It’s been a painful and distressing time recently regarding race relations, specifically pervasive, systemic anti-Black violence and prejudice.
So it seemed appropriate for McGill’s Black Student Network, a service provided through the Student Society of McGill University (SSMU), to keep this year’s graduation celebration low-key.
“Given the current situation and atmosphere,” said Torie Williams, the outgoing BSN president, “we thought we would do a commemoration instead.”
With distancing directives still in place, there will be no physical social event this year. Instead, the group moved the celebration of achievements of Black McGill students online. This week, the BSN launched its refreshed website. A special Black Grad section (developed in association with the McGill Black Alumni Association and Alumni Relations) features video speeches and a virtual yearbook containing pictures and thumbnail sketch of each of the graduating class of 2020, including a photo album, anecdotes and reminiscences. The site also includes snapshots from last year’s in-person inaugural gala and celebration.
Mariame Kaba was slated to give this year’s graduation address, but the New York-based prison reform organizer, justice activist and educator, who received a sociology degree from McGill in 1992, was ultimately unable to attend the event due to COVID-19, said Christelle Tessono, former president of the BSN in 2019 and one of the organizers of this year’s activities.
“We want to feature the contributions Black students make to the community,” said Tessono.
To that end, she said, the website is “collecting and featuring testimonials and words of inspiration for the graduating class to talk about their experiences at McGill, specifically Black McGill.
“I think that it’s really important to take the time always to congratulate students for all the hard work they put in.”
Williams noted that Black students should also be acknowledged for their contribution to the McGill community, but also to the Montreal community as a whole, adding that “the BSN website is meant to be a database of resources for students to access, whether that be information on and photos of BSN events, internship opportunities, Black-owned businesses in Montreal, etc. Essentially, we want it to be a hub of information that makes navigating McGill spaces easier. This centralized platform will be all the more beneficial for incoming students since the McGill experience will now be remote.”
The new website includes sections devoted to sustainable activism that students can engage in to promote equality in general, and for Black students in particular, and content that addresses issues of inclusiveness, student mental health and staff hiring practices.