Written by: Harvin Bhathal, Peak Associate 

Editor’s note: Previously, this article attributed the quotation, “However, I had no idea that you could simply ask them for opportunities to work in their lab and possibly collaborate on a peer-reviewed publication,” to Chavoshi. This was said by Dr. Smith and has been corrected. 

SFU Science is raising $30,000 to create the first scholarship for Indigenous and Black graduates. $20,485 has been raised so far, and an anonymous donor offered to match all donations up to $15,000.

“Western science has a long history of colonialism and racism, which is still prevalent today,” said Ranah Chavoshi, a MSc candidate in the department of biological sciences. Chavoshi was interviewed by The Peak on behalf of the Biology Graduate Caucus’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee. The committee helped establish the scholarship.

As a result of systemic barriers, SFU’s Biology graduate program has had four Indigenous students and two Black students out of a total 160 students over the past eight years. Today, the department has two self-identified Indigenous students and no Black students.

These barriers include “socio-economic barriers, cultural barriers, and the subtle barriers of hostilities and microaggressions that exist in the academic space,” which are all “often compounded by the unique intergenerational trauma experienced within these communities,” said Chavoshi.

Dr. Nicola Smith, a Black alum currently working as a postdoctoral researcher in the department, noted the “high premium that potential graduate supervisors place on prior research experience and prior publications at the undergraduate level.

“As an undergraduate, I did not know anyone working in biological research except for some of my upper-level professors.

“However, I had no idea that you could simply ask them for opportunities to work in their lab and possibly collaborate on a peer-reviewed publication,” Dr. Smith said. “This sort of ‘insider knowledge’ about how science works is often a mystery to Black and Indigenous students that lack professional networks.” 

The Peak also contacted a Mississauga First Nation alum, but they did not respond by publication deadline.

Chavoshi said, “Ultimately, we want this scholarship to not only provide for students financially, but lead to other opportunities such as internships, mentorship, and professional development. We realize that, in order for individuals to be successful, it has to go beyond monetary funds.

“We know that, if we can reach the minimum endowment of $30,000, we can give at least one scholarship valued at $1,500 to an Indigenous or Black student per year. If we can reach $60,000, then half of the scholarship will be endowed and half will provide more immediate and significant funding for one student who will receive a full-ride scholarship, approximately $7,000 for one semester per year.”

The adjudication of the recipient(s) will be overseen by the committee. 

However, Dr. Smith was concerned about the scholarships’ long-term sustainability because its funding is primarily reliant on public donations.

“I’m a bit disappointed that SFU administrators did not propose and fund this scholarship themselves,” said Dr. Smith. 

“I’m a bit disappointed that SFU administrators did not propose and fund this scholarship themselves,” said Dr. Smith. 

“The university claims to want to take actions toward making SFU an inclusive and equitable environment for students from diverse backgrounds; financially supporting a scholarship such as this one would signal to members of these systemically marginalized groups that SFU is putting ‘their money where their mouth is.’”

Still, Dr. Smith believes “the creation of this scholarship is a step in the right direction,” and commended the committee “for recognizing this need and acting on it in a tangible way.”

The committee has worked with SFU’s biology’s department, faculty of science, SFU Science Advancement Team, and the associate dean of EDI in science, Dr. Mary Catherine Kropinski, in the development process. 

They also consulted with SFU’s Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry Group, and Solomon Reese, an Indigenous consultant, on the Terms of Reference of the scholarship “to ensure the processes surrounding how this award is dispensed is as equitable as possible.” 

Chavoshi acknowledged the scholarship “cannot address the complex layers of barriers that exist in academia. However, we are hopeful that it can address the financial barrier that some of these students may experience.”

Chavoshi added the committee has been connecting with graduate students from other science departments to share what they have learned. They aim to “help set up similar scholarships in other science departments.”

To donate to the scholarship fund, visit give.sfu.ca.