Diversity is a hallmark of York University’s student body, but that diversity isn’t well-represented in the arts programs, either among students or faculty, says Gloria Mampuya, a fourth-year theatre major from Quebec, and Marvin Darkwa, a third-year screenwriting major from Toronto.
“Sometimes, I can feel really out of place in a white space when I’m the only Black person there,” said Mampuya. “It can be weird and intimidating.”
Darkwa remembers his orientation day at Winters College, York’s arts college. “There were 500 kids, and I was the only Black kid I saw,” he said. “That’s something that needs to be changed.”
Each of them separately discussed with Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng the need for a way for the IBPOC (Indigenous, Black and People of Colour) community at the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD). Bay-Cheng brought them together with Shenel Williams, a third-year dance major, and the three of them founded the IBPOC Artists Association at AMPD, an organization that offers IBPOC students a platform and a place to build community.
“This is an idea I’d had for about two years, but I didn’t know how to make it happen,” said Mampuya. “During that time, I was in communication with different people in my department about issues of equality and inclusion that I found missing in the theatre program. A lot of the curriculum is very Eurocentric and other students don’t feel represented.”
Mampuya and Darkwa have found that many AMPD students are subject to race-related micro- and macro-aggressions and discrimination and are left feeling isolated.
“Discrimination is built into the system,” said Mampuya. “The association provides a space where students can speak about it and feel heard and supported. Every time I wonder if there is really a need for this group, there’s always confirmation. We want to work toward systemic change, because prejudice does cause real harm.”
Darkwa believes strongly that a diversity of voices is important at all levels within AMPD and believes the association can help make that happen. “If you exclude minority groups from the greater conversation, you miss out on important perspectives,” he said.
Once the founding trio came together, Mampuya immediately dove into the organizational aspects of creating an association and has been writing a constitution that will allow the group to be recognized as an official York University student group. Meanwhile, they created an association executive team that includes one representative from each AMPD department, along with a secretary, a chief returning officer, an ombudsperson and a director of promotions.
“The main goal of the association is to ensure that IBPOC voices are represented in every aspect of decision-making in AMPD,” said Mampuya. “We are acting as a bridge between the students and the people in power.”
“There are certainly issues we’d like to raise and discuss,” added Darkwa.
The group is planning to launch formally this fall with a meet-and-greet event, whether it takes place in person or online.
“It’s nice to be with peers who have gone through similar experiences,” said Mampuya. “You can just be yourself. I want this association to succeed so badly because I know how difficult it can be to be alone with only a few students for support. An association will bring a lot more influence and student activists will be able to speak up for all of us. It will also allow us to collaborate and create multi-disciplinary works.”
Although she is graduating and won’t be on campus to see the association blossom, Darkwa, Williams and the rest of the executive will carry on.
“We’re building a foundation so that the association will be sustainable and have longevity,” said Mampuya.
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus