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NSCC employees help create a support system for Black advisors

Barbara Roberts stands inside an NSCC campus and smiles at the camera. Deanna Mohamed stands in an outdoor setting wearing a warm jacket while smiling at the camera.
NSCC Advisors Barbara Roberts (left) and Deanna Mohamed (right).

Two NSCC employees have been instrumental in establishing a community of support for Black and African Canadian post-secondary advising professionals in Atlantic Canada.

NSCC Advisors Deanna Mohamed and Barbara Roberts have helped bring together representatives from 6 post-secondary institutions to create the inaugural Black and African Canadian Student Advisor division of the Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services (AACUSS).

Both Deanna and Barbara are Student Services Advisors and African Canadian Supports, with Deanna working out of Pictou Campus and Barbara working out of Digby Learning Centre and Burridge and Shelburne campuses. They are co-chairs of the new AACUSS division.

Representation matters

Deanna and Barbara are part of a team of 6 people at NSCC providing cultural advising for Black and African Nova Scotian students and students of African descent. While they have colleagues they can lean on and learn from, they know some of their peers at other post-secondary institutions are sometimes the only Black employees in student advising roles. Through the formation of the Black and African Canadian Student Advisor division, they are bringing cultural advising professionals together.

"When you look around in your profession and you don’t see a lot of faces that look like yours, it makes you not want to engage. It makes you feel like you’re alone in your work,” says Barbara. “We knew we could sit and internalize that and feel angry and disillusioned about it, or we could build a table for people to sit at with others like them.”

Formalizing a support system, legitimizing a profession

They brought the idea of a new AACUSS division to their manager and received encouragement to pursue it. They set an ambitious deadline for developing a proposal and collaborated with other post-secondary institutions in Atlantic Canada to meet it.

Although the division is new, Deanna says there’s nothing new about Black advising professionals connecting and supporting one another.

“This has really been in the works for 10 years now. That’s when we first identified a need for a formal support system and a way to legitimize our profession. Through the new division, we can now be more structured, come together to network, learn from one another and gain access to resources. By creating our own table, we can offer Black advising professionals what we wish we’d had,” says Deanna.

Cultural supports at NSCC

Deanna, Barbara and their cultural supports colleagues at the College assist future and current students in various ways – from career advisement, to choosing a program, to applying, to accessing financial supports and more. They support students with equity issues such as experiences with racism and food scarcity, and they help students build self-advocacy skills.

“It’s very important for students to see themselves in the places and spaces where they learn, work and frequent,” says Deanna. “When we know there are others out there with the same racial background, who know how to move in the world and who get you and empathize with you, it makes a big difference.”

“Life isn’t fair and we can’t treat everyone the same – we don’t have the same entry point because our society doesn’t work that way. We can have all the best intentions, but that doesn’t mean that person coming in has the same experiences,” says Barbara.

Continuing the work which began with Archy Beals during his 27 years of service at the College, they build connections and relationships in the Black and African Nova Scotian community through cultural supports events and more.

“Being out in the community and building deeper connections means we’re the faces of NSCC in the African Nova Scotian community – people ask us questions about the College when we’re out doing our shopping or running errands,” says Barbara. “I once opened the door on a Sunday morning and a young man had brought his friend over and said, ‘My mom told me you work at NSCC – my friend wants to get in to a program. Can you talk to him?’ Sometimes that’s how our community works.”

Going farther, together

“We strategically wanted to become co-chairs of the Black and African Canadian Student Advisor AACUSS division using an African Nova Scotian practice of being in this together, acknowledging we can’t do it alone and going farther, together,” says Deanna. “We’re not just making these changes for us, which is the exciting thing.”

Deanna and Barbara have advice for future and current students.

“There are a lot of moving pieces when it comes to post-secondary education. It’s easy to focus on one thing – like paying tuition – while forgetting about the other pieces of the puzzle, like transportation, finding a tutor, etc. Be sure to consider and engage in all of the supports available to you,” says Barbara. “Reach out early and often. We’re here to support and assist you, but we can’t if we don’t know what you’re going through.

Access cultural supports

NSCC offers culturally-responsive supports to future and current Mi’kmaw and Indigenous students and/or Black and African Nova Scotian students and students of African descent. Access cultural supports