Originally from Lloydminster, Angie has been an active member in a multitude of student activities at Western and in the London community. Angie Antonio is a third-year honors neuroscience student at Western University. Having been on the executive team of the Black Student’s Association (@bsawestern) since her first year, Angie has accomplished a myriad of endeavours for the organization and wishes to continue the fight against racial inequalities. Through her advocacy work for Black, racialized, and marginalized groups, she hopes to implement tangible ventures that will hold value, further support students, and transcend her time at the university. She is currently establishing a scholarship for Western as well as the first Black Grad, a graduation ceremony dedicated to honoring black students who graduate from Western. She previously held the position of president of the BSA and was involved in many other co-curricular activities including her role as Director of Project for the Canadian non-profit EveryChildNow. In her free time, Angie enjoys reading African literature, listening to podcasts, and writing blog posts at authentically-angie.com. She aspires to pursue a career in medicine, hoping to integrate her leadership to create an equitable environment for all.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and the Black Student Association (BSA) at Western University?
Hi everyone, my name is Angie Antonio. I am entering my fourth year of neuroscience at Western! Before moving to London, I spent a majority of my formative years in a small town in Ireland and Lloydminster on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since first year, I have been involved in the BSA but I had known about it since grade 12. It was actually one of my deciding factors in pursuing post secondary studies at Western. You see, having lived in areas where I was one of a few black people, I actually could not take it anymore. Growing up was hard as I constantly felt as though I was a representative for all black people as well as having to act (well, thinking I had to act) in a certain way that was appealing to all. I never really had a community of black friends in which I could relate with and even to speak about common experiences with. Youtube was really the saving grace for me as I was able to find people who had similar situations as myself and how they essentially “got through it”. I fantasized about attending a HBCU or a university where I felt like I wasn’t being constantly judged and for some diversity. Between my university options, I found the social media pages of black student clubs and Western’s caught my eye. Having become a first year representative, I was determined to make sure I made my mark in the club. The BSA is a sociopolitical club that works to better the black experience for students at Western. By far one of the best and most defining experiences of my life. I cannot stress how much this opportunity has opened my eyes and allowed me to truly understand my blackness and the beauty in that. The organization has also invited a lot of introspection, for me, it helps with understanding the colour of my skin and the resilience it encompasses. I moved from first year rep to event coordinator, and I have just concluded my term as President. The BSA gave me the opportunity to meet so many different types of individuals as well as make some lifelong friends and drive tangible change forward.
How has the past year, especially with the added spotlight on anti-racism, impacted your advocacy and programming for Black Students at Western?
Things had definitely shifted to an educational lens, where we focused primarily on encouraging the student body to understand what anti racism and allyship truly looked like. We created events where we could provide a space for difficult conversations as well as shifting away from Black trauma and focusing on the hope we had for the future. The biggest change in my opinion was the support from Western administration and the newly formed black alumni chapter, BAWA. Meetings prior to the school year with the university’s president Alan Shephard and VP Student Experience Jennie Massey really paved the path for fundamental change in the university. We released a letter where we called for certain action items from the university regarding policies that in the past have negatively affected black students. Things are starting to change. This year was actually the time, Western acknowledged the Black History Month Opening and Closing Ceremonies. Western had increased funding to BSA as well as supported the creation of our scholarship for Black students. BAWA was established and the chapter oversees the promised action items.
To my surprise, I also found that so many more people had been a lot more interested in coming to BSA events. Despite the pandemic, we had high engagement due to people’s desire to know and learn more. So many clubs were interested in collaborating with the BSA, as well as student’s messaging the page for more resources and more ways to get involved in the movement. It was truly beautiful to see.
As a student, in your opinion, how has the passing of George Floyd impacted anti-Black racism discourse on campus for the general student population?
The passing of George Floyd was a tragic occurrence. Words cannot even describe the moment at which I had discovered what had happened. A rush of fear, anguish mixed with others rushed through me as I watched CNN. The response from students was paramount. This was still at the time where social media activism had not yet become popularized, but the amount of resharing that ensues the restoration of emotion and anger compelled students to want more from administration. George Floyd’s death was the product of institutionalized racism from a system so corrupt: the police force. “The other side” will complain that it's not the fault of the police but respecting an organization that has historically oppressed black and brown bodies is something that is just not possible until from the bottom up change happens. We are having a lot more conversations on what anti black racism truly is. Understanding that it is not just merely sitting down and sharing an Instagram post but taking a look at your own heart and review the attitudes you have, and be actively anti-racist.
What does dismantling systemic and institutional racism at Western University look like for you and your organisation?
When people talk about dismantling racism, they often look at things from a top down perspective, that is, look at the system as a whole rather than its individual components. The problem is that people fail to deal with integral components that actually affect the whole picture, that’s the policies that determine how we are treated as well as how we progress in that particular institution. BSA works to address small scale issues that will eventually translate into large scale solutions.
In a COVID-19 world, how do you suggest local non-Black Londoners meaningfully participate in anti-racist discourse and activities?
Educate yourself! There are literally so many resources available via a quick Google search! Even for myself, I had a lot of learning and unlearning to do! It’s also okay to ask questions! There are so many online events you can attend! Visit our page and read the educational content as well!
At the Embassy Cultural House, as we use this project to remember George Floyd and other Black peoples who have suffered because of systemic racism, how do you recommend that everyone as individuals keep the memory of George Floyd alive?
The memory of George Floyd and the countless other black folx who have lost their lives at the hands of police and other institutions, can be kept alive so long as we remember why we do these things. This could have been any black person you knew, but it happened to be George. George Floyd was not a martyr for the BLM movement. People want to thank him for sacrificing his life but that was not his mission nor what should have happened to him. It shouldn’t take a black man’s neck being kneeled on or countless individuals to die before you know the lives of black people matter. His death was a wakeup call. Racism and discrimination existing at the systemic level has always been a deterrent for progression of black and other people of colour for a long time. The memories of these individuals are kept alive by the continued conversations needed to dismantle corrupt institutions as well as continual learning and unlearning of racist rhetoric. Continue educating your peers. And peers, continue looking for your own resources. Your black friends are not your Google. Oftentimes the burden falls on us to stay aware of what's going on because there’s an added pressure of now being seen as woke. Black people, these conversations are needed, however it’s also important to ensure you are taking care of yourself. Last year, after sharing and talking to so many people to eventually being called an activist, I felt a lot of pressure to keep up with the social media sharing, exposing myself to some of these stories and stressing myself to make sure I was up to date on the latest events. Constantly being exposed to this have profound mental and social effects.
How can individuals contact BSA, get involved, and what are the services you offer?
If you would like to get in contact with BSA, our best place to reach us is through our Instagram (@bsawestern) or Facebook (UWO Black Students’ Association). We can also be reached via email at email@example.com. If you are interested in donating, please email us so we direct you for next steps! Come to our events, share our posts, and apply to be an executive!