Alumni mentor Black students to foster excellence, social change
Sheridan alumni are sharing their knowledge, skills and lived experiences to inspire and guide Black students through their educational journey, helping them navigate the unique challenges many of them face in their path to success as persons of colour.
Through the Black Mentorship Program, a joint initiative of Sheridan Alumni and Student Affairs, Black alumni and students are paired up in mentor/mentee relationships that provide a safe space for students to learn while nurturing their self-esteem, confidence, and sense of belonging in their classrooms, workplaces, and communities.
Mentor Shakirat Simms (Practical Nursing – Intensive ’12)
Nurse, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
“It's important to have people to look up to,” says Shakirat Simms (Practical Nursing – Intensive ’12) who has been mentoring Black students since the program began in 2021. Simms is currently working as a registered nurse at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and despite her extremely busy schedule, stepped forward to be a support for the students.
The decision, says Simms, was based on her own experiences as a visible minority, and her desire to bring in positive change for current and future students. “When I was going through nursing school, I experienced lots of challenges in terms of having representation. I wasn’t sure whether I belonged or deserved to be where I was. I think it is really important to make people feel comfortable and confident, to let students know that whatever challenges they are experiencing, others have experienced them before, and that these challenges can be addressed. We can always make a change and do something better for the newer generation, especially for Black students,” she says.
Validating Black experiences of racism
Simms is ensuring that her mentees receive the support which she herself had lacked when dealing with discrimination. She says that allies of the Black community, no matter how strong their support might be, are unable to provide the understanding that comes from someone who is like them and has had the same experiences of microaggression and, more often, blatant racism. “If you’re not a Black person, you’d have to pay very close attention to pick up on microaggressions. It is helpful sometimes to have somebody who can hear your voice and validate the experiences that you're having, and that it’s not something that’s just in your head,” she says.
“We can always make a change and do something better for the newer generation, especially for Black students.” – Shakirat Simms (Practical Nursing – Intensive ’12), mentor
Drawing lessons from her own experiences when facing racism, Simms encourages her mentees to not suffer in silence if they feel discriminated against. “The students I mentor are interested in learning how to handle a situation where they may be given more challenging assignments than their peers. I encourage them to speak up. Maybe the person didn't realize there’s an issue, so call them out on it, explain the situation, and see what their response is.”
The Black Mentorship Program allows Simms to contribute meaningfully to the community. “If I can change someone’s mindset just a little bit, or contribute to them seeing that change is possible, it is worth it.”
Mentor Shantel Williams (Early Childhood Education ’08)
Teacher, Halton District School Board
It was the best news ever for Shantel Williams (Early Childhood Education ’08): One of her mentees, who had dropped out of her course last year, emailed her to tell her that not only had she re-registered after a chat with Williams, but also completed her graduation.
“She fell sick and couldn’t hand in her assignment. It kind of snowballed from there. She just didn’t want to continue and dropped out. I was really disappointed, and I told her she needed to complete the program, not just for the diploma but for herself,” Williams says.
“The program is a great opportunity for me to share my personal journey and to let others know that if I can do it, so can you. It gives me a chance to help others and be their support system so that they can accomplish their goals.” – Shantel Williams (Early Childhood Education ’08), mentor.
For Williams, her mentee’s return to the educational path and a career defines her own success as a mentor. Like Simms, Williams too is driven by a desire to help Black students reach their full potential, both academically and as persons of colour. Currently a teacher in the Halton District School Board, she has been a mentor for the last two years.
Helping Black students to reach goals
Williams is using the difficulties she faced while navigating education as a Black student to understand and connect with her mentees. She joined Sheridan as a part-time student in 2003 while working full time and could only complete the program in 2008. Nine years later, married and with a family to care for, she returned to school in 2017 to get her undergraduate degree from the University of Guelph-Humber. Just last year, she completed the two-year teachers’ degree to become a primary school teacher.
“The (Black mentorship program) is a great opportunity for me to share my personal journey and to let others know that if I can do it, so can you. It gives me a chance to step out of my comfort zone and to help others and be their support system so that they can accomplish their goals,” she says.
Recalling her own experience as a mature student, Williams says she was afraid to go back to school because she’d been out of the classroom for so long. “I felt intimidated. People going in for post-secondary education have many reservations: they may think they don’t have the ability to do it, or that they aren’t smart enough. I know that when I was in high school, I had to figure it out for myself. If I can help somebody now to become successful by reaching out to them, that’s what life is about. The more we do this, the more we will be helping to shape a better generation of students,” she says.
Believe in yourself, don’t give up on dreams
Williams’ experience of balancing her home with school plays a critical role in her interaction with Black students, who often have familial responsibilities such as caring for their younger siblings. “A lot of students have more than one thing going on and they’re probably working, or married with children, so they have to manage that as well as their studies. They face many hardships and challenges. Having somebody who understands the culture and what they're going through makes it a little better,” she says.
