Former AMS Social Issues Commissioner Bunisha Samuels awarded legal scholarship to pursue anti-racist efforts

Samuels credits her experiences at Queen’s as critical to her success

Samuels graduated last year.
Supplied by Bunisha Samuels.

Bunisha Samuels, ArtSci ’20, has been named one of the first recipients in a new Scotiabank program for law students intending to pursue anti-racist advocacy in their legal careers. 

Samuels, who is currently a first-year student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, is one of two recipients in Scotiabank’s new Program for Law Students, which has committed $500,000 to award to students over a period of five years. 

Though this year the award was given to Samuels and Baneet Hans, a student from the University of Victoria, law schools across Canada will be awarded funding on behalf of Scotiabank to support students who hope to pursue anti-racist advocacy in their legal careers. 

The application process focused on applicants’ experiences and previous advocacy work with an emphasis on experience in equity and anti-racist work within their communities, according to Samuels.

Samuels noted she focused on her prior work bringing racialized experiences into conversations about sexual violence, food insecurity, creating accountable spaces, and more that include racialized individuals to better represent these individuals.

“A lot of times when you look at the faces in the room with these experiences, it predominantly neglects to acknowledge racialized experiences,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “It’s super important that we talk about things like sexual violence on campus where a lot of racialized students don’t feel like they have a safe space to be able to talk about their experiences because they don’t feel represented within the system.” 

Samuels further credited her motivation for pursuing a legal career to wanting to promote the representation of racialized voices in the legal system and alleviate the isolation endured by racialized individuals who go through it.

“For me, in terms of short-term goals, I want to address that gap, to call attention to that gap, to be in conversation with that gap,” she said. 

“Even when we talk about anti-Black racism within education, I know for me that law school has been very much so about incorporating [these conversations] into singular topics or singular workshops, and I think the problem with that is it makes it seem like anti-Black racism or anti-Indigeneity is in a silo; instead of understanding how these things are connected to the entire system.”

Samuels, who studied political science and global development at Queen’s, held the position of AMS Social Issues Commissioner (SIC) during the 2019-20 academic year. She credits this experience as being critical for her development in understanding how institutions are held accountable in promoting safe spaces for racialized students. 

“Being SIC was important because it helped me to learn all about the things I needed to continue to educate myself on. It also presents a very strong systemic level analysis of how post-secondary spaces work and how they create spaces,” she said.

She pointed to a couple of events that happened on campus last year as examples of howpost-secondary schools approach systemic change, including the COVID-19 party and the Chown Hall incident.

“[W]hen we talk about Chown Hall: are we continuing to still talk about the ramifications or procedures or steps we’re taking to create more safe space for BIPOC students?” she said 

“[L]ast year it was a huge deal; it was all everybody talked about, and it was seen as being big on the agenda of the AMS, the SGPS, as well as administration. My question is where have these conversations gone afterwards, and how are we, as students, holding our academic spaces and institutional spaces accountable?”

Samuels was also involved with the African and Caribbean Students Association (ACSA) throughout her undergrad, sat on the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity, and was involved with the Black History Month Council, Queen’s Female Leadership in Politics, and Queen’s National Model United Nations Conference.

Samuels is currently involved in the Black Law Student Association and has helped organize events for Black History Month. She’s also organized campaigns and events detailing Black resistance and what it means for different people. 

“For some of us, it just means being present in law school and being present in these spaces where power is held,” she said.

“For others, it means speaking out against the system and having our voices heard. This includes activism and work on the ground and trying to incorporate all these different perspectives into a unique narrative for Black History Month this year.” 

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