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Chair Chats: connecting through shared experiences

Posted by Jason Bremner on February 19, 2020 in News
Dr. OmiSoore Dryden (centre) with participants in her Chair Chats. (Danny Abriel photo)
Dr. OmiSoore Dryden (centre) with participants in her Chair Chats. (Danny Abriel photo)

“Is this everybody, or is this just me?”

These are the types of questions that Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, is helping Black students tackle with her monthly Chair Chats.

Originally intended only for medical students, Chair Chats now provide a forum for Black students in the health professions and graduate studies to openly discuss topics that come up in their classes, connect with their peers, and hear from those who have shared similar experiences.

“There are nuances to navigating a university as a Black student,” says Dr. Dryden. “They could be experiencing unconscious or implicit biases but may not have the language to articulate it.”

Building a sense of community

Since arriving at Dalhousie, Dr. Dryden has felt a responsibility to offer mentorship to Black students, evidenced by her involvement in the Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) program, and the Sophia B. Jones Mentorship Program.

Sitting in her office located in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dr. Dryden sounds at home while discussing the need to build a sense of community.

“A lot of our students are involved in community work,” she says. “I want them to think about how we understand our responsibility to the communities we live in and how we can be advocates to create more opportunities and greater access.”

With students attending across multiple faculties, the conversations are free-flowing, which allows students to make connections that would have otherwise been unlikely in the somewhat isolating world of academics.  

“It’s inspiring to hear everything people have gone through to get where they are now,” says first year medical student, Adrianna Broussard. “It’s comforting to know there are people to chat with who have accomplished so much.”

Food for thought

As busy as students are, the Chair Chats gives them the opportunity to relax in a safe space and share their experiences as Black students. Not only that, but every Chair Chat is catered, and Dr. Dryden always makes sure that no one leaves hungry – and if there are leftovers, they are going home with a student.

“I always joke that I have to bring fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Dryden. “I remember what it was like to be a student.”

Full stomachs aside, Dr. Dryden has made an immediate impact at Dalhousie. Her first year was meant to be an environmental scan to determine areas of importance and help guide the Faculty of Medicine’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion commitments. While this is taking place, she is already providing meaningful leadership and guidance to students.

“Dr. Dryden is amazing,” says Adrianna. “She’s such a good resource to have going through medicine, and I would recommend anyone from the Black community to attend a Chair Chat at least once.”

All Chair Chats are held from 4:00 - 6:00 PM at the Centre for Clinical Research (4th floor-5790 University Ave, Halifax) except the Chair Chat on February 27th, 2020 that will be held via teleconference in Room C#206 - CRC Building, with hot food and an opportunity for networking. RSVP