Network focused on black students, open for all
The newly formed Black Student Success Network (BSSN) at George Brown College aims to provide resources, mentoring and support for black and other students.
Neil Price, a professor in the community worker program, helped start the BSSN. At the launch event for the network on Oct. 5, Price outlined the four pillars of the BSSN; academic tutoring, mentoring, information and referrals and social engagement.
For Price, the support involved in the pillars of the BSSN, which includes helping students with their course work and making relevant career connections, have existed for some time.
“Staff have gone out of their way to be supportive, I’m talking about faculty who have gone the extra mile and assisted students in many different ways, but all sort of informally,” said Price.
With the launch of the BSSN, Price said, “we want to bring a lens to those informal activities and now bring some intentionality and hopefully learn about what’s happening in those relationships and then share it with the college and hopefully scale this up.”
The formation of the BSSN was in part informed by the findings of a report on black students experiences in community services programs that was released in March. The report made 11 recommendations, including offering culturally-specific academic counselling and the creation of dedicated space for black students.
While the BSSN has no physical space for its activities, Price said it was important to begin building relationships that could lead to a dedicated space and services. “Education is a political space, and education is always a struggle for resources,” he said.
Andria Lewis-Alexander hosted the launch event and played big role in pulling people together to form the BSSN. In setting up a service which prioritizes black students, Lewis-Alexander said that she has heard for all kinds of students who asked, “’well, what about us?’”
“Everyone is welcome to use the service, yes our target is black students but we definitely want everyone to be comfortable coming to use any of the information that we have, any of the resources and tutoring, and the social engagement pieces,” Lewis-Alexander said.
The 2013 and 2014 Student Characteristic studies, which were the precursor of the On the Path Forward report, indicated that black community services students have some of the lowest retention rates among racial groups in the program, as well as the lowest grade point average after the first semester.
Drawing on her experience as the student life co-ordinator, Lewis-Alexander said that she has “definitely seen the difference when students are connected to people and services, compared to when they’re all alone.” She added, “I think that when students don’t know who to turn to, or who’s there to help them with whatever their need is, you see students falling away from school.”
Masini McDermott, who is on the advisory committee for the BSSN, called the retention rate for black students, particularity black men, alarming.
“We realized that maybe we need to look into what we’re doing as a school and as an environment in terms of helping student find what they need to succeed and what can keep them motivated through hard times and push through graduate and pass their courses.”
The BSSN offers tutoring sessions on Mondays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in room B175, and Tuesdays between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in room B130 at 200 King St. E. The network also offers the let’s talk about it drop-in session on Wednesdays in room B175 of 200 King St. E.