By Eula Mengullo, June 13 2022—
In light of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary introduced a new admissions process for prospective Black law students. The Black Student Equitable Admission Process (BSEAP) was established in response to “Calls to Action: Addressing Systemic Racism in Law” — initiated by the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA).
In an interview with the Gauntlet, outgoing BLSA president, Keshia Holloman-Dawson, reflects on the achievements and highlights achieved by the BLSA and the BSAP. In June of 2020, Holloman-Dawson assumed leadership of the BLSA where her and two other Black law students wrote the Calls to Action and started all initiatives.
In its first year of implementation in 2020, the BSEAP received 53 participants with 19 receiving offers of admission. This number increased in 2021, with 58 applicants using the process and 18 receiving offers.
The BSEAP gives Black applicants the opportunity to self-identify and talk about their lived experiences related to equity, diversity and inclusion.
“In the [essay portion] of the BSEAP, we ask students to write about the barriers they’ve overcome or their connection to Black culture,” said Holloman-Dawson. This essay component is completely optional and applicants can choose to enter through the BSEAP program alone.
“It’s to show [Black applicants] that this is a door and it’s open for them. We want to have Black students here and this is a space where [we demonstrate] that we want them to choose our school,” Holloman-Dawson added.
Some applications may go through a second reading evaluated by the BSEAP sub-committee composed of Black legal professionals, professors, alumni and students. This process allows for a more equitable evaluation by eliminating unconscious bias and guaranteeing that their application has been fairly examined. It is also important to note that applicants applying under the BSEAP are still subject to the similar holistic admission process as any other applicant.
Beyond the university community, the BLSA has deepened their connections to other Black-led initiatives throughout the city and the province at large. Aside from working with undergraduate groups, they also boosted their ties with the Black Inclusion Association, Calgary Black Chambers and the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Association of Black lawyers.
In terms of student financial support, Holloman-Dawson discussed how the BLSA managed to negotiate over $100,00 in scholarships paired with the opportunity for internship and mentorship programs.
“One of the great things about these scholarships was not just the financial support, but also the availability of mentorship and internship opportunities,” she said. “So if a student is to get a scholarship, they also have the opportunity to work for whoever the donee is during the summer of the following year, which kinda gives them the opportunity to pay for the upcoming [academic] year as well.”
With regards to educational initiatives, the BLSA introduced anti-racism training and components of critical race theory as foundation courses in the faculty. They were also invited to sit in on any of the student advisory groups for faculty hiring to ensure representation and faculty diversity.
Recent BLSA projects have included promoting Black excellence and culture within the faculty and the city in general. An initiative led by BLSA member and Vice President Administration, Senait Yohannes, commissioned the portrait of Violet King — the first Black female lawyer in Canada — to be displayed in the Bennet Jones Theatre at the Faculty of Law. Additionally, Yohannes also led the commemoration of King’s residence in Sunnyside with a heritage plaque.
Other ongoing BLSA initiatives include their Black History Month events which hosts empowering and inspiring guest speakers and their annual drive for the Women’s Centre.
In her closing statement, Holloman-Dawson proudly remarked that this year’s incoming cohort has the highest scores — both in law school admission test and grade point average — in the last five years.
“This is a huge achievement and testament to excellence and diversity when this incoming class has the highest LSAT and GPA scores in the last five years. That goes to show just how amazing these students already were,” she said.
More information on the Black Students Equitable Admission Process can be found on the Faculty of Law’s website. To learn more about the Black Law Students Association, their events and initiatives, visit their webpage.