Being black at Dalhousie

Minority students express their feelings of having to work hard because of their race

Demilade Onifade, a student in the pharmacy program at Dalhousie University. Photo: Cara Downey

Demilade Onifade is the only black student in the pharmacy program at Dalhousie University.

Onifade, who is originally from Nigeria, said he grew up in a community where there were black doctors, black nurses and black educators.

Here, though, he says “you are visible, you are a very exposed minority, and you are very distinct.”

“In different programs there are not a lot of black people, you are constantly aware of the fact that you are the only black person in Dalhousie.”

That’s one reason Onifade uses the Black Student Advising Centre.

BSAC provides students with information on scholarship and bursary funding, employment and events which happen on campus and within the city.

Onifade said there’s a lot of responsibility with being the only black person in your program and you have to do your best to represent.

“Depending on your program, you have to do more to prove yourself. You have to show ‘we’ are here for a particular reason, and you have to show your race in the best light as possible.”

Onifade said he is aware of the stereotype of the young black male.

For many black men, the stereotype is complicated and there are many issues behind it.

When asked if society will change its view of young black men and women, Onifade said, “I don’t think everything is going to be set in stone, but there is progress.”

“There is always going to be that element of discrimination, especially in black culture because it has been engraved in our history for so long.”

Opportunities for visible minorities have improved over the years, and because of it, young people in visible minority communities now have the ability to expand their horizons.

Desiree Jones, a third-year sociology major who is minoring in law at Dal, said black students are making progress.

When asked if she has to work harder as a black student, Jones says, “I don’t really think so in terms of my work, I don’t feel that way.”

“I think it’s a positive development from where we came from to now with how many black students there are,” Jones said.

However, Jones did say “there is still that undertone of negative views, it’s getting better and people are getting more educated on ‘us’ as a culture, as a people and how far we’ve come.”

But she said the BSAC has helped a lot.

“It’s exciting to be apart of BSAC where all the black students go to meet and gather and talk about issues we have or get help with any problems we have.”

Shereen Simon, a geology student currently doing her masters, who also uses the centre, said, “it’s a bit unusual when interacting with everyone (at university), you usually have to deal with certain slang that’s inappropriate.”

Simon said just being in that environment is stressing.

When asked if she feels that she has to work harder because she’s black, Simon said, “most definitely, most definitely. It has always been like that.”

“I am a bit darker than the usual black, I’ve always felt I had to do more, have to go further.”

“Even in some classes, there is this expectation that you are black so you are stupid, so when they see that you are smart and actually smarter than them, it’s funny to see.”

But Simon admits that when “I … do good work I get recognized.”

“But to overcome the stereotype, we certainly have to work harder because people thought black people had nothing to offer, that stereotype is not accurate at all.”