Feb. 2, 2021

Nursing student starts non-profit to tackle racism and bias

Dorsa Zamanpour invites all UCalgary students to consider joining Advocates Alberta
Dorsa Zamanpour
UCalgary nursing student Dorsa Zamanpour and founder of Alberta Advocates

“Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you.” Nursing student Dorsa Zamanpour has definitely taken novelist and critic Aldous Huxley’s famous words to heart with her not-for-profit Advocates Alberta, an organization seeking to address institutional and community-level roots that contribute to biases against the vulnerable Black, Indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) population.

“As an immigrant, I was bullied all through middle school and high school, but I didn’t recognize it as being about culture or race until I reflected on my loved ones’ experiences,” she says now, adding that as she heard about more and more injustices, she became increasingly passionate about racial equality.  

I think it's very difficult in Canada to put your finger on racism towards yourself as much of it is ‘polite’ racism, and it is easier to point it out when it happens to others.

And so, in January 2020, Zamanpour started Advocates Alberta with a mission to tackle racism in at its very foundation in education, child care, health care and government. One way the group proposes to do this is to create a circle-sharing style anti-bias training that will be offered to organizations, workplaces and schools.

Advocates Alberta board

Advocates Alberta board.

  • From left: Dorsa Zamanpour, Natasha Kelly, Ite Omotoye, Esther Udeh, Alice Choi, Harleen Gill, Irene Manalastas, Sandra Ekpo, Jarienne Amarante, Reet Aulakh, Esther Oguntuase, Jeveena Dhaliwal, Faith Moghaddami, Mimo Hammoud, Onyi Aniamaka. Not pictured: Lena Clayton.

“With education, for example, I have unfortunately heard about a few incidents where my racialized peers had to undergo micro-aggressions from their teachers: this highlights the need for anti-bias training,” she explains. As well, the hope is to address curricula change as a whole to include the history of Indigenous, Black and other minorities in Canada.

On a smaller scale, plans include seasonal event activities such as Black History Month in February, a book and film club to showcase Canadian BIPOC writers and filmmakers and highlighting local BIPOC artists and musicians on Advocates Alberta’s social media pages. Once COVID is over, they also want to present in communities and schools around cultural competency.

Advocates Alberta currently has almost 20 members and is looking to expand. “We are putting the call out to students — and any individuals — from all faculties and all backgrounds who have a passion for the cause to join us,” Zamanpour says.

Zamanpour is confident acting strategically and inclusively for all BIPOC will positively affect change for all. “Earlier this year, I witnessed a nurse talk down to a racialized male patient that was very difficult for me to hear. I discussed it with the unit manager who was very keen to address the situation and that is very hopeful.  But we have a long way to go.

“I never thought I could do something about racism, until I started to try. Now, it gives my life purpose.”

Get involved by emailing advocatesalberta@gmail.com and expressing interest in joining the team. All backgrounds (and genders) are encouraged to apply. Find more Black History Month events and stories from UCalgary.