Celebrating Black stories, Black voices for Black History Month

York Black History Month banner

La version française suit la version anglaise. 

Each year, Black History Month is a catalyst for ongoing efforts to enact meaningful change throughout the year, a reminder of the past and present injustices faced by racialized individuals, and an opportunity to centre the experiences and invaluable contributions of Black individuals and communities.

At York University, we are fortunate to count among us many Black scholars whose expertise and leadership help us understand our world as it is, has been and might become. Below, we highlight – as congratulations, thanks and welcome – just a few of those colleagues:

  • Professor Christina Sharpe received multiple kudos for her book Ordinary Notes, including being a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize (YFile);
  • Professor Andrea Davis was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Royal Roads University for her visionary work in Black Studies (YFile);
  • Monique Herbert, associate professor in the teaching stream, is the Faculty of Health’s inaugural associate dean faculty affairs and inclusiveness (see here for some of Professor Herbert’s activities); and
  • Professor Marcia Annisette of the Schulich School of Business has begun her appointment as the University’s vice-provost academic (YFile).

We also welcome new Black faculty members who joined York this academic year:

  • Melissa Davis in the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design;
  • Stephanie Fearon in the Faculty of Education;
  • Safiyah Rochelle, Amanda van Beinum, Tamanisha John and Joe Pateman in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies;
  • Charles-Édouard Boukaré and Mohamed Omar in the Faculty of Science; and
  • Abu Shiraz Abdul-Rahaman in the Schulich School of Business.

We know that more needs to be done to support the advancement of Black communities and, at York, we remain dedicated to ensuring the success of our talented Black scholars, staff and students, and to combating systemic discrimination, empowering communities and raising awareness as we continue to advance the Action Plan on Black Inclusion.

We invite you to explore ways of contributing to this mission and hope you will join us in celebrating by participating in community events, like the Jean Augustine Chair event Word, Sound, Power on Wednesday, Feb 7, that amplify the diverse voices and stories of Black community members at York, who are featured on our Black History Month website.

Thank you. Merci. Miigwech.

Rhonda L. Lenton 
President & Vice-Chancellor       

Laina Y. Bay-Cheng
Interim Vice-President, Equity, People & Culture


Célébration des histoires et des voix des personnes noires pour le Mois de l’histoire des Noirs

Chaque année, le Mois de l’histoire des Noirs est un catalyseur des efforts déployés pour mettre en œuvre des changements significatifs tout au long de l’année. C’est aussi un rappel des injustices passées et présentes auxquelles les personnes racialisées sont confrontées et une occasion de mettre l’accent sur les expériences et les contributions inestimables des personnes et des communautés noires.

L’Université York a la chance de compter parmi ses rangs de nombreux universitaires noirs. Leur expertise et leur leadership nous aident à comprendre le monde actuel et à imaginer à quoi l’avenir pourrait ressembler. Nous aimerions présenter quelques collègues et en profiter pour les féliciter, les remercier et leur souhaiter la bienvenue :

  • La professeure Christina Sharpe a reçu de nombreux éloges pour son livre, Ordinary Notes, notamment en tant que finaliste du National Book Award et lauréate du Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize (YFile).
  • La professeure Andrea Davis a obtenu un doctorat honorifique en droit de l’Université Royal Roads pour son travail visionnaire dans le domaine des études noires (YFile)
  • Monique Herbert, professeure agrégée du volet enseignement, est la première doyenne associée de la Faculté de la santé pour les affaires facultaires et l’inclusivité (voir ici pour certaines des activités de la professeure Herbert).
  • La professeure Marcia Annisette, de l’École Schulich des hautes études commerciales, a pris ses fonctions de vice-rectrice aux affaires académiques de l’Université (YFile).

Nous souhaitons également la bienvenue aux nouvelles personnes noires qui ont rejoint le corps professoral de York cette année :

  • Melissa Davis à l’École des arts, des médias, de l’animation et du design
  • Stephanie Fearon à la Faculté des sciences de l’éducation
  • Safiyah Rochelle, Amanda van Beinum, Tamanisha John et Joe Pateman à la Faculté d’arts libéraux et d’études professionnelles
  • Charles-Édouard Boukaré et Mohamed Omar à la Faculté des sciences
  • Abu Shiraz Abdul-Rahaman à l’École Schulich des hautes études commerciales.

Il reste encore beaucoup à faire pour favoriser l’avancement des communautés noires. York réitère son engagement envers la réussite de ses talentueux universitaires et membres du personnel et de la population étudiante noirs, envers la lutte contre la discrimination systémique et envers l’épanouissement des communautés et la sensibilisation de l’opinion publique tout en continuant à faire progresser son Plan d’action sur l’inclusion des personnes noires.

Nous vous invitons à explorer les moyens de contribuer à cette mission et nous espérons que vous vous joindrez à nous pour la célébrer en participant à des événements communautaires comme l’événement « Word, Sound, Power » de la chaire Jean Augustine, le mercredi 7 février, qui amplifie les diverses voix et histoires des membres de la communauté noire de York. Tous ces événements sont annoncés sur le site Web du Mois de l’histoire des Noirs.

Merci. Thank you. Miigwech.

Rhonda L. Lenton 
Présidente et vice-chancelière             

Laina Y. Bay-Cheng
Vice-présidente intérimaire de l’équité, des personnes et de la culture

Bestselling author to share publishing secrets at upcoming event

Pile of books

If you’ve ever fantasized about becoming a published author, or are simply curious about how the book industry works, you won’t want to miss this upcoming event. On Wednesday, Jan. 31, York University’s Writing Department and Creative Writing program are hosting a talk and Q-and-A session with Cody Caetano, a literary agent and award-winning Indigenous author whose bestselling debut memoir, Half-Bads in White Regalia (Penguin Random House Canada, 2022), won the 2023 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English.

