Non-stop tears and a flurry of emotions is how Furyal Hussain describes her reaction to hearing that she was chosen for a Scotiabank law scholarship that funds students who advocate for anti-racism in law.
“I never imagined I would stand out enough at the University of Alberta to ever receive an award, let alone one as substantial as this,” said Hussain. “I ran downstairs and told my parents. My mom started crying, my dad was so emotional.”
Hussain did indeed stand out. A committed student originally from Pakistan who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia before moving to Canada at age 12, Hussain has not only shown exceptional prowess in her academic studies but has also gone on to help establish a charitable foundation.
Photo: Furyal Hussain
A non-profit organization which serves underprivileged minority groups, the Khushi Refugee Foundation includes a scholarship program where Hussain focuses on the aid of four students in Pakistan, all hailing from religious minority groups in an impoverished area known as Tando village. “We seek out marginalized people and we change their lives through work opportunities,” said Hussain.
Her dedication to promoting harmony among different faiths and supporting marginalized groups helped get her recognized and was driven by her own experience as a Muslim woman from Pakistan. “I'm so very aware of the political climate there and the lack of opportunities that marginalized religious minorities have, I had to make a difference.”
Hussain is one of 18 recipients of the Scotiabank Program for Law Students, which will see the Bank commit more than $500,000 over five years. Now in its final year, the program funds students interested in pursuing a career in the legal profession with a goal to champion anti-racism in the legal sphere.
Hussain said she knew she wanted to be a lawyer at a young age, particularly after 9/11 and seeing its effects on Muslims, South Asians and the Arab population.
"It's not just about the law, it's about ensuring that everyone's rights are upheld regardless of their beliefs," Hussain shared.
Hussain was also able to secure a summer internship with Scotiabank — complete with a return offer for next year — as a Compliance Associate for the Global Compliance division of the Bank.
Photo: Scotiabank Program for Law Students scholarship recipients gather for the annual Day on Bay Street symposium on Aug. 25
Photo: Ian Arellano, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Scotiabank
Photo: Scotiabank Program for Law Students scholarship recipient Furyal Hussain shares her story at the annual Day on Bay Street symposium
Photo (from left to right): Anjali Choudhary, Furyal Hussain, Ritchie Ngieme, Dana-Kaye Matthews, Devin Buffalo, Chief Justice Tulloch, Baneet Hans, Xinhe (Rosemary) Hu, Analia Silveira, Jenna Dart, Emily Rowe, Adlynn Louidor, Oluwafisayo (Eni) Oguntona
Photo (from left to right): Xinhe (Rosemary) Hu, Baneet Hans, Rina Patel, Analia Silveira, Kristen Riess
Photo: Baneet Hans and mentor Rina Patel
Photo (from left to right): Adlynn Louidor, Heni Dinok, Devin Buffalo
"This scholarship really is the gift that keeps on giving, for the benefit of my own career and also to extend my reach to more individuals in need," said Hussain.
Beyond this, she hopes to represent her heritage and culture, donning a hijab at work in the future. “There is such a lack of diversity in the legal profession. I want to create a more equitable legal field for marginalized women and women of colour because it’s so hard out there when no one looks like you,” said Hussain.
Michelle Liu, another scholarship recipient, also believes more diversity is needed in the legal landscape.
Liu is a third-year law student at the University of Victoria currently on a four-month exchange program in Singapore. She was born in China and her family immigrated to Canada when she was two years old where she grew up in Vancouver and Surrey.
While she studied neuroscience and physiology at the University of British Columbia, it was her minor in public health that stirred her interest in law.
“I was introduced to the greater societal impact and the intersections between science, health and the law. I became interested in studying the social phenomenon, beyond the microscopic level,” said Liu.
Being a volunteer paramedic in Vancouver’s downtown east side fueled her interest further as Liu saw firsthand the impact of the opioid crisis, drug policies, and mental health. When she began her legal studies in 2021, she helped research pandemic policies for long-term care homes and emergency laws that were implemented during COVID.
“The COVID policies had a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities. On the surface, these laws seem neutral, but often they weren’t,” said Liu.
Photo: Michelle Liu
Wanting to help immigrant populations is one of Liu’s key motivators, particularly after seeing increased anti-Asian racism during the pandemic. She dedicates her free time working for Access Pro Bono as a legal interpreter assisting low-income populations comprised primarily of immigrants.
Despite her exceptional academic performance and impressive resume, Liu said she also often suffers from imposter syndrome, contemplating where — and if — she fits in. “I wondered whether I really belonged... many law firms still look very homogeneous, I don’t see many people who look like me,” said Liu.
Winning this scholarship has provided opportunities for exposure in addition to the financial benefits, but being connected with a strong mentor at Scotiabank has been one of the greatest gifts, said Liu.
“I was paired with a mentor from Scotiabank’s Legal Department. We have regular check-ins and video calls. She reassures me when I’m faced with uncertainties, and after talking to her I feel calm and my mind is clear,” she said.
Participating universities in the program include the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, University of Windsor Faculty of Law, McGill University Faculty of Law and the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University on behalf of Scotiabank. Each affiliated university will award one student per year a $10,000 scholarship renewable annually for the duration of their three-year degree for a total of $30,000.
Recipients of the program also have the opportunity to participate in an annual Day on Bay Street internal symposium, which enables them to meet with Scotiabank executives, members of the legal community, justice thought leaders, and anti-racism community groups.
The event allows for networking with fellow students in the program, an opportunity to meet mentors in person, hear from leaders in the profession on legal careers and alternative careers, and offers an opportunity to participate in a mental health workshop.
“The Scotiabank Program for Law Students and events like Day on Bay aims to give the next generation of legal professionals a stronger voice and presence in furthering the fight against racial discrimination,” said Maria Saros, Vice President & Global Head, Social Impact at Scotiabank. “We are confident that this first-in-Canada program will help create positive and lasting change for the benefit of all Canadians," she said.
Liu believes it is critical to have more lawyers with diverse backgrounds in order to bring forth fresh thought leadership, and to effectively aid an increasingly diverse clientele. And this is exactly the aim of the scholarship program, according to Ian Arellano, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Scotiabank.
“The program strives to encourage unique perspectives and experiences, foster architects of change, and encourage diversity of leadership in law,” said Arellano. “By improving diversity and equity, we’ll help to create a more just society for the benefit of all Canadians.”
While Liu describes tackling large issues like racism in the legal sector as daunting, she says “winning this scholarship and having the support of a large institution like Scotiabank renews my commitment and dedication to these issues every day. I feel like it’s an acknowledgement that I am where I’m supposed to be.”