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The Aboriginal Entrance Award – A Year On

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One of the biggest stories covered by Juris Diction during the 2015-2016 school year was the debate over what to do with the Law Students Society’s (LSS) surplus. Accumulated as a result of the LSS collecting more in student activity fees than was spent for supporting student activities at the law school, the question of how (or even if) the surplus should be used provoked a lengthy, and at times contentious discussion among the student body.

Juris Diction extensively covered the events, including a four-hour long Bi-Annual General Meeting on March 7, 2016 when students voted to have the spending decision be put to a referendum, an overview of the voting options for the LSS Surplus Survey and editorials from proponents of the different options.

Putting the choices – funding an aboriginal entrance award, giving a portion towards the grad gift, having a general needs-based scholarship and a rank-based “Option” plan for allocating the surplus – to a vote, Queen’s Law students ultimately decided to allocate $25,000 from the surplus to an entrance scholarship for an incoming student of aboriginal background, an amount that was matched by contributions from the Faculty of Law.

However, once the debate died down and the surplus was allocated, there has been little news about the aboriginal entrance award since. In light of last year’s contentious debate, what is its current status?

The answer’s not particularly dramatic: the award was established, but could not be administered to an eligible recipient in 2016-2017. The approved terms of reference for the “Queen’s LSS Aboriginal Entrance Award” – changed from scholarship because an award is needs-based, whereas a scholarship is merit-based – had to be approved by the Faculty of Law Faculty Board and then by the Queen’s Senate, before being formally established by the LSS, Faculty of Law, Office of Advancement and Student Awards in April 2016.

According to Jane Emrich, Assistant Dean of Students, since the approvals came so late in the admissions cycle, the Student Awards Office was not able to make the award. The applicant considered potentially eligible did not file an application for an admission bursary, which is needed to be able to qualify for the award.

Does this mean that the award is now available for eligible applicants for the upcoming school year? Yes. Per the formal terms of reference for the award, the first preference for the award will be given to students who have applied in the Aboriginal Category, while second preference will be to students who have applied through the Access Category. In either case, to be eligible for the award, the student must also have applied for an admission bursary. The final selection would be made by the Office of the University Registrar, Student Awards, in consultation with the Assistant Dean of Students, with a variable amount being awarded.

In addition to making the award available, the Queen’s Faculty of Law has also sought to increase the number of Aboriginal students applying for Queen’s Law. Assistant Dean Emrich particularly praised the efforts of Ann Deer, the Indigenous Access and Recruitment Coordinator (Professional Programs) in encouraging more students to consider Queen’s, and noted that applications within the Aboriginal Category have gone up by 65% to 33 applicants for 2017-2018. Emrich and Recruitment & Admissions Director Aimee Burtch also confirmed that 12 offers of admission were made to students in the aboriginal category for 2017-2018, and that so far four have accepted, a substantial improvement over previous years.

Assistant Dean Emrich is optimistic that the LSS Aboriginal Entrance Award will be awarded this year. Although Aboriginal candidates for law school are actively recruited by schools throughout Canada, the increased number of applicants, combined with more active efforts by the school to promote a welcoming atmosphere for incoming Aboriginal students, are expected to help in developing a more inclusive environment that would overcome barriers to access.

Jason Liang (3L) is Managing Editor of Juris Diction.

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