York University launches first-of-its-kind initiative to address barriers for Black youth across Canada

Carl James

The national, pan-university program is backed by $1.2 million from the RBC Foundation as part of RBC Future Launch. The initiative is led by Professor Carl E. James, the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education.

York University is launching a three-year initiative to enhance the representation of Black youth at universities across Canada by supporting upper-year high-school students as they plan for their future, such as pursuing post-secondary education or work, and aiding in the transition and retention of those who pursue university. The initiative is led by James, who is York University’s Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora in the Faculty of Education. James has focused on addressing systemic barriers and racial inequities for over a decade and a recent $1.2-million donation from the RBC Foundation, as part of RBC Future Launch, is allowing this work to go national. 

The initiative will kick off on Oct. 6 with a national conversation hosted by York and the RBC Student Success Initiative and Data Hub. This event, which runs from 7 to 8 p.m., will be livestreamed via YouTube here. Questions can be submitted in advance to yuevent@yorku.ca.

“We’re starting to see some attention to streaming – the process of placing students into academic or non-academic oriented classes based on their assumed intellectual abilities. The Ontario government’s announcement about ending academic streaming starting with the Grade 9 math curriculum this September as well as a ban on suspending young students is an OK start. However, we have a long way to go. Black students across Canada continue to report racial inequities and experience barriers in the education system,” says James, whose 2017 groundbreaking research revealed Black students are being disproportionately streamed away from academic programs and suspended at significantly higher rates than white or other racialized students. The report, Towards Race Equity in Education: The schooling of Black students in the Greater Toronto Area, used data to show poor outcomes for Black students and that current students were experiencing worse outcomes than their parents and grandparents. 

Carl James
Carl E. James

James is bringing together Kevin Hewitt, physics professor from Dalhousie University; Juliet Daniel, associate dean of research from McMaster University; Jennifer Adams, Canada Research Chair in Creativity and STEM and associate professor from the University of Calgary; and Annette Henry, professor, language and literacy education from the University of British Columbia, who share a commitment to addressing the educational issues of Black youth to further the systemic anti-Black racism work of individual institutions, including interventions and research. The research component will build on existing Canadian census data with a longitudinal study of Grade 11 and 12 students over a three-year period, informing the development of new community-based and student-support programs. It will, for the first time, facilitate the sharing of documentation and data across Canadian universities – allowing for geographical and contextual comparisons to be made. For example, James is particularly interested in the experience of second- and third-generation Black students and how the impact of generational status compares between Toronto and Halifax.

In 2020, RBC announced actions to address the inequity and systemic bias that have disadvantaged Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) individuals and youth. As part of these actions, RBC committed to providing $50 million in focused funding through RBC Future Launch to create meaningful and transformative pathways to prosperity for 25,000 BIPOC youth by 2025.

“Ensuring that Black students have equitable access to opportunity is critical to building strong, inclusive communities,” says Mark Beckles, vice-president of social impact and innovation at RBC. “We are working closely with our partners, including many BIPOC-serving organizations, to enable access. RBC’s support of the now national work of the Jean Augustine Chair will help to ensure that present and future generations of Black talent can reach their fullest potential.”

The initiative will kick off on Oct. 6 with a national conversation hosted by York and the RBC Student Success Initiative and Data Hub.