From launching the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund to hosting panels discussing the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-Black racism, pivoting to virtual events (including York’s first and second ever virtual graduation ceremonies), and expanding our alumni programming, this past year was one of major change and upheaval that had our team working to adapt our programs and services to ensure that they remained accessible and relevant to the York U alumni community.
Here are our top stories, highlights and moments from 2020 listed in chronological order...
The York U Black Alumni Network (YUBAN) relaunched on February 13, 2020 during Black History Month, with members and supporters celebrating the alumni network’s long-awaited revival. The York University Black Alumni Chapter (YUBAC) was originally founded in 2008 by former President Velma Morgan (BA ’95, BED ’97), along with executive members Konata Lake (BBA ’03, MBA/LLB ’08) and Michelle Hughes (BA ’94). The newly relaunched YUBAN will continue to strengthen the connection between alumni and current students, provide mentorship and networking opportunities, and engage with the community through professional and University-related events. Follow them on social media at @BlackYorkU.
On April 7, World Health Day, York University launched the York University COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, an initiative with the goal of raising money to support York University Emergency Bursaries. These bursaries were made available immediately after the virus began affecting York’s students to help them cover unexpected housing, rent, food, travel and other costs impacted by the pandemic. hanks to the profound generosity of The Victor Dahdaleh Foundation and The Pierre Lassonde Family Foundation, donations to the Emergency COVID-19 Student Relief Fund were tripled up to $300,000.
Members of the Youth Research and Evaluation Exchange (YouthREX), based at the School of Social Work at York University, participated in two Scholars’ Hub panels on June 11 and June 19, 2020 discussing the Black Lives Matter protests and asked: Will this be the ONE that finally makes undeniably visible the metaphoric knee on the necks of Black people that anti-Black racism feels like every day. Will this be the ONE that finally energizes us all to dismantle anti-Black racism for ever so we can create a better future for Black youth? Their conversations were framed by the findings of their report: Doing Right Together for Black Youth that found that the number one issue for Black youth and their families in Ontario is widespread anti-Black racism that runs through all of Ontario’s institutions and systems (including the educational, child welfare, and criminal justice systems, as well as the labour market).
In 2020 we increased our young alumni and recent graduate program offerings. Our GRADitude speaker series took on a new virtual format with more events taking place throughout the year, and we successfully launched a LinkedIn Learning pilot program to help our recent alumni upgrade their skills and meet their professional development goals.
Graduation ceremonies looked a little different this year. After careful consideration, given the ongoing public health concerns resulting from COVID-19 and the restrictions on public gatherings, York University made the difficult decision not to hold in-person convocation ceremonies in 2020. Instead, we packaged all the excitement into a graduation box and virtual graduation ceremonies for the spring and fall graduating classes to help celebrate this important milestone.
In partnership with York University Libraries, we hosted a virtual fireside chat on August 18, featuring York alumnus, Jesse Thistle, author of the award-winning memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. During the virtual event Thistle shared his journey writing his first novel and discussed the influences and impact that York had on his success.
On October 16, York University announced the latest and most significant gift from the R. P. Bratty Family Foundation – a $10M donation towards the construction of the Markham Centre Campus. York will honour the Bratty Family’s contribution by naming the building’s new atrium “The Bratty Family Atrium.” York University officially broke ground on the new Markham Centre Campus on September 22, 2020. The new campus is expected to open in Fall 2023.
In October, we launched our first-ever Top 30 Changemakers Under 30 – to recognize and honour the inspiring and diverse alumni 29 years old and younger, who are exemplary leaders in creating positive change, at home and abroad. These York University alumni are leaders who inspire positive change in the world, and are driven to make a meaningful difference in their communities.
We look forward to announcing the first group of Top 30 Change Makers Under 30 recipients in Winter 2021.
On November 15, National Philanthropy Day, we celebrated the 57,000th gift to the Impact Campaign. We launched Impact: The Campaign for York University in 2016, and since then, the York community has come together in a big way. Thanks to our dedicated donors, we are meeting more students’ financial needs than ever before, undertaking more critical research that shapes the world, and transforming spaces across our campus.
Hundreds of York community members gathered virtually on November 19 to celebrate 20 years of York alumni who have changed the world for the better. The York U Alumni Celebration brought past Bryden award recipients together with York’s global community of alumni, friends, students and leaders for an entertaining and inspiring evening.
The celebration was masterfully hosted by York alumna Natasha Ramsahai (MSc ’01), who guided the audience through an evening filled with entertaining anecdotes, interviews with celebrity alumni guests, and musical performances.