This month we were fortunate to interview Heaven-Lee Emond and Gloria Rwentambo, two executives of Nepean’s Diverse Student Union (DSU), who are currently co-organizing our school’s Black History Month events. In response to our questions, they emphasized students’ enthusiasm to celebrate this month, but also the need for more open conversations about racial issues in education.
Heaven-Lee and Gloria have both been members of the DSU for multiple years, and are now excited to be leading the club’s initiatives for Black History Month. Gloria says she enjoys being a representative for Black students in the school, and looks forward to bringing a more positive lens to Black history. This year, she says they are trying to highlight the contributions and successes of Black Canadians in particular, in a way that is both educational and entertaining for students.
Black History Month is one of Nepean’s most important celebrations, and despite the COVID pandemic, there is still a lot happening this year. They both recognize the importance of using social media to spread awareness, so the DSU has been posting daily about Black activists, trailblazers, authors, and others, for followers to learn about examples of Black excellence. Furthermore, different subgroups within the DSU have been assigned to multiple projects, such as creating a display case in the main hall, presenting daily announcements about Black History Month, and organizing the virtual assembly which will take place at the end of February.
We also asked them if they think Nepean is doing enough to help racialized students at our school. Gloria responds, “We’re doing the bare minimum… We don't really communicate as well as we think we do. Students and teachers need to get more comfortable discussing issues like racism in classrooms.” Heaven-Lee adds that although teachers are listening to students, there is no concrete action being taken to address their concerns. Moreover, they say there is still a lack of representation in lessons, and they would like to see more content about Black people reflected in their learning. Heaven-Lee remarks this is the first year she is really seeing teachers take this step to consciously adjust their practices.
They recommend that non-Black students should still celebrate this month, and the best way is to be open to learning and becoming aware of the issues. “Educate yourself on Black History Month by reading books, investigating historical events, and getting familiar with Black culture,” says Gloria. The pair also suggests that individuals seek out open and inclusive environments such as the DSU to ask questions and further their understanding, in addition to participating in local events. Heaven-Lee adds that, “You’re not going to get anywhere if you don't at least try to listen and put yourself out there, especially in an area that might make you uncomfortable.”
While we were wrapping up, Heaven-Lee and Gloria reiterated the importance of creating safe spaces in schools for all students, particularly racialized minorities. Teachers need to continue adapting their lessons and methods to better navigate these issues, to make our education one that is truly representative of Canada’s diverse population.