York University strengthens commitment to Black studies with new programs

York University has launched five new programs and research initiatives that reinforce its dedication to Black studies in Canada.

Professors Andrea Davis and Christina Sharpe, from the Department of Humanities

These programs and initiatives include the Black Canadian Studies Certificate; the Black Studies & Theories of Race & Racism graduate stream in the Graduate Program in Social & Political Thought; the Black Child & Youth Studies Network; the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities; and the Jean Augustine, Inez Elliston and Beverly Salmon library fonds.

“At York, we believe that our diversity deeply enriches our community, and we are committed to expanding collaborative research and programming that is relevant to the historical, cultural and creative productions of Black and other racialized communities,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “The launch of these programs is an important milestone in a continuing process that addresses the need to foster stronger connections with Black youth, families and communities at York and beyond.”

The Black Canadian Studies Certificate was born, in part, from student advocacy for a more diverse curriculum. The program, housed in the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), combines approaches from the humanities and fine arts, and examines the historical, cultural and various expressive productions of people of African descent in the Americas.

The Black Studies & Theories of Race & Racism stream, in the LA&PS graduate program in Social & Political Thought, will prepare students to develop innovative scholarship that explores and analyzes the distinct contributions of Black intellectual, political and cultural productions, as well as to critically investigate and develop new methods and theories of interdisciplinary scholarship on race and racism.

The Black Child & Youth Studies Network brings together faculty and postdoctoral fellows from five Ontario universities – York, McMaster University, University of Toronto, University of Ottawa and University of Windsor – to conduct research that is relevant and responsive to the needs of Black communities and that will inform work in education for Black youth from middle school through to university and the work force. The network is led by the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, currently filled by Faculty of Education Professor Carl E. James.

The Network for the Advancement of Black Communities, also led by the Jean Augustine Chair, consists of more than 70 programs that provide services for Black children, youth and families. Funded by the Ministry of Child & Youth Services, the network seeks support from governance and data collection to inform systemic changes to improve the social, educational and employment conditions of Black peoples.

The Jean Augustine, Inez Elliston and Beverly Salmon library fonds are special collections of records that document Augustine’s public service and advocacy in women’s rights, in urban education and with Black youth; Elliston’s work as an educator, community development leader, researcher and writer who specialized in intercultural education and anti-racism training and practice; and Salmon’s experience as a nurse and the first Black female municipal councillor.

In recognition and celebration of these five initiatives, a two-day launch was held on Oct. 18 and 19. The launch’s opening night featured greetings from Canadian Senator Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard and MPP Mitzie Hunter from Scarborough-Guildwood, performances by the York University Gospel Choir, jazz soloist Kavya Rajith and spoken word artist Kareem Bennett, and the keynote lecture “Still Here” by humanities Professor Christina Sharpe.

“Black studies has a long tradition at York. But tonight, we pause, gather as community and friends to reaffirm our commitment to this ongoing work,” said Professor Andrea Davis, Chair of the Department of Humanities, to those who gathered on day one of the launch.

Together, these programs and initiatives signal York’s importance as a leader in Black Canadian Studies, both in research concentration and in the education of a new generation of scholars and graduates who can respond thoughtfully and purposefully to the rapidly changing world in which we live and ask critical questions to find bold solutions for the social and political problems of our time, she said.

“Black artists, writers, scholars, activists and Black people just trying to live in the world all over the Black diaspora insist Black being into the present and the future,” said Sharpe in her keynote. “They say, yes, we are still here. They think and make and work and live and imagine from Black.”

The second day of the launch, titled Engaged Scholarship: Struggles and Possibilities of Black Studies, consisted of panels that addressed Black women’s experience in the academy, tensions and conflicts doing research with and for the community, and navigating the academy.

“In the 40-plus years since I was a student in university, this was something that I’ve hoped for, something that I’ve worked for, something that I’ve prayed for, to have Black studies – research, scholarship and teaching in Black studies – seriously taken up by universities, to have our place in this country,” said Sen. Bernard, adding that this can create opportunity for both students and faculty. “I want to thank York University for its leadership.”

The Launch of New Programs and Research in Black Studies at York event was funded by the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design, the Faculty of Education, the Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies and Founders College.