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After Dal’s 200th

Whether it was through proclamation or conversation, artistic creation or a shift in perspective, many of Dal’s 200th anniversary events were really just the beginning of things to come, contributing to a richer experience and introducing a new way of seeing and doing things.

The year began, for example, with the Faculty of Computer Science announcing that it was going to close the gender gap in its undergraduate population. This ambitious goal has changed the classroom landscape—the number of first-year students who identify as female is up 144 per cent versus 2016.

Other endeavours with lasting impact were wide-ranging. The university officially proclaimed the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent at Dalhousie, a pledge to recognize the diverse heritage and contributions of, promote respect for and strengthen the agency of all people of African descent at Dalhousie. At convocation in 2018, graduates received a stunning keepsake visual history book that begins with a full reproduction of former Canadian parliamentary poet laureate George Elliott Clarke’s adventurous take on Dal’s first 200 years in verse. They also left the ceremony humming a new tune. The new convocation anthem, composed by alum Paul St-Amand after a competition process that reviewed over 20 submissions from across the country, will be enjoyed by audiences for many years to come.

And there were many moments of incredible generosity. For example, when the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education came to Dalhousie for their 2018 conference, the speakers commemorated the 200th anniversary by donating their fees to contribute to the Association of Black Social Workers’ Ngena Bernard Transition Year Program Bursary. The bursary will help African Canadian graduates of the College of Continuing Education’s Transition-Year Program who are single mothers go on to pursue a social work degree at Dalhousie University.

A legacy of thinkers and speakers

So many of us were inspired (live or through livestream) by the year’s Belong Forums, which brought internationally respected thinkers to campus to respond to the question, “What would it take for us to create a community where we all felt like we truly belong?” It’s a conversation that’s far from over: one of the final forums was actually just a beginning. When iconic African-American activist and scholar Angela Davis gave her address, it was as the first speaker of the Viola Desmond Legacy Lecture series that will ensure this important discussion continues into the future. Speakers for upcoming Legacy Lectures will be decided upon by a committee of leaders who represent student, employee and community perspectives. And though the speakers will change, the format will follow that of the popular Belong Forums: free public lectures centred around the theme of creating belonging, that are followed by a workshop for Dalhousie students, faculty and staff.

“Each one of these speakers has inspired us in some way to think differently about belonging,” says Catherine Bagnell Styles, assistant vice-president of Communications and Marketing and chair of the 200th Anniversary. “The learning, and hopefully understanding, that begins from hearing someone else’s perspective, it’s so rich. We’ve started important conversations so if we can continue them and keep the space open for them, that’s a great legacy.”

New and revitalized campus spaces

In addition to making space for conversations, Dalhousie’s 200th celebrations included the openings of many new and revitalized physical spaces on our campuses, both in Truro and Halifax. These new buildings and facilities will take us into our third century by transforming the way we learn and engage on campus.

The IDEA project, which has transformed Dal’s downtown Sexton Campus, sets a new standard for engineering, architecture and planning education. In September, students were welcomed with two new buildings in addition to renovated spaces. The Emera IDEA Building houses workshops and prototyping labs for the Faculty of Engineering and innovation studios focusing on hardware-based entrepreneurship. The Richard Murray Design Building includes a 450-seat auditorium, a design commons featuring bookable meeting rooms, and studio space for the Faculty of Architecture and Planning.

The Studley Campus’s Dalplex was given a multipurpose expansion that was planned by listening to the improvements required by our athletes, students and members. The bright and welcoming 57,000-foot fitness centre includes one of the largest cardio and strength-training rooms in Halifax. On our Agricultural Campus, a Student Learning Commons has created flexible study space on the top floor of the MacRae Library. And on the Carleton Campus, the Dentistry Building hosted a grand re-opening of the Dr. William Murphy Dental Clinic during homecoming. In addition to these new spaces, there were facility upgrades, renovations to classrooms and, thanks to student, employee and alumni volunteers, 200 trees planted across our Halifax campuses.

But that’s not all—a few projects are still in the works.

Patrons and performers alike are looking forward to the curtain rising on the much-anticipated expansion to the Dalhousie Arts Centre, which just got a $10 million funding boost from the Province of Nova Scotia. And the vision for the Bicentennial Common, which will re-envision the Killam Loop, has just recently been shared with the community. Nathan Rogers, assistant director of capital planning with Facilities Management, says the Bicentennial Common project is designed around three main themes: place (recognizing the past, present and future), culture (ensuring all Dal people, who come from over 120 countries of origin, feel comfortable) and the natural environment (how do we show sustainability?). After 25 stakeholder meetings, an online survey of the Dal community and eight pop-up sessions, they’re ready to start making a physical change to the space but Rogers says it won’t ever really be complete.

Planning has begun for the Bicentennial Common, which will re-envision the Killam Loop on Study Campus (skyline studio photo)

“In facilities we’re planning the space and will make a physical change to the space that will make it a place where people want to be for a variety of reasons, but it’s going to be the community that’s going to take it and make it theirs. It’s got to be flexible so people feel comfortable interacting with the space and it will change with how it’s used.”

The lasting impact of the project also extends beyond the physical transformation. For one group of students in particular, the experience has had a ripple effect. “We did a design input session with a busload of 48 students from the Faculty of Agriculture Landscape Architecture program,” Rogers explains. “That piece is really important because we were able to tie it to academia. The students have assignments related to the project. And they’re using their experience on this project to apply for scholarships and such.” Rogers adds that the process for the Bicentennial Common will also change the way the university undertakes big projects.

“The level of engagement on this is unprecedented compared to other projects. We’re setting the bar high, which will create a lasting impact on capital planning for major new infrastructure,” says Rogers. “We’re looking to the future but recognizing the past—and making sure that everyone has a place where they feel they belong on this campus.”