June 15, 2023

Inaugural Black Scholars Reception celebrates vision, courage and inclusive excellence

OEDI-organized event spotlights Black experiences and voices
Inaugural Black Scholars Reception at UCalgary celebrates vision, courage and inclusive excellence
Attending the reception were members of the Executive and Senior Leadership teams, deans, faculty members, scholars, staff and students. Ebenezer Belayneh

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver (1864-1943), African-American scientist and inventor

Energy and joy filled MacKimmie Tower conference rooms on May 16 as the inaugural Black Scholars Reception: Celebrating Vision, Courage, and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Calgary was hosted by Dr. Malinda Smith, vice-provost and associate vice-president research (equity, diversity and inclusion).

The event gathered Black scholars, faculty, staff and students in a meet-and-greet with UCalgary senior leadership and deans for an afternoon of connection, networking and celebration. Highlights included a performance from Calgary Poet Laureate, Wakefield Brewster, and a DJ performance from UCalgary geography student, DJ STZ. 

Envisioned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Reception was the first opportunity for the campus community to gather and build on the institutional commitments that have been led by Smith and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to combat anti-Black racism, foster Black inclusion, and advance equity, diversity, inclusion (EDI) and accessibility. The event highlighted the many initiatives for Black scholars on campus, sharing stories of research and teaching excellence, courage and perseverance, and reaffirming UCalgary’s commitment to creating spaces and opportunities for the Black campus community members to thrive.

“We are starting something special in our campus’s equity and anti-racism journey to recognize and celebrate the voices and actions of Black trailblazers and changemakers who have and continue to make our campus a welcoming and enabling space that sponsors Black scholars, cultivates and mentors their talents, enriches learning through African Studies, and supports the next generation through scholarships and fellowships,” says Smith. “Through events such as this reception, we also recognize and acknowledge the socially and culturally heterogeneous cultures that are present within our campus, as in the wider community.”

Inaugural Black Scholars Reception at UCalgary celebrates vision, courage and inclusive excellence

President McCauley connects with students during the reception's meet and greet.

Adrian Shellard

The event was attended by President Ed McCauley, Interim Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Penny Werthner, and Vice-President (Research) William Ghali, among a number of deans and members of UCalgary’s Executive and Senior Leadership teams. For McCauley and Werthner, this event symbolized UCalgary’s ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence and Black flourishing, while providing a social opportunity to connect and to listen and learn from the more than 50 Black scholars, faculty, staff and students in attendance.

“It was truly heartening to see our UCalgary community come together to celebrate how we have demonstrated our shared values of equity and inclusion,” says McCauley. “The Black Scholars Reception allowed us to continue the momentum of the Scarborough Charter, the EDI Dashboard and the Dimensions EDI pilot “Construction” award recognition, and we will continue to foster a campus where all can flourish.”

Adds Werthner: “The reception touched on only a few of the many Black initiatives led by the scholars, faculties, staff and students on campus who are transforming our campus with their work. This event allowed us, as an executive leadership team, to remove the formality that often exists within our roles and provide space for authentic connections with Black members of our campus community. I applaud Dr. Malinda Smith and the team at the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for hosting a terrific event.”

Other organizers included Dr. Jennifer D. Adams, PhD, an associate professor and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Canada Research Chair in Creativity and STEM Education; and Dr. Uchechukwu Umezurike, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts.

Inaugural Black Scholars Reception at UCalgary celebrates vision, courage and inclusive excellence

Penny Werther, interim provost (academic), catches up with student Victory Abraham.

Adrian Shellard

For Smith, this event was long overdue in both the sense of timeliness and context. “As we start to emerge from the pandemic, and health restrictions are lifted, we finally could meet safely and celebrate in person,” Smith says, adding the event highlighted the often-underrepresented Black voices and experiences mobilized during the racial reckoning that followed the death of George Floyd in 2020. “The event also signals our need to continue to work to remove systems and barriers that prevent our university from fostering and creating an environment where Black scholars feel supported and empowered to excel.”

Smith’s sentiments were echoed by triple degree-holder and President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership-recipient Ebenezer Belayneh, who attended and spoke during the event.

“The burden of carving out spaces for Black students to feel welcome at UCalgary has consistently fallen on the shoulders of Black students, said Belayneh, BA’21 (Global Development Studies), BA’21 (Economics), MPP’22. “This inaugural reception allowed me to highlight the work of Black student leaders who have asserted their need to see Africans represented in every teaching and learning space of this university.

“These events help us recognize that we cannot cultivate the next generation of global leaders without producing knowledge that centres Black perspectives. Through the sharing of our efforts to expand the African Studies minor program, we hope UCalgary will continue to honour Africa's indispensable role in shaping our 21st-century world. It is through the embrace and celebration of this knowledge that we unleash the full potential of our students.”

With the momentum generated by this successful reception, UCalgary plans to make the Black Scholars Reception an annual event for years to come.

Inaugural Black Scholars Reception at UCalgary celebrates vision, courage and inclusive excellence

Emcees Jennifer D. Adams and Uchechukwu Umezurike join reception host Malinda Smith in highlighting the various Black-led initiatives on campus, during the event’s formal presentation.

Adrian Shellard