Photo courtesy: The University of Toronto
In April, soon-to-be Dr. Chika Oriuwa, 26, completed her studies at the University of Toronto’s (U of T) medical school and was selected as class valedictorian.
Chika tells U of T press she didn’t expect to be the only Black student in her class of 259 and that prompted her to become an advocate and recruiter for the school.
Thanks to her work as the U of T’s Black Student Application Program (BSAP) and as a recruiter, the graduating classes of 2022 and 2023 will have 14 and 15 Black students, respectively.
And the class of 2024 has admitted 24 Black students — the largest in Canadian history — a direct result of Chika’s work.
“My medical school experience was underscored by my experiences as a woman of colour,” she tells U of T.
“I never thought that when I started medical school a huge part of my narrative would be wrapped around being an advocate and bringing attention to equity, inclusion, and diversity within the curriculum and just within life in general.”
“I never want anyone to feel like I felt,” Oriuwa tells the Toronto Star.
“It’s not easy representing your race. Being the only Black person, you are acutely aware of race and identity at all times. There are these tropes people assign to you if you step out of line. It was chronic exhaustion.”
FIRST BLACK WOMAN VALEDICTORIAN
Oriuwa is the Faculty’s first Black woman valedictorian and the first woman to earn the honour in 14 years.
“I believe our class chose Chika for her tenacious advocacy for inclusion and diversity in medicine — something visibly lacking in our class when it was identified she was the sole Black student in it,” says Yezarni Wynn, Oriuwa’s classmate and a class of 2T0 co-president.
“Chika represents a shift in the way we look at leadership in medicine and I think our class recognizes the overdue need for this change.”
COVID-19 CANCELS GRADUATION EVENTS
Oriuwa won’t be able to walk across the convocation stage or deliver her speech live due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Her mother, Catherine, had planned a graduation party with about 300 guests that also had to be canceled.
Her valedictory address, however, has been videotaped and will play at her virtual graduation Tuesday morning.
“I’m excited and a little bit nervous [to start my residency], but very grateful to do it,” she says.
“Unlike any other class, we’re faced with such a terrifying time to start residency. I want my speech to leave them feeling empowered, emboldened, and ready to face what’s coming up. We are ready for this. We were made for this.”
Oriuwa will be completing her residency in psychiatry, a decision she credits one of her mentors, Dr. Pier Bryden.
She had originally planned to be an internist but became interested in psychiatry when she realized how it combined aspects of medicine and advocacy.
“Canadian psychiatry needs Chika,” Dr. Bryden says.
“With her exceptional intelligence and breadth of understanding, her commitment to learning and inquiry, and to systems-level leadership, and advocacy for the underserved — she will be a force for greatly needed change in our profession.”
RACISM AT THE U.S. BORDER
Chika recalls an incident at the U.S. border after completing her undergraduate studies.
She and three Asian classmates went to New York on a shopping trip before preparing to write medical school entry exams.
At the border, the group declared they were students preparing for medical school:
As per the Toronto Star:
The officer leaned forward, looked at Chika incredulously:
“Even you?” he asked.
“Really?” the officer persisted.
“It was like he was trying to catch me in a lie. A Black woman and medicine was not possible. And I’m heightened by the realization of police violence against Black bodies. How hard do I push back? I was in an intimidating position.”
Chika says her experiences in medical school and advocacy efforts have “opened doors” for her and helped her understand the type of doctor she wants to be.
“Most of my advocacy is about being able to build up a community of Black doctors and support traditionally underrepresented groups,” she tells U of T.
“I see what newer generations of Black medical students have — Black classmates— and it’s something I never had. But that makes it worth the journey for me. My dream is that no student will ever be the only Black person in their class. And I will continue to do everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”