Report on the experiences of black students in community services programs at George Brown College makes 11 recommendations for changes
A new report on black student experiences in George Brown College’s (GBC) community services programs opens a window into what challenges they are facing.
“It’s incumbent upon the college to live on its value statement,” said Neil Price a professor in the community worker program.
Price was the lead researcher for the report “On the Path Forward: Exploring Black Students Experiences Within in the Community Services Programs.” The report drew on focus groups as well as interviews with community services program graduates, current faculty, senior George Brown administrators, and experts in black student retention.
The report cautions that the lack of disaggregated race-based data and the non-random nature of the study means that its findings cannot be generalized to all black community services students.
The report notes that black students in the study experienced financial difficulties, a lack of academic preparedness and difficult relations with faculty.
The report makes 11 recommendations in what it calls three key areas: black student engagement, supportive services, and institutional change.
To improve engagement with black students the report recommends that GBC start a mentoring program for black students; create a dedicated space for black students and implement a pre-college preparation program.
It recommends that the college tailor services like financial aid opportunities for black students; customize existing services to black students needs; and offer culturally-specific academic counseling.
It also calls on GBC to change as an institution by mandating anti-racism training for all faculty; reviewing the diversity hiring practices of the college; ensuring field education is equitable; developing flexible course options; and ensuring diversity in course curriculum.
A lack of black faculty was highlighted in the report as a contributing factor to black student attrition.
“We don’t have the data but if you look around you can clearly see the disconnect that happens between who is hired at the college and the students who are at the school,” said Price.
According to the report, faculty members are perceived as examples of success, but, “while their white peers have the privilege of seeing people who look like them in positions of power and influence across the college, black students do not.”
Olga Dosis, the human rights advisor to GBC president Anne Sado, disagrees that George Brown is neglecting to hire faculty that reflect the diversity of its students.
“The college is very proactive in ensuring that diversity is represented when we interview people that come in for postings,” said Dosis who also said that her department often contributes or overlooks questions that are asked and often sits on hiring panels at the college.
Dosis believes that it is important for the school to increase awareness around respect along with understanding, which is the focus the diversity office is going to expand on next year. She explained that the office gives diversity workshops and has also given anti-racism workshops to staff but they are also looking at involving students in their programs.
“Professors and teachers do go through diversity training in their orientation and onboarding,” said Dosis. “Our staff development office does a great job orienting our new staff; so they bring in student affairs and any other service providers to do the orientation workshops.”
Anwar McDonald, a black second-year student in the marketing program has mixed feelings about the school’s diversity.
“I think there is diversity in the staff here at George Brown,” said McDonald. “Is it balanced? Maybe not, but I feel it is definitely diverse, just based on the lectures I’ve had, it’s been quite a mixture.”
McDonald added that they have had Asian, white, and black professors. “As a black person, of course, it’s more obvious to me that that there are not many black professors, however, I have been lucky enough to be taught by three in my time here.”
The report focused on the child and youth care, social service worker, and community worker programs because those programs have the largest amount of black students.
The report uses data from the 2014 Student Characteristics Survey done by the college that shows that the 20 per cent of students surveyed at GBC indicated their ethnic background as Black African/Caribbean while that number jumps to 36 per cent for students in the centre for health sciences and community services.
Price said the students who are attracted to these programs are sometimes under-prepared and come from low-income communities. Price said he has noticed a pattern where if one has been exposed to community service professions as a youngster they may want to give back by entering the professions themselves. It creates a loop as those are often low-paying jobs that have a high-turnover rate.
The report points out that one of the barriers that black students surveyed face is financial stability. The report states there needs to be changes within high schools in terms of financial preparation, and letting students know that there are bursaries and scholarships they can apply for to ease the monetary hardship.
Price said most of the students he spoke to had a very low knowledge of what was available, so he put in plain words that the college can do better to ensure that students are aware upfront, not when you are halfway through your program and it is too late to apply for bursaries and scholarships.
“They can do this with more orientations to high schools to help give students access to bursaries, and then if students are not taking advantage of those services when they are readily available, we can look into why that’s happening,” said Price.
Introducing a more diverse curriculum is another suggestion to help retain black students.
“That would be great actually, to have African studies. There is so much history that extends from Africa and generally it’s never talked about. People and I included know very little of it,” said McDonald. “I think it’s important not just for the people of African descent, but everyone. It would probably be more beneficial than most realize.”
Recently the Toronto District School Board and University of Toronto said they would start to college race-based data and the report calls on GBC to also collect race-based data to aid in future studies.
“This report certainly gives us an opportunity to say, ‘Hey what can we do moving forward that’s better?’ It also gives us an opportunity to see what we can do, change or modify to have a better impact,” said Dosis.