By: Marshall Chapman | November 13, 2023
“We’re a minority in a majority. We’re trying to create a collective group to take control over a situation where we currently have no control,” says Mahalah Wantang, a second-year Cameroonian and Jamaican social work student.
“I noticed I was a minority in my first year.” It’s a sad but true statement made by Mahalah and affirmed by her friend, Deborah Baraka, a Congolese first-year health science student. Mahalah and Deborah are co-leaders of Redeemer’s newest student group: the Black Student Union.
“I noticed there isn’t a wide variety of diversity here at Redeemer—it’s confusing for new students. Coming to Redeemer [from York University in Toronto] was a big change. If I’m feeling this way, then other students must be feeling the same way. I want to find a way for new students at Redeemer to feel a sense of diverse community,” says Deborah.
The goals of the Black Student Union are to unite black students as a group, showing them that there is a community here at Redeemer amongst a strong white and Dutch culture, and encourage black students to get involved and do things with friends, not alone. “Professors can establish a very Dutch, Christian, white environment that feels very exclusive. I felt like a fish out of water last year,” says Mahalah.
On the difficult topic of what the university can do on its end to improve the lack of diversity on campus—amongst students, faculty, culture, and curriculum—Deborah adds, “Even in my classes, if we bring up Africa or slavery, people look at me because I’m the only black student in the class.”
Both Deborah and Mahalah add that the word “black” itself needed to be de-stigmatized. “We need to open more avenues here, avenues that aren’t solely available to white, Dutch people.”
“I have heard that many black students feel the same way and that many drop out after one year at Redeemer,” says Deborah.
Mahalah said that Deborah and their friend, Ruth Adovelande, organized the creation of the group, and she decided to get involved as a co-leader. Her main drive going into the position as co-leader is, “I am black, but I’m also mixed; I’m constantly reminded of that. It’s difficult finding a community amongst black people at Redeemer, especially as someone who is mixed.” Mahalah felt God calling her to a leadership role to serve students who are black and allow them to feel like they belong here at Redeemer.
One very important note to highlight that both leaders emphasize is that the group is not political, and has no interest in becoming political. Deborah states, “We are not political. We are trying to unify students through their unique experiences and perspectives. We are here to foster black students.”
“Don’t be afraid to say the word ‘black’,” says Mahalah. “You can acknowledge other people and races without being offensive. Let’s look at both perspectives and ask ourselves: what are we missing?”
The Union encourages Redeemer to reach out to black students and consult them on ways to improve the experience for students of various ethnic backgrounds. The co-leaders emphasized that change starts with students, but change needs to be picked up by the university.
Ultimately, the main driving point for the importance of having a Black Student Union active on campus is simple. Mahalah says, “Why is there a Black Student Union? We have so many clubs at Redeemer, clubs that unite people with specific interests and common traits. This group is black, and we’re celebrating that.”
The Union hosts two social events a month, ranging from a wide variety of events like karaoke nights, worship nights, motivational speakers, devotion and prayer nights, and more. They eagerly await Black History Month in February where they hope to hold a multicultural talent show and other events for all students to partake in, to help educate and bring awareness to black students on Redeemer’s campus.
“Our social events are open to anyone, regardless of background. We want to make students aware of stigmatized issues around race, as well as act as a safe space for black students.” Feel free to check them out on Instagram for more updates: @redeemer_bsu.
As Deborah and Mahalah indicated, black students aren’t the only group of students that feel isolated or marginalized at Redeemer. One can hope this step forward encourages other groups to take similar steps toward progress and inclusivity for people of all backgrounds at Redeemer.