UVic Black Professionals Leadership Program celebrates Black History Month with $690K in new funding

 Students from the Black Professionals Leadership Program stand outside of the law building

As part of Black History Month celebrations, the University of Victoria is proud to announce that the Black Professionals Leadership (BPL) program recently received an award of $690,000 over three years to continue its programming. The Racial Justice Grant, awarded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia, was $92,000 more than the requested amount in recognition the importance of this impactful and holistic program. 

A holistic professional support program

Established in 2021 and soon after supported through a 2-year exploratory grant from the Strategic Framework Impact Fund (SFIF) of the University of Victoria, the Black Professionals Leadership program is a comprehensive support framework designed to enhance learning and promote wellness for Black students enrolled in a university program. The BPL offers facilitated workshops and seminars alongside a mentorship program dedicated to the long-term success of Black students. In collaboration with partners across Canada, including the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and members of the BC Bar, the BPL aims, among several goals, to implement UVic’s strategic priority to entrench “equity, diversity, inclusion and dialogue throughout the university community so that all members feel welcomed, valued and supported to achieve their highest potentials."

Since its inception in 2021, the BPL has offered three key services:

  • Faculty-Mentor support that matches Black law students to faculty mentors who offer culturally-sensitive learning support to ensure students excel in their core educational courses and programs;
  • Leadership-Development Seminars and workshops offering skills for life within and beyond law school, for the job market, business and financial management, and mental wellness. Students from across the University of Victoria are invited to participate in these seminars; and starting this academic semester –
  • Practitioner-Mentor support that matches Black students with legal practitioners.

An issue of access to justice

Black students often find they are among a very small minority in law schools and have not historically been welcomed into law school communities. The ratio of Caucasian to Black lawyers in Canada is extremely problematic, particularly considering that 8.6% of the federal prison population is Black, whereas Blacks make up only 3% of the Canadian population. This overrepresentation in the criminal justice system and underrepresentation in legal education is, notes Founder Dr. Iyioha, a serious access to justice issue that the Black Professionals Leadership Program is working to remedy.

In a report to the Canadian Bar Association, Dr. Iyioha writes:

“The Black Professionals Leadership Program addresses these challenges starting with a simple premise: Black students belong in law schools too and law schools ought to give careful thought to their needs and wellness.”

Thanks to the Racial Justice Grant, Dr. Iyioha and her team are set to further expand their services to meet the needs of Black students in a number of ways. For example, in addition to the above listed services, the new funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia will enable the BPL to offer Black students an expanded set of supports, including paid internships for students, providing financial support for students’ travel to conferences, offering subsidies to students interested in visiting student opportunities, and the funding of monthly counselling circles to cater to students’ mental and emotional health and wellbeing. Recognizing that a program of this type requires the support of Black faculty at various levels of operation, the BPL will introduce a funded BPL Visiting Scholar Initiative (VSI) so that Black legal scholars from other institutions can spend a semester at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law and work across a spectrum of academic and research interests related to the core goals of the BPL Program. “The Racial Justice Grant makes this unique offering possible,” Dr. Iyioha remarks. “We recognize that we need more sustainable solutions to addressing the institutional need for more Black legal scholars to support our students. But this is a great start to addressing this need, and it is certainly one that we hope will continue to enrich our students’ experiences as a long-term fixture of our program.

Reflecting on the historical nature of the BPL initiative, Dr. Iyioha notes: “We’re setting the stage for a historic opportunity for students to benefit from the unique supports and learning opportunities of the BPL program. This wouldn’t be possible without the Law Foundation of BC, which stepped up to support this ground-breaking program.”

There’s an obvious desire for more programs like the BPL, with UBC and Thompson Rivers University currently in discussion with UVic on what a BPL program at those institutions might look like. “We want Black students to have the support they need to succeed in the field of law, be it at UVic, UBC or Thompson Rivers University,” says Dr. Iyioha. With reference to the University of Victoria’s original SFIF mandate to the BPL – that the BPL program be propagated across the entire UVic campus, Dr. Iyioha notes, “We hope that by September, some of the other departments across UVic that we’ve been in talks with will have all the information they need to start their own BPL programs as well.”