Ever since Curtis Carmichael left social housing and came to Queen’s, his desire to improve the lives of those who share a similar story to his has been unmatched.
Recently, Queen’s announced the ex-wide receiver will be the school’s first Greater Toronto Area (GTA) based undergraduate recruitment representative. In his role, Carmichael will attempt to reach out to youth living in under-represented communities.
The program is based on the newly-introduced First-Generation Student Admission Pathway, which offers an additional admission pathway to Pathways to Education students, Crown Wards and members of the Boys and Girls Club. Admission to the program further includes students who are the first in their family to go to university. While Queen’s upholds the normal academic standards for program applicants, benefits and financial aid are offered to students upon their transition to university.
Ann Tierney, vice-provost and dean of student affairs, explained this is another one of Queen’s efforts to attract under-represented populations at the University. The initiative follows many similarities to the Aboriginal Students Admissions Pathway —which was introduced in 2010 — with aims to attract and assist Aboriginal students in their efforts to feel comfortable to apply and ultimately attend Queen’s.
“We’re always looking at ways to reach out to increase and diversify the student population,” Tierney said. “Curtis will be gearing students to get them ready for post-secondary [education] and building relationships.”
Students from upper years will serve as mentors for incoming students, in particular supporting them with financial advice and integrating them into student life at Queen’s, Tierney added.
After growing up in social housing and being faced with barriers to academic success, this position comes with plenty of emotional connection for Carmichael. “When I look back on my childhood, I faced a lot of institutional racism, I faced a lot of systemic barriers because I came from that community,” Carmichael said. “I realized I was being treated differently.
Carmichael — whose advocacy for social justice has taken him on a bike ride across Canada to spread a message of racial equity — explained the most difficult barrier to overcome is the mindset that going to university isn’t a realistic possibility.
“Thinking about school …an easy barrier that’s pretty common is thinking that education at Queen’s isn’t accessible. It’s just a mindset,” Carmichael said. He explained that oftentimes the leaders in these communities — largely parents and teachers — stigmatize post-secondary education.
“Kids kind of mimic their leadership so they think, ‘Oh, it’s not possible to go to Queen’s.’ The goal is to show them that it’s not only accessible but equitable,” Carmichael said. He added once these kids realize that university is a possibility, other barriers can be addressed such as financial aid.
But if the students continue to be told that university isn’t a possibility, “You can be crippled by it,” Carmichael said.
This is precisely what he hopes to mitigate.
“I think that’s the key … finding someone to help you in the process, otherwise you won’t go down that road,” Carmichael said, alluding to the role he will play in encouraging these communities to think more deeply about university.
Though Carmichael is labelled as a recruitment representative with the goal of motivating students to apply to Queen’s, his hope is to be a mentor to these students.
“I let them understand that this is how the world works, but now they have to realize they have a decision to make,” Carmichael said. “I tell them, ‘This is how it works, and this is how you can get out of it.’”
While Carmichael is currently on a two-year contract to work with Queen’s, his long-term goal is to make the idea of university accessible for any students from less fortunate backgrounds.
“I really hope we can get off the ground and start improving things,” Carmichael said. “I just want to keep on moving in the right direction so Queen’s is truly equitable, diverse and inclusive for a whole bunch of communities.”
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