Augustine Chair at York will explore education in the new urban environment

A new research chair at York will place the University at the forefront of interdisciplinary research needed to understand educational challenges in cities and to effect change.

The Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment is an endowed chair named after the first black woman elected to the Canadian Parliament.

Left: Jean Augustine

“York is taking its community outreach work to a higher level, and this research chair will be the focal point of these efforts,” said York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “The response from the community has been very positive and this is thanks, in no small part, to Jean Augustine’s fundraising and advocacy efforts.”

Augustine emigrated from Grenada to Canada in 1961 and worked as a domestic before becoming a teacher and later a principal in Toronto. Elected to Parliament in 1993, she served as secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, among other postings. Augustine is a former member of the York University Board of Governors, and she chaired the Metro Toronto Housing Authority. In 2007, she was appointed Ontario’s first fairness commissioner, an office that has a mandate to ensure that the regulated professions have registration practices that are transparent, objective, impartial and fair.

Augustine points to recent reports outlining the obstacles faced by many inner-city youth as proof the timing is right for a renewed commitment from academia. “I believe it’s important for universities and colleges to take some responsibility for the communities of which they are a part,” she said. “York makes great use of its pivotal location, with its proximity to the Jane-Finch area, to expand educational opportunities. But all metropolitan areas have similar communities in need of nurturing and we envision this new position as a way to expand that important work.”

Paul Axelrod, dean of York’s Faculty of Education, said the new chair will respond to the latest thinking in academic circles that looks beyond traditional markers to determine how students learn best in an urban environment. New research will consider the effects of family, neighbourhood, social cohesion, housing, poverty, urban design, religion, architecture, technology and other factors that shape student academic success. 

Right: Paul Axelrod (left) with Jean Augustine

“We will look to the new chair to be a true catalyst for creative thinking about the relationship between education and the urban environment,” Axelrod said.

The position will be based at York’s Faculty of Education and will be reserved for a senior academic with a strong research background and expertise in urban issues. By involving students, parents, teachers, community leaders and policy-makers in research, the chair will also help prepare the next generation of Canadian teachers and researchers to improve schooling in cities.

The chair will become a focal point for new community outreach programs at York. Examples of existing outreach programs at the University include:

  • The Urban Diversity Initiative: Teacher candidates of various racial and ethno-cultural groups learn to incorporate culturally-relevant teaching into their classrooms through their work in York’s Faculty of Education.
  • The York-Westview Partnership: An initiative between York and the Toronto District School Board that improves access to the University for students living in the surrounding neighbourhood. 
  • The ACE Program: A program that provides senior secondary school students with the opportunity to enrol in a first-year university credit course in philosophy at no cost while completing their high school diplomas. It is designed to increase access to post secondary education in the Jane-Finch community.
  • Community and Legal Aid Services Program: More than 200 Osgoode Hall Law School students provide free legal services to low-income community members in criminal, employment and immigration law, as well as specialized services pertaining to women and youth issues, each year.
  • The Bridging Program for Women: Since 1980, York has offered the Bridging Program to mature women in the Black Creek West community and beyond. Women who have insufficient academic credentials or who simply lack the confidence to consider a university education can attend preparatory courses through their neighbourhood community centres. 

An event announcing the creation of the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment will be held today from 11:30am to 1pm at the Technology Enhanced Learning building on York’s Keele campus. 

Although the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment has been created, half of the necessary funds are still be raised. Those wishing to support the chair can either give online or by contacting York University Foundation at 416-650-8210, or by e-mail to Donations to the Jean Augustine Chair in Education in the New Urban Environment support York to the Power of 50, the largest fundraising campaign in York’s history.