Co-coordinator of B.L.A.C.C. invites students to get involved with their society
Karen Nembhard was interviewed by Yanik Gallie on January 25, 2019.
Nembhard is a fourth-year international student who is pursuing a B.A. in Psychology (Concentration in Forensic Psychology) and a minor in Development Studies. Nembhard is one of the coordinators for the B.L.A.C.C. Students Society. Nembhard is passionate about social justice issues. She believes it is important that we all consider the role we play in making our university a more equitable social environment to live, learn and work.
YG: Tell me about yourself and your philosophy as a leader.
KN: I am in my fourth-year major in Forensic Psychology concentration as well as a minor in Development Studies. I do as many courses on Women and Gender as possible because my area of interest is social justice. I’m super passionate about it. I love seeing people do the work to get to a more equitable society. It’s very important and valuable work. Hopefully we get to a day where we don’t have to do that anymore, but for right now it’s good to be aware of it. That ties into my philosophy. As a leader, it’s about improving the conditions and understanding that words like diversity, inclusion, and equality have become buzzwords. We have to be realistic and set goals that are attainable. I believe in equity. Saying we’re equal and the same denies me of my individuality and experience as well as another person who might have a physical disability or be from the LGBTQ+ communities. I think we need to allow people to be individuals by seeing them as full people and helping them in that way.
YG: What have been successes and challenges of your society?
KN: The successes are that we were able to get this thing off the ground and have people come out and like it, support it, and have a good time as well as having tough conversations sometimes. Tough conversations are required for growth. The process of growing isn’t easy, there can growing pains; In anything, they’re inevitable. I would say challenges would be that we tried to have a B.L.A.C.C. society of some sort a few years ago and it didn’t really work out because not everyone felt like they were being included and represented in the way they wanted to be. Meaning, there is a lot of diversity within the African descent society. I’m of African descent, but I’m from the Caribbean. My experience will not be the same as someone who’s of African descent from Canada. If you’re African as opposed to African descent, there are also differences. I would say it has been a little bit challenging to really deal with and showcase that. A lot of the time when you look at someone of color, you just kind of tag past it. When you describe someone of color, it tends to be “Oh, I know that person’s Black.” If I am a person of dark skin, but I am from an African country I might not view the world as a Canadian would. From the outside, we’re seen as one. If I am of African descent and do something bad like having a bad conversation with a police officer and everyone gets painted in the same light, that’s not fair to our community. We don’t get to have the same individuality as everyone else. There is a lot more diversity within cultures, but we tend to focus on “Well, we have some Black people in this picture,” “Asians in this picture,” and “LGBTQ+ people in this picture” but there are so many layers beyond that which we don’t look at. It has a been a challenge in terms of getting people to understand and acknowledge that. At the same time, there is strength in numbers. It’s better to be seen as a community for certain efforts. If you’re rallying for something like a representative of the Students’ Union, we want to do that and hold onto our individual identities.
YG: Describe your vision for the society’s future.
KN: My vision is increasing in its reach. By reach, I mean not just StFX but reaching out to students at Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University because there is more strength in greater numbers. I want for it to always remain true in that the first and foremost important thing is to be a safe space for students of color and to be representative of the diversity within the community. I definitely want it to be an advocacy platform too.
The name of the society is pronounced “Black” but it’s spelt B.L.A.C.C. and “B” is biracial, “L” is the Latinx community, “A” is African, “C” is Canadian, and the other “C” is Caribbean because they are the different backgrounds and cultures that we come from. I’m sure we can add way more letters because it can be more diverse. I think it should stay true to being diverse and hopefully it will be a place where people go to for help and resources. I hope it can improve the race relations at StFX and improve people’s understanding of diversity and those buzzwords by creating a real meaning for them. It’s one thing to say, “We’re diverse and working on being diverse,” but people just don’t get up and go. Antigonish is a predominately white community. Saying to somebody from Antigonish, “Hey, you should be more diverse.” How? You just stop at saying it should. People could use some help in understanding what that means.
YG: How is Agnes Calliste’s vision and pathway here at StFX meaningful to your society?
KN: It’s badass. She was the first person to create the African Student Descent office that Kelsey Jones occupies. I think that was the first step in creating a safe space for students of color who attend StFX because they have someone that I can go to for advice or help in a particular area. Even our society now relies on that office a lot. For students who might not be aware of what the office does, we try to connect students. If you’re a student of African descent and you need help or you’re facing a particular issue on campus, B.L.A.C.C. might not have all the answers because we’re students but you can go to the office to get more help. That office is instrumental and very important. I think we need to pay attention to the work that’s being done there. Calliste did that years ago, and here we are now being grateful for it. It’s important to value that moment and the things that have come since. I think she’s an inspirational badass.
YG: Do you think the Pan-African flag should be permanently installed on campus?
KN: Absolutely. I’m not Black for a month. I’m Black 365 days a year. If it’s a leap year, add an extra day (chuckles). I think it should be there at all times as a symbol that this university is committed to working towards better relations on that front. I’m not saying they aren’t, they definitely have made improvements, and I support and salute changes that are made outside of the Black community like the Indigenous and Pride communities. They’re not mutually exclusive, because the system of oppression doesn’t decide, “I’m only going to work against this group.” It’s shared. I think raising the flag is a perfect next step for the university. The flag is a symbol that the university is committed. It’s not just let’s do this for a month. We’re Black students for the entire time we’re here and the rest of our lives. It would serve as a reminder. Let’s say we put up a flag. We can’t say that everything’s great now; The flag should be a reminder of more work to do.
YG: What is your message to students about your society?
KN: I know that some students think I’m not necessarily Black, I would want to know more, and I don’t know if I can participate. You absolutely can. We’ll add another “A” for allyship to the name. I think it’s important to have more voices looking at these issues and learning about culture. The general StFX community consumes Black music, culture, and art. How cool would it be to learn more about it appropriately? It’s one of the best spaces on campus to come, ask questions, and learn. We’re open to all students who want to join our society.