How the pandemic has affected CapU’s Black community
Matt Shipley // Communities Editor
The COVID-19 pandemic has overseen the rise of many troubling trends. Online bullying, racism, otherism and hate groups have all grown substantially both in numbers and in influence. Due to the virus, victims of events such as these often have nowhere they can realistically go to talk, leaving their mental health behind in favor of their physical health. Feven Kidane leads the Black Students’ Union (BSU) at Capilano University (CapU), and she knows well what that entails.
“Being a Black student as well, during the pandemic, COVID is now just another layer of trauma that Black people—Black students—are going to have to deal with,” said Kidane. “We had BLM, 2020 summer during COVID, and we couldn’t even reach out to each other in person. It’s just, like, all this trauma has been sitting within us, and it can’t really come out.”
When asked what disruptions the pandemic has incurred into the Black community on campus, Kidane said: “I was unable to do a lot of things because of the risk of it becoming a COVID super-spreader. We were going to plan a cabaret like we did in Feb. 2020—we had, you know, some Black musicians come in and it was a really great cultural hub space for all to show up to. Unfortunately, because of COVID, we deemed it to be too unsafe this year. We had to ax it—we still plan to move it, you know, host it at a different time, but not being able to do it at this time is really sad.”
The lack of opportunities to gather in person as a community has been debilitating. The BSU has existed for nearly a full year, and though they have petitioned CapU since day one, they have not been granted an official meeting space. Jocelyn Boon from CapU Music Stores took up the slack in that regard, granting the BSU a temporary room in the Fir building. Faced with the question of how CapU is accommodating its Black community, Kidane brought light to a dark problem.
“I want to differentiate [CapU] from the student body. The student body obviously could be more in tune with Black issues on a personal level, and of course they could be rallying the University for things, but the university has never cared,” said Kidane. “The university as a whole, like the corporate side of it, Paul Dangerfield and all them – they do not care. Paul Dangerfield put out a three- or four-sentence thing addressing George Floyd when it happened. Three or four sentences. So, if I’m being honest, I don’t think the university’s going to do anything.”
Back in Nov. 2021, the University quietly refrained from signing the landmark Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education, which was signed and supported by over 40 institutions nationwide. CapU President Paul Dangerfield did not reply to multiple requests for comment on the decision. The inaction of the University on Black issues, however, does not absolve the student body of its own inaction.
“Try to check in with Black folx especially when it is really traumatic. The student body could actually really help in trying to get a Black counselor, a Black therapist, because everyone else got stuff. They got people they can talk to, but there’s nobody here that we can talk to about anti-Blackness and racism.” Kidane stressed that while CapU should be held accountable, the student body also has a responsibility to be actively involved in the fight against racism.
“People can only do, and people can only act, based on where they’re at personally,” said Kidane. “So, you know, if the University ever decides that they actually want to help Black people, and if the student body wants to, you know, actually be there for Black folx too, then they have to be willing to do that in their personal lives as well. Not just at the school, or just like ‘oh, I heard that this traumatic thing happened,’ like, a decolonizing change is needed from literally everyone in here if they want to be there for Black people.”
Education material is widely available and accessible on websites like YouTube, and Kidane stressed that every student should be working to educate themselves. “We have the internet. We’re in 2022. No excuses. Do something. Ask someone if you want to know—there are lots of people out there who have information about what they could do to educate themselves about Black history in Canada. It’s not hard.”
And it’s not hard. Decolonization is a long process, but there’s no better time than now to take the first step.