Sociology students partner with Correctional Services Canada for Black History Month symposium

21 Mar 2018

CSC_SocClassIn February, Mount Allison University sociology students partnered with Correctional Services Canada (CSC) to put on a symposium for Black History Month. The event, held in Théâtre L’Escaouette in Moncton, was a diversity and inclusion initiative for CSC employees and the community. The students participated in the event as part of an experiential learning activity.

CSC’s Employment Equity and Diversity Committee worked with students from Cheryl Veinotte-Mackey’s Cultural Competencies course. The event included guest speakers; watching and discussing the documentary 13th, which explores racism in the US prison system; and a panel discussion on ways to raise awareness about the experiences of racialized communities with the criminal justice system.

“It was a pleasure to co-ordinate with Jill Esson of CSC for this event. Jill really involved me in the planning process and together we found as many opportunities as possible for the students to have meaningful opportunities for engagement,” says Veinotte-Mackey. “Her commitment to diversity and inclusion is apparent and she served as a strong role model for our students.”

Psychology and sociology student Gultaj Sangha says hearing real-life experiences from CSC staff gave the students a new perspective.

“As students we have a far more ideological and optimistic view on how positive change can be enacted, in contrast to the difficulties associated with systemic change and bureaucratic hindrances that actually changing the world would entail,” says Sangha.

Dr. Erin Steuter, Mount Allison sociology department head, says this kind of experiential learning helps students see best practices for diversity and inclusion, as well as how they can show leadership in bringing forward these ideas in this type of setting.

“The students were more confident contributing to the discussions because they had practiced techniques on how to constructively engage in conversations about racism and inequality, which many people find difficult,” says Steuter.

The day-long event also included a panel discussion with a teacher, a social worker, two people who run a program for youth at risk in Halifax, NS, and Mount Allison student Jamal McCarthy-Barnett.

“Jamal talked about his lived experience growing up as a teen in Brampton, Ontario,” says Veinotte-Mackay. “He remembers at six years old that his mother had ‘the talk’ with him about being very careful in interactions with the police.”

McCarthy-Barnett says there is great value in activities like the symposium.

“Bringing topics like this into the light and creating an environment where black racism can be spoken about without people resisting the ‘uncomfortable’ topic is a difficult goal,” he says. “Holding events like these are the little chips that will help us achieve these goals and propel us to change.”

Many of the students are in their fourth year of study and the experience gave them insight into skills they will be able to draw on in the future.

“This experience was one that really put together why sociology and this degree matters. For me, this event also really showed me the efforts being put forth by many groups to help eradicate issues surrounding racism in Canada,” says sociology student Matt Boardman.

Next Steps

Be part of Canada's best undergraduate university