University of Calgary launches new admissions process for Black law students

The University of Calgary launched a new process for Black students applying to its law program on Wednesday, saying it will provide “space and visibility for Black applicants to speak about their lived experiences and the barriers they have overcome.”

Applicants will be asked if they identify as Black, and if they do, they can complete an optional essay on their connection to Black culture and the impact institutional racism has had on them or their family.

Black applicants will have their documents reviewed by up to two members of the Black Students Admissions Process Sub-Committee, which includes members of the Black Law Students’ Association, Black law faculty, and the Black legal community, according to the U of C.

The process alteration comes in response to calls to action from the Calgary chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association.

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The school said the new process will reduce systemic barriers that lead to the underrepresentation of Black law students in the faculty and Black lawyers in the legal community, helping them feel welcomed and supported.

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This is not a free pass, Catherine Valestuk, assistant dean of recruiting and admissions at the law school, told host Jock Wilson on The Drive on 770 CHQR.

“Our Black students will be getting in on the exact same criteria as any other student will be. But by them being able to self-identify as Black and to provide us with some information about their lived experience, we are able to assess that along with everything else that we look at. That’s true for all of our applicants. We would look at life experience for them as well,” she said.

“But because we feel that whether it’s through unconscious bias, structural racism, whatever it might be, that our Black applicants may be being overlooked, we wanted to provide them with the space to be able to show us their lived experience so we can assess them on that.”

Keshia Holloman, president of the Calgary chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association, said it’s important to have allies, adding that the faculty has helped amplify Black voices in making this move.

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“A lot of times, the barrier for students is not being able to see themselves in the space. Of course, there (are) other barriers like finances, but when you don’t see yourself in a space, you’re discouraged from even applying to that area,” she said, noting that there are currently three Black students in the program.

“If you have a support system in an environment, it’s a lot easier to just make headway in general.”

Valestuk said that the faculty needs to do better on inclusion and earning diverse students’ trust.

“I think we are trying and we’ve been trying for a long time with diversity initiatives. I think that we might be more successful than some law schools in doing this, but that doesn’t mean we’re successful enough,” she said.

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“The province of Alberta has the third-largest Black population in all of Canada. There’s no doubt that Black students are underrepresented in law schools, not only across the country but here in Alberta.”

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