Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars: Fatima Beydoun

In the Reporter's ongoing series of Q&As, members of the inaugural cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars reflect upon a ground-breaking year
“The other McCall MacBain Scholars are my friends and chosen family here in Montreal,” says Fatima Beydoun. “They are a brilliant bunch of humans with different academic backgrounds and lived experiences, and each possesses unique personality traits that make the group what it is.”

This past fall, the first cohort of McCall MacBain Scholars arrived at McGill to begin their fully funded master’s or professional degrees.

 Launched in February 2019, by a landmark $200-million gift from John and Marcy McCall MacBain, the McCall MacBain Scholarship provides mentorship, coaching, and a leadership curriculum, while covering tuition and fees, as well as providing a living stipend of $2,000 per month.

Each member of that first cohort was chosen based on their character, community engagement, leadership potential, entrepreneurial spirit, academic strength, and intellectual curiosity. They are a diverse group, representing a wide range of interests and experience, ambitions and motivations.

With the 2021-2022 academic year drawing to a close, we caught up with members of that trail-blazing cohort of Scholars and asked them to reflect upon their ground-breaking experience.

As part of our Conversations with McCall MacBain Scholars series, we spoke with Fatima Beydoun, who is currently enrolled in the BCL/JD law program at McGill.

An activist and organizer with Amnesty International Canada for over five years, Beydoun served as a national youth advisor and the president of her university’s chapter. In her national role, she set up a governance mentoring program for her peers. Beydoun also co-founded a racial justice collective and represented fellow students as a member of Dalhousie University’s board of governors. She spent one summer working as a theatre production associate. Beydoun completed a Bachelor of Arts, Combined Honours, in Sustainability and International Development at Dalhousie University.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born and raised in Kjipuktuk (Halifax), on unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

What is your field of interest and when did you start developing your interest in it? Did you have any mentors along the way?

Broadly speaking, human rights is my field of interest. I developed this interest early on during high school after attending a community workshop hosted by Amnesty International Canada, where they talked about their Stop Torture and No More Stolen Sisters campaign. It was indeed an eye-opening experience to learn about the human rights violations occurring internationally and right close to home through moving testimonies.

From then on, I became more involved with social activism and racial justice work on campus and within the community, where the women and femmes who provided me with community care by taking me under their wing along the way acted as my mentors.

What was your reaction when you found out you had been selected as a McCall MacBain Scholar?

The entire process resulted in many pent-up emotions. I tend to always expect the worst for myself, sometimes overthinking my choices and thinking, “what if I had said this or that differently…” So, to say that I was very shocked and taken by surprise would be an understatement.

Accompanied with the shock and slight denial were feelings of immense gratitude and anticipation. All these emotions were heightened by the fact that I had decided to keep the journey primarily to myself to lower external pressure and expectations on myself.

Figuring out how I was going to tell my parents alongside some close friends about this whole endeavour that I was privately doing on my own for the five months prior was the next thing on my mind. After the initial exclamation of surprise, I vividly remember my first reaction being, “Okay, time to tell dad about this whole thing!”

Who are the other McCall MacBain Scholars? How does the diversity of the cohort add to your experience as a graduate student at McGill?

The other McCall MacBain Scholars are my friends and chosen family here in Montreal. They are a brilliant bunch of humans with different academic backgrounds and lived experiences, and each possesses unique personality traits that make the group what it is. When we engage in conversation, be it formally during a leadership session or casually at a hang-out, I learn so much, and I find myself being challenged to think in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Our cohort comprises of athletes, artists, advocates, entrepreneurs, bakers, Jeopardy wizards, meme machines (and so much more), truly adding to a vibrant experience as a graduate student.

What is the leadership development program like? What was your favourite session or learning moment?

The leadership development program is an informative, interactive, and contemplative experience. During the sessions, we approach leadership challenges by working through real-life inspired cases before hearing a run-down of what happened in the actual event. We collaborate with our breakout group to brainstorm a plan of action and later present those findings to the larger group.

It is also an opportunity to exchange ideas, where I am often impressed by the points of view shared by other scholars, and where we get to see our respective strengths come out in our approaches to problem-solving.

Who is your mentor and what are they like? What are you hoping to get out of the mentoring relationship and other connections made through the scholarship program?

