Universities open lounges for Black students

Toronto Metropolitan U Graduation

Spaces designated for students from marginalized backgrounds are spreading across Canadian universities, as officials say they are a necessary and overdue response to decades of racism on campus.

Toronto Metropolitan University officially opened a space late last month for students who self-identify as Black.

Cheryl Thompson, an associate professor at the university, said the need for such lounges became increasingly clear following the death of George Floyd, whose 2020 killing by a white Minneapolis Police Department officer sparked protests worldwide.

“Something did shift in 2020 institutionally … when the world witnessed the inhumanity in that George Floyd video,” Thompson said about the Black man who was seen in a video using his last few breaths telling the officer kneeling on his neck, “I can’t breathe.”

“The demands Black students have been making for decades have finally been heard.”

open lounges

Eboni Morgan, a spokesperson for TMU’s lounge, said the decision to create the room stemmed from a recommendation in a 2020 Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report that surveyed Black members of the school community. It found they continue to face systemic racism by institutions and their peers.

The lounge — equipped with a kitchen, other facilities and a mural painted by a Black student artist — can fit up to 25 students at a time.

Across the city, York University — Canada’s second-largest — launched a lounge for Black students in January. The University of Winnipeg’s BIPOC lounge for students who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour opened in 2018.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) launched a space for Black male students last year, said Ainsley Carry, a university spokesperson.

She said the pilot program has been well received.

“We recognize there is underrepresentation of the Black population at UBC, and that Black community members may feel isolated or face challenges not experienced by their non-Black peers,” Carry said.

“That is why UBC is taking steps … to help foster a sense of belonging … for Black community members.”

Providing students with safe spaces is crucial to fostering their development, she said.