By: Debra Olaniyi, Strength in Structure (SiS) Content Creator
Connect with people and take that first step! You never know what academic or community involvement can lead to professional opportunities.
When I first started University, I was extremely timid. Getting into a school like the University of Toronto to me meant that I had to be completely focused and dedicated to my education. I made it a mission to isolate myself to study harder and get the results I hoped to achieve.
However, this isolation only led to a plunge in my academic achievements and loneliness. I decided to get involved started getting involved in my school community by joining clubs around issues or topics that I was interested in.
I became the Events Coordinator for the Black Students Association in the second semester of my first year of university. My role there led to amazing connections and better grades. I started noticing a change in my overall confidence and ability to speak in larger crowds.
In my second year, I joined the Black Access Educational Excellence, an initiative that supports creating a bridge for Black students and higher educational institutions.
Growing up I didn’t have much access when it came to higher education because I’m a first-generation Black Canadian, so I wanted to create pathways for individuals who were once like me and did not have the access or information they needed to higher education.
My involvement on campus led me to a job opportunity working with the Student Recruitment and Admissions office at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
I spearheaded the Black Access Educational Excellence initiative through different events and engagement pieces throughout the year and later was promoted to Team Lead.
With all the information and research that I have been doing with the office, I decided to start my own club called the African Students Association, where I focused more on the academic and personal development of African students on campus.
This was an area that was lacking for Black students on campus: professional development.
I felt like Black students on campus had a space where they could laugh and make friends, debate, and talk about different issues but there was no space created on campus where students could enhance their professional development and brand themselves into wonderful candidates for potential jobs and careers.
Our club ran numerous events throughout the year such as a Black Professionals panel, which is now an annual event. The interview workshop, with a partnership from RBC and the career centre, and lastly the academic success workshop.
All these events, as well as fundraising and mental health initiatives, fostered an environment where students could excel not just like academically but also professionally.
Lastly, I joined The University of Toronto’s Anti-Racism Task Force. As a member of the Task Force, I saw how advocating for those who do not have the platform and holding institutions accountable led to policy changes within the University.
These changes will result in new experiences for the Black students, faculty and staff that come after me.
All 56 of our recommendations to the board were accepted. These changes will result in new experiences for the Black students, faculty and staff that come after me — a progressive shift towards a more equitable environment.
The exposure I gained working at the Recruitment and Admissions office, and being the President of the African Students Association allowed me to land a job as an Anti-Racism Project Coordinator at the Federation of Black Canadians and later a People and Culture Coordinator at Aviso Wealth.
This to say, get involved! Connect with people and take that first step, you never know what opportunities are behind those doors.
Don’t let your negative thoughts take control of your life and be the change that you want to see. If I did not put myself out there, I would’ve missed out on so many wonderful connections, conversations and opportunities.