By Vanessa Carter, September 28 2020—
It’s no secret that the year 2020 has been an absolute roller coaster, bringing many changes, both good and bad, some unexpected and some long overdue. Regardless, history is being made, even on our very own University of Calgary campus. In an effort to take a step forward, the Faculty of Law is introducing a new admissions process for Black students applying this fall.
The Black Student Admissions Process (BSAP), was created in response to ‘Calls to Action: Addressing Systemic Racism in Law’ created by the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) this past June. The 29-page document calls for reform in the areas of Student Diversity, Education, Support and Faculty Diversity. It is in regards to the area of Student Diversity where it was suggested that a system be created in the admissions process where future BIPOC students could have an opportunity to share their cultural experiences and how they would contribute to creating a more diverse student body, ultimately leading to more diversity in the field of law.
“This was something that I wanted to do because I wanted to build on what the demonstrations in June were doing which gave us a window to make a lot of changes really quickly and kind of push things forward a bit more effectively,” said Keshia Holloman, president of BLSA.
This comes in response to the protests and awareness being raised about racial injustice and inequality all over the world after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year. The University of Calgary Faculty of Law is the second law school in Canada to use this process, with the first being the University of Toronto.
In regards to how successful this new admissions process is expected to be, Catherine Valestuk, Assistant Dean of Admissions and Recruitment at the Faculty of Law says that more than one year will be needed to evaluate that.
“You can’t just put a process in place and expect a great turnout,” Valestuk said. “We have to earn the trust of the people who’ll be self-identifying to us that we will be using any information they provide us in a meaningful way […] this is something that we see as a benefit to the diversity of the law school and the larger legal community so I think we have some work to do but this is a really meaningful first step.”
While incoming Black Law students will certainly benefit from the BSAP, Indigenous students also have opportunities to express themselves on applications to the Faculty of Law.
“Similar to the Black student admission process, they can self-identify as Indigenous and if they do then they will have a space on the application specifically for them where they can talk about their life experiences and their connection to their Indigenous cultures and any impacts of colonization on them or their family,” Valestuk explained.
Although this method of admissions is being given to students in these groups, the overall consideration to be admitted remains the same.
“Everybody who applies to the University of Calgary Faculty of Law goes through the exact same assessment process,” Valestuk emphasized. “The Black process is absolutely merit-based — there is no change to admission standards or our admissions criteria. What is different is a space for them to be seen and to talk about their experiences being Black. If for any reason a Black student does not get admitted, we hope they will still feel they’ve had a fair hearing with our subcommittee that is made up of people in the Black community including our BLSA students and Black staff members.”
While this process is being introduced to give Black students an opportunity to incorporate their experiences with their heritage and culture into their application, Holloman understands how some are questioning the need for this measure. She shared a comment she received on social media which said, “As long as people keep focusing on our differences we can’t ever truly become one. As long as you have to put race or colour before any proof you’re working to divide.”
To this, she responded, “This admissions process isn’t for the University as a whole […] there aren’t a lot of scholarships for Black students anyway and if there are, they’re under an umbrella of marginalization. It is us Black students who make up a disproportionately small number of the law student population: 6 out of about 400 which is a very isolating feeling and does not reflect the community we are meant to serve as future lawyers. This is not division, this is inclusion.”
Holloman also noted that Black students will not be forced to use this application system.
“Students don’t have to put that they’re Black. This is only if they want to check the box and speak about their lived experiences without taking away anything from their personal statement of interest.”
Although the BLSA was primarily made for Black students, other BIPOC applicants have a chance to share their stories if they wish to do so through the ‘Special Facts related to Diversity, Equity, and Experience’ section of the admissions documents. This information will contribute to the Faculty of Law’s growing diverse student population and hopefully more diverse careers in law.
Holloman offered suggestions as to how non-Black students can support and provide allyship to our Black friends during these times.
“It’s important to keep the message going […] this is a real part of so many of our lives and it affects us every day — it’s not just a one-and-done. If you have Black friends, reach out to them and work to diversify feeds on social media so the algorithm doesn’t stick people into one single mindset.”
Any further questions about BSAP can be directed to Catherine Valestuk, Assistant Dean of Admissions & Recruitment firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any future or current Black Law students who need support can reach out to BLSA through Instagram (@ucalgaryblsa) or Facebook (Black Law Students’ Association- Calgary Chapter).