Williams reminds her students that they shouldn’t give up easily on their dreams. “As a mentor, it is important to keep students engaged and supported, to let them know that there are people around them who want them to succeed, that they need to believe in themselves, and that they can do it.”
Mentee Ervinia Monroe
Ervinia Monroe has been determinedly setting goals for herself and meeting them with a clear vision of where her life is going. A fourth-year student in Sheridan’s Honours Bachelor of Kinesiology and Health Promotion program, she plans to take an exam later this year to become a registered kinesiologist. That done, she’d like to take an accelerated nursing program for two years and then move on to get a masters of cardiovascular perfusion. She also works as a strength conditioning coach at the Exercise Intervention Research Centre at Sheridan and has already earned two previous credentials– a Personal Support Worker certificate and a Pre-Health diploma – both from Sheridan.
And yet, Monroe often doubts whether she deserves to be in the whip-smart set of students she studies with.
Gained confidence through mentorship
“I’m literally the only Black woman in my class. You don’t see a lot of Black people in the STEM community. Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to feel as if you belong there,” she says. Even though she loves her campus, Davis, for its inclusivity as a mosaic of different cultures and nationalities, she misses the same diversity in her classroom populated by students aspiring to make a career in the sciences.
Monroe joined the Black Mentorship Program to break out of her cultural silo. “All my friends in the program are white and I wanted to connect with someone like myself, who had been at Sheridan and who is now out in the real world, to see what their experience is like as a Black professional,” she says.
Monroe says she found an amazing mentor who inspired confidence and made her feel safe and comfortable enough to discuss issues surrounding her racial identity.
Learning how to deal with racism, standing up for self
“We developed a friendship where we’d talk about whatever is on our minds, but mostly about what it is like to be a Black woman in the current society, how we are represented in the media, Black History Month, and Black Lives Matter. It was nice to speak with someone who understands how I feel,” she says.
“I wanted to connect with someone like myself, who had been at Sheridan and is out in the real world now and to see what their experience is like as a Black professional.” - Ervinia Monroe (Honours Bachelor of Kinesiology and Health Promotion program), mentee
Monroe says thanks to her mentor, she is more self-aware now and is starting to build meaningful connections within her community. At the same time, she has learned a lot about dealing with covert or overt racism and how she should stand up for herself.
She is now trying to pass on to other Black students the same sense of self-worth and positivity that her mentor helped her achieve.
“When I see young, Black women and men, I now tend to spend more time with them and other people of colour, to give them more encouragement and confidence in themselves and their skills. That way we can start to see an increase in the number of people of colour and Black students in STEM programs.”
Mentee Chidiogo F. Anabidom (Practical Nursing ’22)
RPN, Trillium Health Partners - Mississauga Hospital
“That was a depressing time for me, and the program was quite challenging. I needed more time to turn in my assignments because of my lack of motivation,” she says.
Chidiogo reached out to her mentor who not only encouraged her in her studies, but also advised her to get the deadlines for her assignment submissions extended by seeking accommodation from the College administration.
Benefitting in academic journey
“My request was accepted, and my professors gave me more time to complete my assignment. That was really helpful,” says Chidiogo, an international student from Nigeria who went on to successfully graduate from the program and is currently working at Trillium Health Partners - Mississauga Hospital.
“My major challenge was the program itself. I found it difficult to cope with because I was transitioning from a different system back home. My mentor understood my problems and directed me to many resources that I could make use of.” - Chidiogo F. Anabidom (Practical Nursing ’22), mentee
Chidiogo says she joined the Black Mentorship Program to find resources that’d make her learning easier and also to benefit from the experience of others. She was paired with a Nursing graduate and found just the help she was looking for.
“My major challenge was the program itself. I found it difficult to cope with because I was transitioning from a different system back home. My mentor understood my problems and directed me to many resources that I could make use of. She also told me how I could always reach out to my instructors if I was facing a problem and needed a deadline extension,” Chidiogo says.
To know you are not alone
Not only did Chidiogo’s mentor help her navigate the practical difficulties she faced at College, but she also ensured that as a new international student arriving in Canada during COVID, she wasn’t isolated from the campus and other students.
“She informed me about the clubs and extracurricular activities that I could join and even though that was online, how I could perhaps meet a few people and follow up with the interaction. She also encouraged me to not be just a passive member and participate. That was very helpful to me,” Chidiogo says.
For Chidiogo, the mentorship program came through when she needed it the most. “The program is very beneficial, especially if the mentees are matched with someone in a similar field or with similar experiences so that they can find out what resources the person used to overcome some of their challenges. And to know that they're not alone in their struggles.”
Banner photo: Shantel Williams (Early Childhood Education ’08), who mentors students through Sheridan’s Black Mentorship Program, in her classroom. She is a teacher in the Halton District School Board.
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