Moving from learning to action

Baneet Hans
Baneet Hans stands by the monument for the Komagata Maru in Vancouver, which lists the names of the mostly Sikh passengers who were denied entry to Canada in 1914. Photo: Jeff Topham

A wave of new donor-funded awards is helping to reduce barriers to education 

“I’d been reading and learning more on the subject of racial justice for a few years, but the upswelling of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 was the spark I needed to move from learning to action,” says alumnus Jeff Bay (BCom ’09) about his reasons for making a gift to UVic last year.

Jeff, who works in financial planning in Vancouver and has just become a father, chose to support the Class of 2009 scholarship at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, which is specifically for students identifying as Indigenous, Black, or a Person of Colour.

As I start to truly recognize my privilege in entering university, I want to help extend that opportunity to a range of students who don’t necessarily look like me, or come from my background. I hope awards like this help the business school become even more of a welcoming space, and help students to feel that doors which historically might have seemed closed are being opened.” —Jeff Bay

Jeff is just one of many donors choosing to direct his support in this specific way. As public awareness of pervasive racial inequality rises, many organizations and individuals are taking steps to address these issues through funding for post-secondary education. Consequently, a substantial number of new donor-funded awards established at UVic last year were aimed at promoting equity for students from groups with current or historical barriers to education.

Motivation to pursue a calling

Baneet Hans is the first recipient of the new Scotiabank Scholarship for Law students. As a first-generation Canadian, Baneet’s decision to pursue law is connected to her Punjabi Sikh identity. “My community has faced a lot of tragedies and atrocities, and the resilience and perseverance of my people is a large motivator for me,” says Baneet.

Baneet with her father
Baneet with her father, who instilled in her the Sikh concept of selfless service. Photo: Jeff Topham

Baneet is training to be a criminal lawyer specializing in wrongful conviction cases, and she believes this scholarship will help her build a career that supports marginalized groups and combats racism. “It takes the pressure off and makes it easier to pursue the avenues of work that I’m passionate about,” says Baneet. “There’s many ways to serve, but activism work is calling my name.”

Her desire to serve comes from the Sikhi value of seva, or “selfless service”, which was instilled in her growing up. Through volunteering at the Surrey Urban Mission and as a youth ambassador for the South Asian Mental Health Alliance, she is becoming increasingly aware of the interconnectivity of systems of oppression.

Baneet says the multi-year scholarship will benefit her now, by making law school more accessible, and in the future, by giving her the confidence and financial stability to hold employers accountable to their equity, diversity and inclusion promises. 

I can’t expect the face of the legal profession to change if I myself am not willing to occupy spaces that make me uncomfortable. This scholarship helps as my peers and I blaze a path towards a more diverse legal field.”—Baneet Hans

Supporting university initiatives

In supporting student awards such as these, donors are playing a key role in the university’s efforts to advance equity, diversity and inclusion at UVic.

“The university is actively working on reducing barriers to post-secondary education, through recruitment efforts, student supports, anti-racism grants, recognition, training and other initiatives,” says Acting Vice-Provost Susan Lewis, whose role includes leading anti-racism and equity initiatives in support of the university’s academic mission.

Thanks to the generous contribution of donors, UVic is establishing more scholarships and bursaries that directly support students from equity-deserving groups, helping to ensure their academic and personal success and reducing barriers to education.” —Susan Lewis