Expanding community connections for Black students to flourish

Waterloo student fosters inclusivity through health studies and student clubs to enhance the experience of Black life in Canada

By Angelica Marie Sanchez University Relations

Emelia Assigbey, a fourth-year Health Studies student, has had many aspirations that she’s wanted to explore. She envisions a future in public health, driven by the goal of ensuring equitable and accessible health care. But she also loves the idea of planning and attending events that celebrate life, different cultures and happiness.  

In her second year at the University of Waterloo, Assigbey discovered she could combine her two passions with a degree in Health Studies and a minor in Event Management, to fulfill her dream of becoming a health-care provider while planning a few weddings on the side. 

As a full-time student, Assigbey meticulously plans her schedule weeks ahead, balancing her studies and her role as president of the UWaterloo African Students’ Association (UWASA) .  

"Being president of the UWASA is something that I’m very proud of because I remember in my first year, I was looking up to the president at the time and I told myself ’I want to do that,’" Assigbey says. 

UWASA provides African students with connections for volunteer opportunities and scholarships, and to organizations and companies looking to hire undergraduate and graduate students. With many of the members being international students, it can be difficult to know what type of opportunities and programs are being offered and UWASA bridges that gap for Black and African students. 

As president, Assigbey also manages UWASA’s The Real African Culture Exhibition Showcase (TRACES), an annual event that celebrates and promotes the talent of Black and African students at Waterloo through various artistic mediums, including plays, poetry, singing, dancing and modelling.  

"The big thing we did last year was film a movie on a small-scale around the theme of ’Yiimuka,’ which in Uganda means to rise up or to stand up from adversity," Assigbey states.  

"This year, we’re doing ’Ayo’ which means in the Yoruba language. We want to capture the meaning of joy through different stories, songs, poetry and dance that specifically portray Black and African joy. UWASA is about community building and creating a safe space for artistic expression - that’s what we want to convey to the audience and just have a good time." 

Assigbey hopes that student clubs and societies receive more public support, especially those with missions tied to marginalized communities that play a pivotal role in redressing anti-Black racism and removing structural barriers to equity, inclusion and social justice. 

Universities and colleges are central to enabling the fulsome realization of human potential and thriving. The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) has more than 200 student clubs and societies that offers students a safe space for creative expression and advocacy. 

Addressing racial inequity in access to health care 

As a Health Studies student, Assigbey was a strong advocate for addressing the health and safety concerns of minority groups around the COVID-19 virus and vaccines. She believes that informing people from minority groups can play a significant role in building their trust and confidence towards the health-care system. 

Assigbey’s  passion for public health has fuelled her drive to support the wider community to ensure that health care is equitable and accessible for all. Her main research area is focused on fixing the patient care communication gap. By helping patients understand the medical language given by their health-care providers, they can also have a better understanding of their health and well-being. 

"I’m very passionate about the fact that people don’t always have access to information about their health and I’m hoping to address the issue of accessible and equitable health care for all," says Assigbey. 

Assigbey, who has sickle cell disease (SCD), also wants part of her research area to focus on how to help families with children who have SCD access resources and treatments. Assigbey will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in Health Studies with the goal of obtaining a Master of Public Health degree in the not-too-distant future.  

Join Assigbey and UWASA at the TRACES 2024 event 

On Saturday, February 10, TRACES 2024 will be held at the Hagey Hall Humanities Theatre from 6 to 9 p.m. This year’s theme is "Ayo" which translates to "joy" in the Yoruba language - a language spoken in West Africa. Join UWASA as they expect an eventful evening celebrating happiness and appreciate the more positive moments in life. 

Ticketholders will have access to the after party that will be held at Federation Hall. Funding for this event was generously provided by the Arts Endowment Fund. 

Event details

Date: Saturday, February 10 

Cocktail Gallery: 4:30 p.m. 

Showcase: 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. 

Location: Hagey Hall Humanities Theatre 

The University of Waterloo will co-host the 2024 Scarborough Charter Inter-Institutional Forum on May 9 and 10 in partnership with Wilfrid Laurier University. This national symposium brings together senior administration, faculty, staff, students and members of the Black community. The forum’s theme, Bridging Black: Building Connections for Black Flourishing , aims to bridge the gaps in learning and action and build stronger connections between the different stakeholders in higher education.