Story behind NSBE at Queen’s
Geneviève -The dean invited me to speak at the shutdown STEM panel which Thea was also part of and through that experience back in June I had heard of NSBE chapters in other schools and I was thinking of how great it would be to have at Queen’s to foster a community of black engineers and people who understand each other’s experiences. There is an intersectionality of being a black student and in such a demanding program at queen’s, and the representation is so low at queen’s that it had never started. There was a group of students who were interested in starting this group, so we got started in august with the mentorship program and have been running events since September. The ultimate goal is to increase diversity in the incoming classes at queen’s and also foster this community where students can know the other black engineers in their year and in the faculty.
Nicholas- Before Thea reached out to me and told me that Geneviève wanted to start the NSBE chapter I had never really even heard of NSBE before and wasn’t really in that realm where black engineers had some sort of organization where we could come and congregate and create a community for ourselves in engineering, which is already such a prominently white space. So yeah, it came about because the already small network of black students at queen’s came together over the summer because of all the traumatic experiences and the death of George Floyd and many other black people we saw happening and because we were roped into having these conversations, and that’s how I kind of got into the project.
Thea- The main reason that NSBE came to be was because there was such a lack of network within the community. The fact that Gen and I spoke on the panel back in June wasn’t because we were the most qualified to do it. It was because we were the only ones that the faculty knew and now with our network of now over 20 black engineers, we can find the most qualified person for the job. So, the story behind it really is that this came out of a necessity and it’s something that we don’t think we should’ve had to do but it was something that we ended up having to do in the end.
What is one thing you want people to know about NSBE?
Geneviève – We run one event per month, we collaborate with other universities, and we also promote all these events and opportunities on our social media. It’s @NSBE.Queens, and we also have a Facebook.
In what ways do clubs like yours help queen’s engineers?
Nicholas- It definitely helps queen’s engineers to focus on creating, I mean it’s really about visibility. One, we’ve created a space for black engineers at Queen’s to see that there are other students like them. And they have a space to access that support for people who look like them, which is something I know I missed a lot in 2016, coming back to Toronto and talking to people and being like “I have no black friends”. That was just kind of like the norm and I had to accept that, but it also provides a space for those outside of Queen’s eng looking in to see that there is a safe space for them. And queen’s engineering is a possibility for them because before, when we didn’t have this network and weren’t so visible, I’m sure black students looking at Queen’s eng were like “this isn’t a place where I could safely study because I don’t see anyone who looks like me and I don’t see any profs who look like me so who could I come to for support?”
Geneviève – I know that for myself, coming to tour queens’ I just didn’t see anyone who looked like me on campus, or even in the group who I was touring with. That was the main thing that was holding me back from choosing queen’s over McMaster and I remember thinking “oh I don’t know if those traditions are going to be for me. I really don’t know If I’m going to feel like I have a sense of community at queen’s.” But now I’m so glad that I chose this school because I’ve been able to feel like the queen’s engineering community is a home, and I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed those traditions. Like, I was a FREC and I think there is a really strong sense of community at queen’s, but I know that so many aren’t that lucky, and they don’t find that group of people that I’ve found, and I wanted this club to foster that and show people that, as nick said, that there are other people that look like them at queen’s. Also, I only knew of 5 black or mixed engineers in my year. That’s less than half a percent of our class. And I have been told by Jaden, who is also a part of our exec, that I was the only other black engineer he knew in 1st year. And that’s in a class of 750 students in 2018. So kind of going off of why I started the club was also because I was part of the Queen’s Black Premedical Association in first year, which from the first meeting, being in a room with people who looked like me, was really great because I’m interested in medicine and I could relate with those people on that level. But, no one else in that group was in engineering and so I definitely saw there was a gap there and not everyone would be interested in joining a premedical association to find people who look like them. Also increasing the diversity of the student cohort is really important especially in engineering we can’t be making decisions for society with a group that lacks diversity itself.
Thea- Honestly, they both said it perfectly this club helps people and engineers by creating a community and making people believe they can be engineers, so I think that’s really hitting home and exactly what we want to do.
What would be the goal of your initiatives at the end of the year?
Nicholas- For what I’ve been working on with one of our alumni’s Cole we’ve been working on having that mentorship program started. So in September we were able to reach out to upper year students looking to mentor first year students and create that initial connection. We also want to aim to have one event a month and those events will fall under our three pillars of academic support and professional development and fostering that community so we already had one event in early October and that was about transitioning to first year. That came from a Canadian experience and an international experience and we are planning to have an event at the end of November that is more professional development centered and that’s about bringing different companies together who have employee resource groups and they focus on black diversity. Kind of showcasing that and allowing students to come and ask questions, so kind of like a networking event.
Geneviève- yeah so with this being our first year, we are really working on those three pillars of professional development, academic support, and mentorship/community to foster a group of black engineers to be motivated and do great things in queen’s eng.
What is one misconception about your initiative?
Nicholas- One misconception is I think because it has the word black in the name that it’s only for black people. Obviously NSBE is a group that is created for black people, run by black people because we wanted to do that and because we needed to do that. Although the initiatives we run are going to be black centered, our first event it was open to everyone, for example. So, unless it’s specified that it’s a black-only space because that’s key to the event, all our initiatives are open to all engineers. Like for example with PD in November, it is a professional development event. It is black centered but it’s still an opportunity to network so it’s a space for people to take part. Our events are for black students and allies.
What change would you like to see How can other students help?
Thea- So basically, we want all black engineers to find and feel a sense of community at queen’s. That said, we find it’s not necessarily our job alone to create that sense of community. It’s something that all students can help us with. I think that it’s a community effort and it’s everyone that needs to make the difference. So, we definitely just want everyone to feel included here and I think that taking a look at your actions and seeing how they affect others is a good way to do that and also just being mindful that not everyone’s perspective and experience is the same is a great way to help us achieve our goal.
Geneviève – I really think the queen’s black academic society is a great resource for action tools and that’s who is kind of leading this and I think they are doing a really good job. We are more so geared toward engineering students and fostering that sense of community.
Nicholas- If you want to help give to black organizations speak up if you see something that is anti-black. It’s about having these conversations and being able to have uncomfortable conversations. I think that’s something we’ve missed at queen’s. Like, this level of normalcy that we don’t talk about race, especially in engineering, even though it’s such a white space. Marginalized students are so oppressed here but we’ve been ok with not discussing that so I think that if you want to help our organization as a student, start being more vocal about these things on campus.
What would you like to see the engineering faculty of queens do to help?
Geneviève – We are actively consulting with the dean and other faculty on other initiatives. Nick myself and some other engineers are on a task force and we meet with the dean. We are really excited about the work that’s being done there and really excited to continue it.