CAMPUS CLUBS: Creating a community for Black students at DC

Denicka Kent (right) at the Makeup and Making it event on March 6 at the Durham College Spa, getting her makeup done. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

A year ago, when Denicka Kent and her friends came up with an idea to form a club to support Black students on campus, she says it was a challenge to get people involved.

But Kent persisted and ultimately the Black Student Success Network Club (BSSNC) was created.

The Durham College Students Inc.-sanctioned club gives Black students a space to feel comfortable and have a dialogue with each other without judgment, says Kent, who serves as president of the 25-member BSSNC.

The group struggled coming up with a name, she says.

“We danced around the whole ‘Black’ thing. There was ‘Black Student Alliance’, then ‘Student Alliance’. We tried to erase the whole ‘Black thing’,” said Kent.

“It was almost like they feared saying we are here when everybody else can say and do it and it’s not an issue.”

If she was feeling the lack of community, she figured others may as well. Kent’s intent for the club is to provide an outlet for Black students who were feeling out of place.

“When Black students have hard times, whether it’s a crisis or even a celebration they’d have a place where they could feel comfortable to talk or express themselves where others would understand,” said Kent.

The Brampton native said before she came to study law at Durham College, she was in North Bay studying aircraft maintenance mechanics.

“It was a male-dominated school, white males.”

She realized living in a place like North Bay was different than living in the GTA. She felt there were obvious cultural barriers.

A student in one of her classes pulled a knife out as if to threaten her. She noticed the professor’s lack of concern.

“I turned to the professor and looked back at him. And then I don’t look at any of them, I drop my hands and I say, ‘so if I come to school tomorrow with a revolver will I be justified?’ And only then did the professor say to put it away,” said Kent.

She also said students would be talking about Black music and she found herself defending her culture.

People tell Kent her passion is admirable.

If Black students need help accessing and understanding what is available to them, she said BSSNC is a place they can come for support.

“I wanted Black students to have a place where they could feel they belong. I wanted them to have a sense of community in the school and I want them to walk away with a little bit more than just a diploma and a good experience. With some leadership and project management skills they can add to their resumes,” said Kent.

The BSSNC is not to be confused with Durham College’s Black Student Success Network (BSSN) ­– a group featuring Black faculty members supporting Black students.

Ashely Marshall at BSSN Make-up and Making it event on March 6, at the Durham College Spa Oshawa.
Ashley Marshall at the BSSN Makeup and Making it event on March 6 at the Durham College Spa in Oshawa. Photo credit: Tracey Bowers-Lee

“We wanted to make sure that Black students knew that they were represented,” said DC professor Ashley Marshall, executive member of BSSN.

Although it is sometimes difficult to engage students, Marshall said BSSN events have been popular with students.

However, she added BSSNC is very important because students can access funding from DCSI. BSSN is supported and funded solely by Black faculty.

BSSN has events once a month. They had a Makeup and Making it event March 6. Faculty paid for students to get their makeup done and get some interview skills.

“It’s common that Black people, especially Black women, we are taught that we are not beautiful, we are not capable. We’re not taught that self-care if a thing,” said Marshall.

“We’re taught to work hard and you’re not successful unless you’re tired and sleep-deprived. We try to implement some self-care and pampering yourself in to fight the good fight and be a good student.”

Marshall said just like the BSSNC, the BSSN is Blacks supporting Blacks.