Initiative provides community space for EUC Black students

Two Black students walking inside on York's Keele Campus

Black students in York University’s Faculty of Environmental & Urban Change (EUC) now have a dedicated community space in the Health, Nursing & Environmental Studies Building (HNES) to use for meetings, workshops and informal gatherings. 

EUC's Black Community Space
EUC’s Black Community Space

The EUC Black Student Caucus spearheaded the initiative to obtain a dedicated community space, says Melissa Theodore, a decolonization, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) advisor for EUC. It is one of the objectives stated in EUC’s Black Action Inclusion Plan 2020-25. The space was created to support a community of students, staff and faculty, providing them with a location where they can engage with one another on themed discussions and promote Black excellence, while furthering a sense of community and connection, as well as student academic and personal success.

The equity committee at EUC first held a space equity dialogue to determine what students’ needs were before approaching Dean Alice Hovorka. The dean allocated HNES 248 to them, and the caucus held a launch event there on Oct. 5, 2023. The space has been open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays ever since. 

“The space is important because Black students felt it was necessary to have a place where they could speak freely, be themselves, meet other Black students and form bonds,” Theodore said.  

“It also adds to our recruitment and retention opportunities, because it should encourage more Black students to enrol in our programs. There is a low number of Black students in some of our programs, but the numbers are increasing and we want to keep the momentum going. What better way than for them to have their own space?” 

The space will also serve as the central hub for Black Mentorship Program initiatives, providing students with support in fostering self-discovery to establish personal and academic goals that align with their individual identities and aspirations. 

Theodore hopes to form a sub-committee of the equity committee to guide the space and ensure that its care and programming are sustainable. Currently, programming is led in partnership between EUC’s Alumni Engagement and Experiential Education teams, and work-study students Shaniah Hutchinson and Tomisona Oludairo. Both are EUC undergraduate students who have taken responsibility for programming under Theodore’s guidance. 

Tomisona Oludairo
Tomisona Oludairo
Shaniah Hutchinson
Shaniah Hutchinson

“It is supposed to be a space for students run by students,” Hutchinson said. “It allows students, faculty and staff to celebrate their culture and heritage and it fosters solidarity and social justice.” 

Oludairo noted, “We want to promote cultural resilience, organize events and manage programs. We are looking for feedback from students about events and programs and are reaching out to the Black community.” 

The space has hosted a number of events to date.  

In November, a panel of EUC’s Black graduate students from various programs assembled there to share information about their pathways into their graduate program and their experiences of coursework, funding, research and the graduate community. EUC graduate assistants were also on hand to answer questions about graduate programs. 

In January, Black Voices, a film screening and storytelling event, was a collaboration between EUC and Black Excellence at York. It showcased Black filmmakers, including York students and graduates. The films screened focused on social and racial justice issues, and the films were followed by a discussion. 

For Black History Month in February, the Faculty sponsored a panel called Navigating Blackness Within the Workplace. The panellists, alumnus Masani Montague (managing director, Masani Productions); Muna-Udbi Abdulkadir Ali, an assistant professor at EUC; and Miquela Jones, a second-year interdisciplinary social science student, offered their insights into the working world and shared strategies for navigating the workplace. 

When the Faculty’s Eco Arts Festival takes place, the space is slated to be home to a collaborative art workshop, jointly sponsored by the Black Caucus, Black Excellence at York and Eco Arts. 

When the space isn’t hosting events, it is open to students as a gathering place. They can sprawl on the bean bag chairs and sip a cup of coffee made in the nearby kitchen, chat with each other or read. 

“We want people to enjoy the space,” said Hutchinson. “It’s a comfortable, relaxing area and a place they can unwind.” 

To use the space after hours, HNES 248 can be booked free of charge by reaching out to the Office of Student and Academic Services team at