Sociologist tells Glendon grads to transcend boundaries

An ethnic studies scholar and educator, Danielle Juteau co-founded the Centre for Ethnic Studies at the University of Montreal in 1991, the same year she became the first Chair in Ethnic Relations (1991-2003). Her writing, teaching and research have focused on the dynamics of ethnic boundaries, ethnicities & nationalisms, citizenship & changing forms of pluralisms, and sex-gender relations. Juteau, whose scholarly research has had a significant impact on society in Canada and internationally, was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree during York’s final convocation ceremony, held on the Glendon campus on Saturday, June 16.

Left: Danielle Juteau

Speaking in English and French, a delighted Juteau accepted York’s honour, saying, "I have to admit, there is more emotion than I had imagined. Thank you so very much."

Describing York and Glendon College as "celebrated and audacious", the obviously delighted Juteau spoke of her early affiliation with Glendon as a professor of languages in the 1960s. Then, with a mischievous grin, she announced that she could not resist playing the role of a sociologist for a few minutes.

"Glendon was formed at a time when ethnic boundaries were undergoing fundamental transformations, decolonization, the civil rights movement and, closer to home, new immigration laws, the modernization of Quebec, the dissolution of the French Canadian nation, the emergence of a new collectivity such as Franco Ontarians and a critique of a stationary Canadian identity that was to become more fluid and inclusive," said Juteau. "Assimilation…was critiqued and reassessed. This led to a wonderful challenge of imagining a country where different and always evolving ethnic and national groups could realize equally their social goals and cultural selves.

"As you most certainly learned during your years at Glendon, the answers to that challenge included different and intertwined policy proposals and decisions. The Official Languages Act in 1969, the white paper on Indian Affairs, also in ’69, the policy on multiculturalism in 1971 – all of which were and remain contested," said Juteau.

"The foundation of Glendon, the overlap between national collectivities and linguistic groups was considerable, since francophone and anglophone were referred to mainly as French and English Canadians. But as the social fabric of Canada and its ethnic dynamics changed, anglophones and francophones have become more multi-ethnic and culturally diverse," said Juteau.

She explained how the boundaries between the two groups have since expanded and become more fluid within English Canada and Quebec. "Glendon," said Juteau, "reflects in an important manner, the many ways of being an anglophone or a francophone. Some individuals belong to both collectivities, some cross boundaries, some move back and forth, some embrace both, while others work at linking them. This is where you, my fellow graduates, fit in. You have studied in an institution with an international bilingual flair, dedicated to training future leaders of Canada and abroad. It has provided you with a first-class liberal education. Whether you have chosen French studies, political science, public affairs, linguistics, economics, mathematics, women’s studies or another interesting program, you have been immersed in the two official language collectivities and can now act as connectors, transmitters and creators capable of transcending their boundaries.

"Over and above your diversity of interests, of fields, of trajectories, I thought of you all as I recently read the report of Canada’s commissioner of official languages, Graham Fraser," said Juteau, saying she reflected on the challenges now facing Canadians with respect to both official languages and saluted the graduands for their "role and future contribution as cultural innovators and interpreters".

In his report on official bilingualism, Fraser recalled that the linguistic duality is at the basis of Canadian society and that language is at the heart of our identity, said Juteau. "By your vision, a global vision of society and its complexity, you are in a position to contribute in Canada and on the international scene, to the growth of equality in pluralist societies," said Juteau.