Creating Space for Black Students at UBC

Creating Space for Black Students at UBC

Meet Savannah Sutherland and Maia Wallace two executive team members from UBC’s Black Student Union (BSU). The pair discuss the club’s success so far, where it’s headed, and the experiences they have had.

Sutherland, Co-President of the BSU, is in her fourth year at UBC, studying Anthropology and African Studies. Wallace was previously the BSU’s First Year Representative. Now, in her second year, she acts as the club’s VP External and hopes to major in Political Sciences and Sociology.

Savannah Sutherland (left) and Maia Wallace (right)


The Black Student Union

“The idea came up among myself and a couple of my friends about the lack of clubs at UBC for Black students and Carribean students.” explains Sutherland. “There was a discussion about bringing back the former Carribean African association, but then we just said we’ll start the Black Student Union. It’s a little easier because a lot of us are very international, so we found that having something a bit larger in scope would be what’s best.”

“Black is such a broad well rounded word that is so multifaceted that you can’t really put a pin on it,” adds Wallace.

The inaugural meeting had over seventy attendees, and Sutherland notes, “if you’re a black person on campus, seeing 70 other black people on campus…like that’s never happened at UBC before.”

So far, the club’s focus has been to develop a space for the Black community on campus. The events have been very community based because there really was no Black community at UBC. A lot of the focus is on just meeting other people and hanging out doing things together – mobilizing Black students at UBC and building a community.

The Club’s Impact

Reflecting on her experience before the BSU, Sutherland notes, “I wish I had this club when I was in first term, because they now have a first year group chat of sixty Black students, but being at UBC was really isolating for me…like, I knew three Black people in my entire year. it was just me, or just me and like one other friend.”

In contrast, Wallace has been at UBC for as long as the club has, and talks about how it has shaped her university experience so far. “Every day on campus I say hi to like 5 or 10 people that I know… I feel like, what more my year has been able to experience is kind of a testament to how real the total parallel experience is.”

Sutherland comments on being able to lead the change, saying, “a few of our other exec team members are also fourth years, so we’re all sort of in this together, but it’s been really good for myself and for the others just to see the community that the first and second years do have, because we never had that, so it has been very rewarding.”

Wallace also adds the impact she sees on other students. “We’re really big actors in our community. All of our members, they’re not just students – we’re doing everything. We’re doing sports, we’re in student government, we’re presidents on exec teams, we have people in the AMS, we have a lot of scholars. To compare that in contrast to the 60,000 where we’re probably less than 5,000…we’re a proactive community, so I feel like BSU is a great connecting space. And, if you see that there is a club, it gives you an unknowing sense of confidence, to step out and do the things you want to do at UBC”

Moving Forward

In closing, Wallace says “Now that we are sort of more known on campus…if we had a goal for the next upcoming year, I think we want to define the black experience, and like help solidify our space on campus.I really want to remind people that we’ve been here, like Savannah said, 14 months and actually the variety and scale of events that we’ve done is so many that we’re only trying to build from there.”

You can learn more about the BSU and their different events here.

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