Dalhousie University’s Black Student Advising Centre (BSAC) is launching an orientation program this year to help first-year students transition into university.
The Black Student Orientation program is ongoing, so students will attend three different sessions throughout the academic year. The first one took place on Aug. 29.
Monique Thomas is BSAC’s Community Outreach and Transition to University coordinator.
“I think it’s necessary for Black students coming into Dal because a lot of times, students have expressed that, they come to the campus and they don’t know what to expect,” she says. “It’s a shock when they walk into a classroom and they’re the only Black student in their class of 200 people.”
In general, the program is meant to support incoming students and provide them with the tools and resources to help them succeed. The program is open to students who identify as Black or of African descent and are entering an undergraduate degree at Dalhousie or the University of King’s College directly from high school.
One thing many undergraduate students are afraid of is coming to a new city where they don’t know anyone. For Sarah Hughes, a Jamaican student enrolled in the orientation program, coming to Dalhousie – and Canada in general – is a new experience.
“I know it’s going to be a complete culture shock from Jamaica,” she says. “So, I’m a bit worried about how people will see me even if I think that what I’m doing is normal.”
Despite this change in her life, Hughes thinks the orientation program is a good opportunity for her to join a community and meet people who share similar experiences.
Dalhousie student Kyla Simmons says she wishes she’d had this opportunity when she was an undergraduate student at Dal. Simmons just graduated from Dalhousie with a Bachelor of Science with a major in biology and a minor in French. For the longest time, she believed she wanted to be a doctor.
However, it wasn’t until towards the end of her undergraduate degree when realized she was more interested in nursing. Now, Simmons is taking a few courses required for the accelerated nursing program. She hopes to enter the program next September.
Simmons feels that if she had an orientation program like this when she was entering university, or if she used more of the BSAC’s connections and resources, she could have put herself on the track to becoming a nurse much sooner.
“For a long time, I think maybe my first two years, I didn’t even know that BSAC existed and I didn’t know all the resources that it provided and all the help that you can get from them,” she says. “They really are there to help you and I was completely unaware of that.”
As a current student, Simmons is going to speak with the incoming students at the first orientation session.
“My biggest thing is to let them know that there’s help,” she says, “because I know a lot of students – even first coming into university – don’t want to ask for help.”
“There’s faculty, staff and other students who want to see everybody succeed and to just reach out,” says Michelle Patrick, Dal’s associate director of Recruitment (acting). “You’re never alone, I think is the key message, because sometimes you just feel so isolated but you’re really not.”
Patrick says BSAC celebrates all cultures within the Black community at Dal. “We share these commonalities but this how we’re all so different and let’s celebrate those differences and celebrate our commonalities.”
For more information about the BSAC, search Black Student Advising Centre or follow @DalBSAC on social media.