The Canadian scholarship system is broken. There are almost no need-blind, full-need acceptances for talented students from low-income families, let alone students who are less talented but who work hard and have a desire to learn. The fact is that unless you are fortunate enough to win a handful of large scholarships in 12th grade, such as the Loran Scholarships, TD Scholarships for Community Leadership, or one of a few full-tuition university-sponsored scholarships, you are out of luck. If, for whatever reason, you did not volunteer enough or have the right kind of extracurricular and leadership qualifications on your application, you will have to go into debt to fund your education. And that may not be enough. Working a part-time job is not possible for all students, and it is ableist to suggest that all students who want to go to school must survive on four hours sleep and still get high marks because they are working.
At one point the Ontario government had in place a policy where OSAP for low-income students would be enough to cover the average cost of tuition for low-income students, but the Ford government got rid of this policy once they took office. The average cost of tuition is in any case still not the same as the actual cost of tuition, and this is still a mix of grants and loans. Ontario also has a Student Access Guarantee, which promises a bursary if you are completely broke so that you don’t have to drop out. However, it only counts specific expenses, and items such as a laptop or a car do not count as expenses. And, you are not allowed to have any savings to qualify- you must be at the point of putting everything on your credit card and going to the food bank. This is dehumanizing and does not reward students who choose to work part-time or in the summer.
All low-income students who do not receive large entrance scholarships are reduced to applying for piece-meal scholarships of $500-$5000 to help cover their expenses. The competition for these is high- I have no idea what the articles on the internet about millions in unclaimed scholarships are talking about. Over the last 18 months, I have applied to 17 scholarships and received none, and I am active in leadership roles, volunteering and extracurriculars, as well as maintaining high marks. I do believe that the scholarships go to deserving applicants, but there are so many students who get left behind by this process.
Canada also spends more per capita on higher education than nations where college and university is free. The Canadian Federation of Students (our national student union) shows here how Canada could make tuition free for all students. This is the fairest and simplest solution to this problem. All students who are hard-working and have a desire to learn should be able to achieve higher education if they wish. Education is at the core of democracy, and is critical to peace, equity and building strong communities. Why it is chronically underfunded at every level I cannot understand.
The scholarship situation for Canadian BIPOC architecture students is especially shameful. To put it simply, there are almost no scholarships for Canadian BIPOC architecture students. I know of one ENTRY scholarship from Dalhousie for Afro-Nova Scotians and two ENTRY scholarships from Waterloo for Black and Indigenous (this last one is new and in response to the second wave of the Black Lives Matter movement). Both are less than $5000. There are no full-need scholarships. And no scholarships specifically for BIPOC are available after you are accepted. The scholarships that are available are largely for things like “best sustainable project” or “most beautiful use of a material” or “top of your class”. This kind of merit leans towards privileged students who already have the financial support to focus 100% on their studies. If you don’t have to work, don’t have to take public transit, can afford nutritious food, etc. of course you are much more likely to win these sorts of awards. Not to mention that white professors within white supremacist curriculums in white supremacist colonial institutions of learning tend to prefer and reward work which celebrates whiteness and colonial values. If your work operates outside of these paradigms, and if you are vocal and question them in your classes, you are much less likely to be A) produce your best work and B) be valued even when you do produce your best work.
There current system excludes low-income and especially low-income BIPOC and LQBTQ+ students from getting an architectural education. We wonder why there aren’t more of us, why architecture is full of wealthy and elitist people. This is a huge part of the reason why. We simply can’t afford it.
It is shameful that our professional institutions such as the OAA, AIA, RAIC, and everybody else have not addressed this problem. The Architects Foundation in the United States offers $20,000 scholarships for BIPOC students who are in the middle of their education. This suggests that a Canadian equivalent is certainly possible. The Landscape Architecture Foundation also offers large and small scholarships, with specific scholarships for low-income and BIPOC students in both the US and Canada. If landscape architects can do it, so can we. Other professions such as Law or Medicine have worked hard to address this problem and put supports in place for marginalized and BIPOC students. Sure, doctors and lawyers make more money than we do, and they have more people. But we have done absolutely nothing.
Architecture can never claim to be in service of the public until the profession includes all of the people which it claims to serve. I don’t just want to be consulted at a community consultation, I want people who have walked in my shoes, who understand without me having to explain what it is to be Black, or what the feedback loops of poverty are, or what it is to be a woman to design for us. And for this to happen we have to start providing financial support to make it happen. Providing money for education is not a hand-out or a form of charity, just as parents feeing their children is not a form of charity. It is a form of duty, and it is an investment in our communities.
This is not a coherent op-ed, it is a rant, and it certainly does not address all experiences or perspectives of other marginalized students. Feel free to fact-check me. Drop a comment or send me a message if you have something to add. Until next time.