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Art Project “Solus” Addresses the Pitfalls within Black Student Organizations at Carleton

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Carleton chapter.

Carleton University prides itself on an ethos involving equity and inclusion. In late 2022, the university changed the name of three on-campus buildings to reflect the diversity within its population of students and staff. One name in particular was meant to pay homage to the African, Caribbean and Black community at Carleton, as the student hub is now Teraanga Commons, a reference to a Senegalese name that embodies generosity and inclusivity.

Second year Criminology and Criminal Justice student Melissa Melbourne came to Carleton anticipating a vibrant community with plethora of on-campus spaces created by and dedicated to the Black students, but her expectations were not reality. Although there are several clubs created to uplift Black students, many do not represent those from the Caribbean diaspora.

“Because of our large African demographic, I feel like a lot of the spaces we do have for Black students are dominated by that community. Having conversations with [founders of the Caribbean Student Association] and hearing about issues they’ve experienced in other Black social clubs as well as my own went into why I created “Solus.”

In a similar discussion Melbourne had with a friend about their places in the Carleton student population, the idea for “Solus,” a multi-disciplinary art project, was born. It addresses the diversity of the school’s Black community and the work that needs to be done to uplift voices of the Caribbean diaspora. It blends audio and visual mediums to depict the stories and sentiments of Black Caribbean students who may not feel represented on campus.

Melbourne has drawn upon her background in drawing, painting and photography to create this piece. Split into three video montages, the first is titled “I Understand” and is based on a poem she wrote about the similarities between Black and Indigenous communities in Canada. Inspired by the content of a Criminal Justice Systems class at Carleton, the poem depicts a Black Canadian’s discussion with an Indigenous person about the unavoidable parallels between their history and lived experiences in this country, touching on settler colonialism, slavery and cultural genocide. It is read aloud by a group of Black students to create a seamless dialogue.

The second is a photo montage titled “Out of Many, One People,” inspired by the Jamaican motto highlighting the diversity of the island’s population. Melbourne’s goal was to build upon the idea of strength existing in unity, a belief that is normally frowned upon in Canadian society. The final montage is the project’s namesake and reinforces the pervasive division within the Black student community and how the varying ethnic backgrounds within our community informs how we interact with one another.

For all Black students to feel welcome and accepted at Carleton, Melbourne believes that more spaces should be created for anyone from the diaspora to share their perspective and culture. “The only way for it to be fixed is for us to give those from other cultures more room to be in leadership roles. It would create space for more voices to speak on things we all go through, as we are all Black at the end of the day.” Diversity in perspective is a pillar of academia, and that should be reflected in our extracurricular clubs, especially those that foster a sense of community for marginalized students.

Be sure to check out “Solus” upon its release!

Melissa White

Carleton '24

Melissa is the Senior Editor at Her Campus Carleton for the 2023-24 school year. She is a Psychology and English Literature student who loves all things arts and culture related. Her work has been featured in HerCampus and The Charlatan.