My mentor is Justice Diane Rowe of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. When I first learned of the match, I immediately could tell that there was so much care and thought put into this match based on how aligned it was with the considerations I listed down as important to me.

Upon speaking for the first time over the phone, I felt an instant connection later confirmed when meeting in person last fall.

Beyond the regional aspect, our similarities in what we hold to be important in legal advocacy and everyday aspects have provided me with a sense of clarity and encouragement to help me get past my assumptions about the legal profession.

Justice Rowe possesses a breadth of life experiences through her non-linear education and career trajectory, reaffirming that there is no one way to exist amidst these spaces. I’ve had the privilege of hearing and learning from her accounts of the challenges and successes she’s experienced throughout her journey, having demonstrated resilience as an Anishinaabe Two-Spirit person in a profession that still requires much inclusion work today. Justice Rowe brings that lived experience to the mentor relationship and encourages me to take up space that has historically been exclusionary against people like myself.

She is very accepting and accommodating of meeting me where I am at with my developing knowledge in the field, and I can rely on her to tell it as it is. I appreciate that she does not sugarcoat the nature of many of the topics I ask about. To say that Justice Rowe is an inspiration would be an understatement. It is truly an honour to have her as my mentor.

Can you tell us about the professional coaching you receive? What do you do with your coach?

Early on in the program, we were matched up with a life coach who would best meet our needs based on the personal philosophies we created during our retreat. Going into it, I had no idea what to expect. Much to my surprise, my coach and our sessions together became a significant part of my journey starting law school.

We focus on some things that I would like to work on – this can range from getting past sending daunting emails, establishing boundaries and accountability in group settings, or exploring strategies to act on budding interests/aspirations. She helps remind me to frame my self-perceived weaknesses as strengths. She also helps me tune in to my values and personal philosophy to reaffirm the differences I want to make.

Overall, how would you describe your experience in the scholarship program so far?

Enriching, supportive, fulfilling, intellectually curious, thought-provoking and comforting are all words that come to mind when first reflecting on this question. I feel a sense of commitment to try to be engaged and present as much as possible and apply what we learn to the other aspects of my life. I feel like I am a part of a community, which is something that I was initially worried about when having to move away from Halifax. I also feel an aspect of accountability: to the scholars, the foundation, and everything else around me.

As a matter of recognizing my privilege, there is a certain sense of responsibility attached to this scholarship that makes me feel like I have a duty to make the most out of it and use it in ways to give back.

What kinds of people do you think should apply for this program? What would you say to those prospective applicants?

I think anyone and everyone should apply for this program! Don’t feel like you have to fit a specific mould to apply. If you feel as though you are lacking in some ways, as I thought, rest assured that this is an opportunity where you are allowed the room to grow and that there is no shortage of helping hands ready to assist in pursuing ambitions. We have been working as a group to rely on values and practices of community care, including reliance and accountability.

What are your future plans?

In the more immediate sense, I am currently preparing to embark on my first ever international experience as a human rights intern this summer in Manila, where I will be working with the Ateneo Human Rights Center.

Long-term, I hope to be in a place where I can be of service to others by advocating on behalf of and alongside communities and individuals experiencing discrimination. Until then, I look forward to learning as much as I can from the experiences of others. I expect to go through many trials and tribulations, and I am learning to increase my tolerance for discomfort with the unknown. I also hope to be a mentor, in the same way I have been so grateful to rely on mentors myself.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I hope to move forward by being more intentional with the things that I do and pushing myself a little more to pursue those which do not come naturally to me.

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Ronaldo Lobo
Ronaldo Lobo
4 months ago

I got excited by reading this. I love how this scholarship is impacting your life but I also how you plan to give back to the community and hold a sense of responsibility. You definitely deserve to be a scholar. Good luck on your future endeavors. I’ll be applying for the scholarship this year as an international applicant.

POOJA CHAND
POOJA CHAND
2 months ago

Iam so happy to read this information. It acts like a guide to people who wants to apply to pursue their studies. Good luck on your future endeavors. I’ll be applying for the scholarship this year as an international applicant and I hope that I do succeed .

Aminat Lawal
Aminat Lawal
1 month ago

Reading this clearly shows that the scholarship really gave you the leverage to make an impact, Goodluck to you in future endeavours. I will also be submitting my application for the scholarship this year as an international applicant.