By Scott Beed, Staff Contributor
It has been nearly 40 years since Dalhousie University started its Transition Year Program (TYP), but while the program has benefitted many First Nations and African Canadians, the university is still lacking aboriginal professors, says the program’s director.
Data on student ethnicity is collected on a voluntary basis, so there’s no accurate record of the exact number of aboriginals on campus. But HYPERLINK “http://collegeofcontinuinged.dal.ca/Transition%20Year%20Program/PDB.php” \t “_self”Patricia Doyle Bedwell, the director of the TYP says there are about 60 aboriginal students at Dalhousie and no aboriginal faculty members.
Lauretta Syllidoy, a representative of the Native Education Counselling Unit, says if there was a larger presence of native staff members on campus it would most likely inspire native students to follow in their footsteps. Syllidoy says when students see other aboriginals in important positions it gives them an achievable goal to work towards. Positive role models can have untold benefits according to Syllidoy.
The one-year program prepares students whose high school grades don’t meet standard Dal entrance requirements. Dal established the TYP to redress educational inequities faced by members of the aboriginal and black community.
“It’s important to address historical inequalities and inequities that continue to plague Nova Scotian societies (and) Canadian society,” explains Isaac Saney, a staff member who has taught with the TYP for 17 years. “This is a way of dealing with the historical weight of injustice, discrimination and racism.”
The program, according to Saney, builds a society of equity and equality.
Founded in 1969, the TYP was a response to growing concerns that blacks and aboriginals were not being represented at Dalhousie. At the time, it was hailed as a unique program in the country.
According to Saney, the program is designed to build critical thinking skills, develop fundamental academic abilities such as basic writing skills and develop a student’s ability to make coherent arguments. A significant amount of academic work and skill building is done. The program prepares its students to enter any discipline from the humanities to mathematics to chemistry.
To go with the standard classroom instructions there’s an orientation week, special guest lectures and a multitude of workshops.
“Normally in a year there are 25 to 30 students enrolled in the program. These people are taking a preparation year for university studies. But in total there are about 70 to 80 students who use the services in one way or another,” says Saney. These numbers haven’t changed significantly in recent years.
According to Saney, the program has successfully met its objectives over the years. Most students will take the skills they have learned in the TYP and successfully navigate their way through Dal undergraduate and graduate programs.
“These people go on to be important leaders, role models, exemplars in the first nations and the black community” says Saney.
As well as the TYP, there’s the Native Education Counselling Unit, part of The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq. This program provides both academic and societal support to natives attending university in the greater Halifax area.
Located on 1220 LeMarchant St. across from Risley Hall, the centre is open to any native or black student who wants to drop by and use the computer, phone or any other service that may be available.
Syllidoy has noticed some students can suffer from culture shock. These students move from small communities or reserves and can find the size of Halifax overwhelming. In these communities it’s a reality to know the name of every member. So according to Syllidoy the hustle and bustle on campus can seem foreign to new students.
The department can act as a home base for native students. A safe haven for students to meet and create relationships. Syllidoy says the centre creates a feeling of community.
Syllidoy goes on to say that because the centre is relatively small it has the ability to address the needs of native students on an individual level. The centre is multifaceted with all its official duties, but Syllidoy says the staff members are willing to sit down and lend an ear.
There are regulars who use the resources every day. But according to Syllidoy there are also other students who will just drop by to satisfy their curiosity, grab a cup of coffee or tea and have a chat.
The centre helps students choose courses and it gives new grads career counselling. The centre can be a good place for students to network because they can gain access to resources they wouldn’t be able to gain access otherwise.
Debbi McCue, a full-time Dal student who completed the TYP, says it’s easier to work at the counselling centre because it has fewer distractions than the McCain Building or the library.
“It just feels like you’re at home studying, you have friends here that will help with your school work if you need it. It’s a good support group.”