Special to The Labradorian
The Human Rights Commission has granted special program status to Memorial University’s aboriginal designated seats program.
Maura Hanrahan who is the special adviser to the president for aboriginal affairs says the special status protects both the designated seats and the program as a whole from any challenges.
While the seats for aboriginal students are now protected by the Human Rights Commission, Hanrahan said students must still meet the same admissions criteria as non-aboriginal students.
The purpose of the seat designation, she said, is to encourage aboriginal students to consider all programs offered at Memorial including those that they may not be aware of such as kinesiology, physical education and environmental studies.
“We know that there are organizations and governments trying to build skilled workforces. … So it would be wonderful for students from Labrador to get into these programs,” Hanrahan said during a recent telephone interview.
If aboriginal students enroll in these programs, they may return to the Big Land after graduation. Hanrahan uses the opportunities within the Nunatsiavut Government as an example of how studying at Memorial is a win-win situation for the student, the government and the community.
“They are building a government and they recognize that they need an Inuit workforce, Inuit managers, Inuit leaders who can develop the appropriate programs for their people. And we are hoping we can contribute to that in some way.”
The same scenario applies to NunatuKavut and the Innu Nation, she said.
Hanrahan said that designated seats for aboriginal students will be available in all of the university’s business programs as well as in other areas such as medicine, commerce, nursing, police studies, the nurse practitioner program and in the visual arts program at the Grenfell campus in Corner Brook.
There are also designated seats in every program at the Marine Institute, she said.
The faculty of medicine has two designated seats, she said. One is currently filled by an aboriginal student from Labrador. An aboriginal student from the island portion of the province is filling the second seat.
In order for the application to the Human Rights Commission to be successful, Hanrahan said, Memorial had to prove that aboriginal people were historically disadvantaged and remain disadvantaged. Some of the areas outlined in the application process include education levels, housing and income.
The application process also had to indicate how the designated seat program would help improve the lives of aboriginal people who studied at Memorial.
“We are a university with a special obligation to the people of the province and that includes our aboriginal people and this is one way of trying to live up to our obligation,” Hanrahan said.
The designated seat program is one of numerous initiatives Memorial has implemented to help aboriginal students. The university has a new scholarship program as well as a student lounge for aboriginal students at both its St. John’s and Grenfell campuses.
Hanrahan, who led the application process to the Human Rights Commission, with the help of the university’s general counsel Karen Hollett, said she’s been getting calls from both parents and students about the seats.
“It’s already generating some excitement in the community. And we are pleased about that.”
Hanrahan encourages aboriginal high school students or other aboriginal people thinking about post-secondary education to contact the Office of Student Recruitment through Memorial’s website – www.mun.ca.
Lucy Brennan, program director of the Post Secondary Student Support Program (PSSPP) with the Nunatsiavut Government, said the granting of the designated seats for aboriginal students provides a greater opportunity for aboriginal students to access their professional program of studies.
The university has opened a lot more doors for aboriginal students, Brennan said.
Over the past few years, she said, Memorial has improved the services offered at its Aboriginal Resource Office, hired a special adviser to the president for aboriginal affairs, designated seats in various faculties for aboriginal students and has implemented an ambassador program.
Brennan said Memorial is also developing a transition program for aboriginal students and plans on introducing new programming and courses in aboriginal studies.
The initiatives are helpful but more still needs to be done, she said.
“We are very happy with the direction MUN is taking, and while these activities certainly provide more services and opportunities for aboriginal students, there is still a lot of work to be done in improving programming and services,” Brennan said.