Initially drawn to Waterloo's Speech Communication program, Michael Robson (BA ’13) began playing varsity football at Waterloo. As an athlete, he was familiar with team spirit and building community with his teammates. Through interactions with student clubs, he discovered a different aspect of the importance of community.
After a hip injury in Robson's third year, he had to step away from playing football due to surgery. Consequently, he spent more time in the Student Life Centre and connected with some of Waterloo's student clubs. In particular, he spent time with members of UWASA (the University of Waterloo African Students Association), UW BASE (the Black Association for Student Expression) and ACS (the Association of Caribbean Students).
These clubs offered Robson a welcoming environment. Despite being new to the clubs, he found himself in a non-judgmental space among people who embraced him as one of their own. "They listened to me talk and included me, even though I had never participated before."
Besides being a great place to make friends and feel at home, the student-led clubs also work to promote social and cultural awareness and give students opportunities to volunteer and build new skills, said Robson.
Reflecting on his professional success, Robson noted that he doesn't believe in the idea of a self-made individual. "A big part of why I got to where I am was the support I received as a student from these clubs." The time Robson spent with these clubs inspired him to establish the Collective Movement Award for Community Leadership. "If I needed these clubs back then, there are probably students now that need them as well. And I wanted to give back to say thank you to those who were there for me during that time."
“A big part of why I got to where I am was the support I received as a student from these clubs.”
Michael Robson (BA ’13)
Robson acknowledged the importance of not only community but coming together and supporting community leaders. The award recognizes and provides financial support for University of Waterloo undergrads who are actively involved with or have positively impacted African, Caribbean and Black communities through extracurricular or volunteer involvement. Established by Robson, the fund is maintained via contributions from fellow alumni and friends who share his vision.
One graduate who benefited from the alum-funded award is Sumaya Nur (BSc ’21). She was deeply touched to receive the award in 2021. In highlighting her experience, Nur noted the meaningful impact a gift to diverse students can have when it comes from diverse alum. "I think that's the most inspiring part of it all. I admire those who give back to those who come from a shared identity and those who are contributing to the community."
During her last year of studies, Nur founded a community organization called The Rights Project. The project aims to work alongside racialized communities to share and spread information on their legal rights and provide those within these communities with the tools to confidently advocate for themselves. In the role of executive director, Nur learned the importance supporting those who are systemically overlooked.
A philanthropy coordinator at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Nur credited her time in Waterloo's community for her life's trajectory. "I would not be who I currently am without the support that I had at Waterloo — without the friends I made, without the professors that I encountered," Nur said. Her passion for social justice grew through conversations with her friends while at Waterloo. Their discussions were powerful and "ignited a fire" within her.
Robson recalled the sense of community planted during his time at Waterloo. Heading into the working world, his sense of confidence came from having a loving home and loving communities at school, including teachers who cared. "My life is very different now after having been given this award and meeting people I didn't know beforehand."
Waterloo's communities foster positive interactions and provide students with unforgettable experiences that positively impact their lives. Like Nur, Robson encouraged Waterloo students to invest in their communities. "I feel like the more we put out positive energy, the more our lives become a positive space."
Photo credit: TRACE Showcase event (April 2, 2022) hosted by the University of Waterloo African Student Association (UWASA)