This past January, the McGill Black Alumni Association (MBAA) launched its newest initiative, the McGill Black Mentorship Program. Since the MBAA was founded in 2016, it has engaged McGill’s Black students by hosting several networking and professional support events. The Mentorship Program was spearheaded by MBAA co-founder Marilyn Ahun, (BA ‘15), alongside Shanice Yarde, Senior Advisor: Anti-Racism and Equity Education; Adrienne Piggott, chair of the Joint Board Senate Subcommittee on Racialized and Ethnic Persons; and Kavetia Dass, Alumni Relations, University Advancement. In creating the program, Ahun was motivated by the knowledge that she would have benefited from a mentor’s support during her undergraduate studies at McGill.
“Before graduation, I really had no idea how to prepare for life after McGill,” Ahun said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “I did not know what graduate programs I should be applying to, or if I should even be going to graduate school. I would have really appreciated having someone to bounce ideas off and someone who could tell me a general idea of what I should expect once I leave.”
The program, which began its first cohort in January, will pair current McGill students with alumni, staff, and faculty for an eight-month long period.
While McGill has a general mentorship program, Ahun believes that a space dedicated for Black alumni, students, faculty, and staff is important to account for their unique circumstances: MBAA events help Black students navigate and combat challenges such as anti-Black racism on campus. The mentorship program strives to create a more intimate and personal setting to address these and other factors.
“Whether we want to admit it or not, we experience life differently,” Ahun said. “There are some experiences a mentor could really help me with for my area of study, but their experiences won’t necessarily be the same as mine. I really wanted to create a program where alumni, faculty, and staff could help guide students as they navigate their lives in McGill and […] prepare for life after McGill.”
Mentors and mentees meet once at the beginning of the eight-month program and once at the end, though MBAA encourages students to connect with their mentors more frequently. Program organizers have created guidelines for both the mentors and mentees, but Ahun hopes that students and professionals will continue their relationships after the eight months.
The program is currently facilitating its first cohort of matches, with 100 students currently matched to over 80 mentors. While the majority of mentors are alumni, MBAA welcomes any staff, faculty, or even graduate students to become mentors. Mentors work in a wide variety of fields including medicine and healthcare, NGOs and engineering. The majority of current mentees are from the Faculty of Arts or Science, but MBAA hopes that the next round, set to launch in August, will see participants from even more fields.
The ongoing pandemic has forced the initiative to operate at a distance, with meetings between mentors and mentees mainly restricted to online platforms. While connecting virtually is not ideal, an online platform has likely increased participation in the program, as it has expanded its reach to participants located outside of Montreal. Though she is excited for future in-person meetings, Ahun is grateful for the online format, which has facilitated connections between Black students at McGill and alumni from around the world.
“Obviously this is not a great situation and we hope to be in person soon, but it is nice to know that people across the world who are a part of the McGill community can participate,” Ahun said.