‘This scholarship made me feel like I’m here for a reason’: New social work graduate award invests in Black and Indigenous studentsCategories: Alumni + Friends, Awards & Recognition, Students
Favour Aina wants to better understand the factors causing second generation immigrants, and Black men in particular, to be overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
“Black men tend to be ignored in society,” says Aina, who grew up in an immigrant community in Toronto, where she saw many of her peers grapple with racism, marginalization and unsettling interactions with the criminal justice system. “They often don’t talk about what they’re feeling and don’t know how to address the things they’re struggling with. Through this degree, I want to find ways of helping young Black men avoid criminalization.”
When she was accepted into the Master of Social Work program at U of T, Aina unexpectedly received the Dr. Mary A. Wright Award — a new entrance scholarship at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Awarded to Black and Indigenous students on the basis of financial need, it gave her a strong sense of belonging.
“This scholarship made me feel like I’m here for a reason. That I am supposed to be here,” she says, noting social work’s recognized history of inequality and racism against Black communities. “It encourages me to believe that the change I will bring to the world will make a difference.”
This is the impact sisters Janice, Elaine and Sheryl Wright hoped to inspire when they established the scholarship in honour of their mother through a gift of $52,000, which was matched by the Faculty.
“My sisters and I feel passionately about the value of education — not only in enhancing and nourishing one person’s life, but also the lives of everyone around them,” says Janice Wright. Every year, the award will provide significant financial assistance to a graduate student identified through the Black Student Application Program or the Indigenous Student Application Program — with no additional application required.
“If we can help a little through this award, the recipients will go on to give back so much more to the community,” says Wright.
Education played a major role in their mother’s life. In 1968, Dr. Mary A. Wright moved to Canada from New Zealand to study psychiatry at U of T, with her three young daughters in tow. A successful psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Wright was also a musician, artist and lifelong learner — studying painting and art in her late 40s, taking up piano at 65 and learning bass guitar at 78. She passed away in 2021.
“She demonstrated to us what women can accomplish. Mum was also the recipient of scholarships, and U of T provided her with many opportunities,” says Wright. In addition to her studies in psychiatry, Dr. Wright played tennis, sang with the Hart House choir and developed a community of colleagues who had also moved from New Zealand.
Wanting to invest in a better world for so many people struggling with poverty and mental health challenges, the sisters chose to support students in social work, a field with broad community impact. As immigrants themselves, with an Indigenous Polynesian heritage, the family experienced racism first-hand, as well as depression and anxiety. By providing financial assistance to students who are helping improve lives for others, the family hopes this award will have a ripple effect.
“We want to open doors for opportunity,” says Wright. “To let young people know that we’re cheering them on. That they are supported and appreciated, and we know they will do great work.”
For Aina, that encouragement is heartfelt. She had previously completed an undergraduate degree in criminology and worked for a year at an employment services agency. But pursuing graduate studies requires a significant investment in time and resources. The award means she will be able to focus more on her studies and less on figuring out how to cover her expenses and tuition payments.
“Having that financial burden lifted encourages me to really put my best foot forward,” she says. “It allows me to just excel.”
By Carolyn Morris
To learn more about supporting students at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, please contact Development Officer Jijo Quayson at email@example.com or 416-946-8339