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Did Student Services hire the wrong person?

Black students used to go to the Black Student Advising Centre for everything. To print a paper, eat lunch, figure out their degrees, and dish their problems to a counsellor.

But now, the centre is sparsely used. One student who still goes there says the change is like night and day.

“There would be at least 12 or 15 people crowded in there every lunch time,” says Crystal, a grad student at Dalhousie University.

“Now, the environment is cold and distant – like there’s something missing.”

And worse, students are afraid to talk about it.

“A lot of students don’t want to go on record,” says Amanda Carvery, a Black Student Advising Centre (BSAC) alumni. “There’s a lot of intimidation. Students are definitely afraid of repercussions.”

Carvery says students have sought her out and asked her to represent their voices to the administration.

She has since tried to talk to people in Student Services and in the Dal Office of Human Rights and Equity, but has not had positive results.

Carvery says everything has gone downhill for the centre since the long-time boss left more than a year ago.

Barbara Hamilton-Hinch was the Black Student Advisor from 2000 to 2008.

“When Barb decided to move on, people took it pretty hard,” says Carvery.

In 2008, Hamilton-Hinch started a two-year leave of absence, and transferred to a teaching job in Dal’s School of Health and Human Performance.

“Students still go to Barb (with personal matters),” says Carvery. “That’s just who she is.”

She says Hamilton-Hinch is one of her most influential role-models.

“She was definitely the right person in that position.”

Students say the new advisor, Oluronke Taiwo, is not. Taiwo was hired to fill the position during Hamilton-Hinch’s leave of absence. She came to Nova Scotia from Nigeria 15 years ago.

LaMeia Reddick says Taiwo is a “great woman,” and “very successful, in terms of accomplishments,” but that the centre under her isn’t living up to its full potential.

“The BSAC is not as powerful as it used to be,” she says.

Reddick heard about the centre when she was still a high school student. It was one of the reasons she decided to come to Dal.

She doesn’t think the current advisor is doing as much as she could be doing to create these connections.

“I volunteer for a wide range of black-serving youth organizations in the community, and I never hear Ronke’s name. People still refer to Barb when talking about the BSAC.”

Patricia DeMeo, vice president of Student Services, says she hasn’t heard any complaints about Taiwo from students.

Reddick says this is partially her fault. Although she stands behind the complaints that Carvery and others have lodged on students’ behalf, she knows administrators would pay more attention if it came from students directly.

“I need to gather the people. I need to think about how we’ll present the case,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I need to lay the foundation, because it has to come from the students.”

Reddick says she has been very busy, but hopes to set a meeting with Student Services administration within the next week.

Crystal, who wants to keep her last name private, started coming to the BSAC under Hamilton-Hinch in 2004. She says the advisor should be an African Nova Scotian with strong community involvement.

“The new advisor waits for people to come to her. Barb was very outgoing,” she says.

Taiwo is the first non-indigenous African Nova Scotian to fill the role.

Shortly after Taiwo started the job, a survey asking students about her performance was distributed in the office. Crystal says she doesn’t remember any results of the survey being released. Carvery says it is one more example of students expressing their opinions and coming up against a wall.

But DeMeo in Student Services says her office did not initiate this survey.

“That seemed to have come from the secretary at the BSAC a month or so after the advisor was hired,” she says.

“Given the timing … I wouldn’t give any real validity to anything that came in.”

Another battleground between students and the new advisor has been the organization of the BSAC’s 20th anniversary celebration. The event is happening Friday, Oct. 23 – the night this paper hits the stands.

The BSAC was founded in 1989 after a report called Breaking Barriers came out of Dalhousie and recommended ways to increase enrollment and retention rates for black students at university.

Carvery says she almost feels like there isn’t anything to celebrate anymore.

At first, students had planned to provide the entertainment themselves, and give back to the community some of what they felt the BSAC had done for them.

But by the second planning meeting, “(Oluronke) had already gone above and beyond everyone else.”

She set the date for a mid-week night, when the president of the university could make it, but not most of the students. She also invited entertainers who were not from the Dal community.

“That was really hurtful to the students,” Carvery says. “She was just dismissing everybody. You could see the morale drop.”

Eventually, after “fighting” with Taiwo, students managed to get the celebration moved to a Friday night.
But they have not won all their battles with the new advisor.

“Students feel like they’re exhausted from trying to say something and not being heard,” Carvery says.

“They’re also afraid that if they just stop going to the centre, the university’s … going to remove it. They’re trying to find that balance. They don’t need her, but they do need the centre.”

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