Equity and Accessibility//

UBC seeks to empower more Black Canadians to attend university with new program

February 1 marks the beginning of Black History Month and the official announcement of the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program — a program that could mean a new beginning for many Black Canadians looking to pursue higher education at UBC.

As part of UBC’s anti-racism initiatives, the program — which is the first of its kind in Canada — could offer Black Canadians an opportunity to attend university at a lower cost, as well as to build a community both on and off campus.

The opportunity currently takes the form of financial assistance through one-time or renewable awards of up to $80,000 throughout the successful applicant’s time at UBC.

“We’re thinking about not just an award,” said Rohene Bouajram, associate director of strategic Indigenous, Black and people of colour initiatives at UBC.

“The program aims to build community amongst Beyond Tomorrow’s scholars by providing personalized touch points, access to workshops and sessions, as well as various connections with the Black student community to create that sense of belonging and joy as they embark on their time at the university.”

The sessions will be focused on what the student needs depending on where they’re at with their degree. For first years, sessions and workshops will include building a network and community, as well as helping the scholars understand their strengths and what they bring to the table at UBC.

Nejat Alhussan, a first-year recipient in the bachelor of science program at UBC Okanagan, said that the program so far has been an excellent support system and her dreams of becoming a doctor seem much more possible.

“There’s a small percentage of Black doctors in the health care system, let alone a smaller percentage of Black female doctors, so it’s hard to visualize yourself as something and have confidence in yourself when you don’t see it very often,” Alhussan said. “With the program I can see myself with more confidence in becoming a doctor and it almost makes the goal a lot clearer.”

According to Bouajram, the program has the potential to help address the systemic inequity, lack of access and injustice that Black students face across Canada.

She also said she hopes it will create what she calls a meaningful pathway to success for Black Canadian students — a population of which, according to Statistics Canada, 93.4 per cent report a desire to get a university degree, but only a 59.9 per cent believe that getting one is a possibility.

While the first official announcement of the program is set for today, the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program was launched in September 2021, and so far, feedback has been positive.

“I’ve always wanted to come to UBC — it was my top school — but it was more of just a dream because I felt like there were so many factors against going, and so this program alleviated that and made it possible. I’m very grateful,” said Alhussan.

The launch saw 13 successful applicants, 11 of whom are at the UBC Vancouver campus, and 2 of whom are at the UBC Okanagan campus. The program aims to support upward of 100 students over the next four to five years.

Burrell Atkinson, another successful applicant currently attending the Sauder School of Business, thinks the program will encourage more African-Canadians to think of UBC as an option.

“I know a lot of people who think there are only a few ways to get [to university] and that would be sports or athletic scholarships, but I feel like there are multiple ways of doing something — especially university — and the Beyond Tomorrow Scholarship is a perfect example.”

Funding for the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program currently comes from donors and partners outside of the university, such as the Black Opportunity Fund based in Toronto, but it will likely need more support as the program grows.

“Anyone who’s interested in investing in the success of Black students, we encourage them to be in touch with us because we can’t do this on our own,” said Bouajram. “Our Black students, through the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program, won’t be able to be leaders on their own without the support of donors and partners.”

Besides providing successful recipients with a network and community, Bouajram said the Beyond Tomorrow Scholars program also seeks to serve as a conduit for community building for all Black students at UBC, with some programming extended to those outside of the program.

“Since I’m away from home I like the fact that it’s a small little community,” said Atkinson. “It’s like a little family away from home.”

When it comes to advice for potential future scholars, both Alhussan and Atkinson encouraged just applying.

“100 per cent apply,” said Alhussan. “It’s really helpful to know that you have a support system and people that are there and want you to do well … It’s very encouraging, it’s a welcome environment and I would say you won’t regret it.”