Celebrating and Acknowledging Omi Ra

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Nada Abouelnaga & Kerri Behling
Mon, 01/25/2021 - 14:15

OmiAs the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, WUSA is constantly working to best serve and advocate for all our members. Lead by students for students, we are successful through the committed work of the passionate and inspiringly intelligent students who have left their mark on Waterloo, through WUSA. Waterloo undergrads will forever benefit from these students who create a lasting impression, advocating beyond anyone’s expectations, who were able to make big waves and significant positive progress in the short time they were here. One of the most brilliant and determined among them is Omi Ra.  

Since coming to Waterloo, Omi has carved out space for themselves and others on this campus. They sought to find a sense of belonging that is so essential to a human’s ability to succeed, and while creating that previously non-existent space, they prioritized others in doing so. Working tirelessly throughout their undergrad, it’s important to acknowledge the work that Omi has taken on in addition to their academics. This additional emotional and time-consuming work is often not considered by white folks who are already represented and belong in the spaces that exist for them and by them. While this is not an exhaustive list, Omi brought more to WUSA than this article will be able to credit them for, and that impact began years before becoming our first Associate Vice President Equity in 2019. 

Before becoming the President of UWBASE (Black Association for Student Expression), Omi was one of the founders of RAISE (Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity, and Equity). Omi’s leadership was invaluable in driving the creation of RAISE through WUSA as the only racialized service at Waterloo. Following that, in 2019 Omi became WUSA’s first Equity Commissioner (now AVP Equity). In that role, they continued their efforts in holding the university and its affiliations (including WUSA) accountable to ensure respect and equity are values prioritized and upheld by all Waterloo students, faculty and staff.  

Those efforts included directly speaking up against injustices faced by BIPOC folks on campus - who are treated as suspicious without any reason beyond their racial identity, addressing these injustices and bringing awareness with determination to eliminate them for current and future students. 

Here are just some of their contributions during the last two years as AVP Equity: 

  • Incident Reporting Mechanism  
  • Trans and Racialized Survey - launched Winter 2020 to look into the experiences of trans and racialized students within Health Services and Counselling services to inform better practices at Campus Wellness. Results were gathered, analyzed and shared with Campus Wellness by the end of Spring 2020 
  • Trans Bursary Application - launched in Winter 2020  
  • Began the groundwork for the Equity Fund to provide dedicated funding for equity initiatives, using a more accessible application process  
  • Advocated for the equity collective meetings between Waterloo's Equity Office and WUSA Equity Services 

Omi has become a key go-to student leader/organizer/communicator respected by faculty and staff who continue to acknowledge their efforts publicly. A leader in the Black community both on-and-off campus, Omi advocates for anti-Black racism initiatives independently within the community. While it’s not our place to speak to the work Omi has done independently outside of their role in WUSA, we’d like to acknowledge that the impact of their efforts is far-reaching, the impact they have made goes far and beyond this list.    

Over the spring term, Omi was instrumental in crafting our response and leading discussions with Black students to inform WUSA of racism on our campus and how students have been negatively impacted within our own systems. These discussions sparked action across our organization and the university. Omi called us out on the ways we were contributing to racism at Waterloo and the unjust systems we continue to uphold. While we still have a long way to go, Omi’s insight into the hiring of an external consultant ensured we continue on the path to intentionally rebuilding a student association which supports all students through an intersectional and equitable lens 

The compromising position (both mentally and logistically) that Omi put themselves in, in holding this association accountable is not lost on WUSA and the organization remains indebted to them. Every year during Orientation, WUSA Presidents and UW Presidents of the past stress the importance of leaving your mark on this campus and how the efforts you take to invest in yourself and your community will deliver many deserved rewards. Omi, through their tireless work, has left their mark on this community through taking on a leading role in sparking Waterloo’s action on anti-racism. Spaces that never existed before, supports and resources that “weren’t available” when they started here, communities that weren’t easily accessible, exist in great part because of Omi. 

To say we are grateful for what Omi gave to this organization and students as AVP Equity would be a massive understatement. Omi will be front and center in the work we do, as we continue to move ahead with the agenda they were instrumental in setting and have now left for us to carry out. Omi’s resignation is not a loss for this organization, what they left behind was a full cup, no depletion. Although we miss their presence, we are assured of the, sometimes depressing, guarantee that as a student organization – students come here for a brief moment in our history and push us in the direction we are meant to go. Omi is someone whose presence we can truly say was a gift. We wish Omi all the very best as they continue to work to push for meaningful change, advocating for Black, queer and femme individuals.