a professor or faculty member,” she said. “But in this setting, they don’t really have to worry about seeming professional.”
De Mello said the Black Lives Matter movement in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd caused the school to rethink how they acted in relation to anti-Black racism.
“There was a really big shift,” she said, explaining how the movement focused on paying attention to institutions like healthcare facilities and education. “What it looks like now is [an] even more established commitment to do some of the work to move from just surviving to thriving.”
Morgan said the event is a celebration of the school’s Black community and all they continue to accomplish.
“To me, Black excellence is simply being Black and embracing every aspect that comes with it,” she said. “Black people are, of course, not a monolith. We don’t all have the same experience. But by being Black, we are inherently excellent.”