By Debrah Makinde, Biology and Humanities student
Growing up I have always loved school. As a young black female immigrant who moved to Canada at the age of 11, school was the only thing that I looked forward to. For me, school was a place where I could connect, learn and engage with other students and teachers. I felt that school was the perfect opportunity for me to contribute to the community and to create a “home away from home” in a sense. However, I quickly realized that this new community that I so badly wanted to be a part of wasn’t so welcoming.
I remember feeling like an outcast because no one understood me or even tried to. Not only did they not understand me, but they judged me. Due to me being the only black student in the entire school, I felt defeated. I felt like my voice would never be heard. All of this affected me physically, emotionally and mentally – up until today I am still healing from this. I mention all of this to emphasize that education, health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked, especially in the black community.
Education shapes lives – it is key to reducing socioeconomic and political inequalities. It is also associated with health behaviours and plays an important role in health by shaping opportunities. According to Statistics Canada, black men and women were almost half as likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to their counterparts in the region of their population. Thus, the unemployment rates for both black men and women were about one and a half times higher than the rates for women and men in the rest of the population.
These statistics prove that higher education is essential for the black community because it plays a role in our wellbeing. Not only is education important, but diversity in these institutions is critical. In the article “Imbalance: Mental Health in Higher Education”, Heather Clark mentions that “diversity in education is intersectional and mental health is a significant social identity impacting the experiences of students in higher education.” This article also mentions that minority racial and ethnic populations are more likely to have poor mental health. Thus, having a more diverse institution would help to decrease mental health disorders among black students. Having a more diverse and inclusive education system helps to enrich the educational experience and overall wellbeing of individuals.
I noticed that once I was able to find a community in school that I related to, school became easier and my overall health improved. For example, at Carleton University I was able to join many organizations such as Carleton Women Interested in Medicine and Health (CWIMH) and Campus Rush which have aided in my education experience and the development of relationships. Once I realized that I was not alone and how much education matters in the black community, I endeavoured to share my thoughts and journey with other students as well. This fosters a sense of community and belonging which is what all students need to thrive physically, emotionally and mentally.
As mentioned earlier, education, health and wellbeing are intrinsically linked. Therefore, through education and community work, I think it is important to strive to address anti-Blackness in order to create a world where we feel more included and safe for the betterment of our health.