Cody Caetano
Cody Caetano

Caetano, who is of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and is an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation, holds a master of arts in creative writing from the University of Toronto, where he wrote his memoir under the mentorship of Indigenous Canadian writer and academic Lee Maracle.

The highly successful memoir that resulted, Half-Bads in White Regalia, was longlisted for the 2023 Toronto Book Award, the 2023 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and Canada Reads 2023. It was also named one of the best books of the year by the Globe and Mail and CBC Books.

To make his career trajectory even more impressive, Caetano was writing his bestselling debut memoir while working his way up the corporate ranks in the publishing industry, from his entry-level role as contracts administrator to his current job as a literary agent at the CookeMcDermid agency.

At this in-person event, the author and agent will speak about how to break into the book publishing industry and the challenges and rewards of being an author while also working a day job. After his talk and Q-and-A, he will read from his forthcoming novel and sign copies of his memoir.

The event will take place in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Registration is not required and all York University community members are welcome to attend.

Call for applications, nominations for head of Stong College

Stong Residence

The Faculty of Health at York University invites tenured faculty members who are passionate about advancing student success and building a sense of community to apply for the position of head of Stong College.

Reporting to the dean of the Faculty of Health, the successful candidate will provide administrative and educational leadership and contribute to inspiring learning, leadership and citizenship within an engaged and diverse community of students, staff, faculty, fellows and alumni at Stong College. The head of Stong College works in partnership with the Calumet & Stong Colleges’ Student Success team, including the head of Calumet College, to enhance the experience of Faculty of Health students and support both the Faculty of Health Strategic Plan and the Calumet & Stong Colleges’ Strategic Plan. Stong College is affiliated with and serves the students in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science and the School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health.

The role

The Head of Stong College contributes to an engaged community by working collaboratively with students, staff, faculty, fellows, key campus partners (e.g. Division of Students), and alumni to build and maintain a vibrant, diverse and inclusive community. The colleges play a crucial role at York, and the college head position requires a commitment to the University, Stong, and Calumet Colleges and, most importantly, the desire to enhance the lives of students and to strengthen the student experience.

The college head actively engages within the colleges’ community by supporting and attending key colleges’ community events and meets regularly with college-affiliated student organizations, staff, units and key campus partners throughout the academic year. The college head role provides a faculty member the opportunity to provide strategic vision and mentorship, and contribute to supporting the success of students and enhancing their experience at both the Faculty and university levels.

The successful candidate will be committed to enhancing the student experience, through the delivery of student-centred programs and services, and to engaging members of the York University community as well as the wider community. They will engage and support students of diverse heritage and backgrounds, including: equity-deserving, under-represented, international, first-generation, 2SLGBTQIA+, mature and part-time, place of birth, etc. The college head will support the University’s commitment to decolonizing, equity, diversity and inclusion (DEDI) through the development and implementation of initiatives designed to foster inclusivity and sense of belonging.

This is an exciting opportunity for an individual who is passionate about advancing student success and contributing to building a sense of community among students, staff, faculty members, fellows and alumni. College heads receive a stipend, course release and sabbatical top-up.

Application/nomination process

Tenured faculty members interested in becoming the head of Stong College can apply directly. Members of the York University community who know a tenured faculty member who would make an exceptional college head are welcome to submit a nomination.

Applications and nominations should be submitted to Professor Mazen Hamadeh, Chair of the search committee, c/o Lesia Facey, administrative assistant to the search committee, at lfacey@yorku.ca no later than Friday, Feb. 23. Applications are welcome from faculty members from across all programs, schools and departments within the Faculty of Health and the University, and should include:

  • an up-to-date resumé;
  • a Statement of Interest in the Head of Stong College role (maximum two pages); and
  • a brief (one-page) statement of approach to DEDI in an academic environment.

The position commences July 1 for a period of three to five years.

Applicants and nominees who are interested in learning more about the position are welcome to contact Jennine Rawana, head of Calumet College, at rawana@yorku.ca; or Mazen Hamadeh, former Head of Stong College, at hamadeh@yorku.ca.

Building pathways to education: a Q-and-A with Professor Carl James

Two Black students outside on York's Keele Campus

Studies have shown that Black students are significantly under-represented on Canadian post-secondary campuses, due in large part to systemic barriers. The Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora, now fully endowed and housed within York University’s Faculty of Education, aims to address this disparity and others by advancing access, equity, and inclusivity to education through community engagement and collaborative action.

Carl James
Carl James

Distinguished Research Professor Carl James, who has held the position of Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora since 2016, met with YFile to discuss the Chair, his role within it and what the recent $1.5 million in federal funding means for its future.

Q: For those who are unfamiliar, can you describe the mandate of the Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community & Diaspora?

A: We work with community to enable and support students from racialized and marginalized groups through education; not only through elementary, middle and high school, but through university and college as well.

Q: What is your focus in your role as Chair?

A: I’m very interested in programming because it is a useful reference for knowing about the experiences and concerns of Black community members and students. In this way, we get to know about the research questions we might want to explore. There’s a tendency to separate research from program, but I think Jean Augustine expects the Chair to combine research with programs. It is simply not research for research’s sake. Instead, once you do the research, we should act on it.

I particularly like the participatory action research we do, where we set up a program and then, as the program proceeds, we research the program – is it working, is it not working, and why? And as we conduct the research, we might put into place some adjustments to the program if it’s not heading towards the expected outcome. Hence, when we’re promoting the idea that a particular program works, we will be able to say the program works because we have done the necessary research and have some documented evidence. We use the participants as researchers, as well, collaborating with them about the information we’re trying to gather.

Q: Can you explain what it means that the Chair is now fully funded?

A: The federal government’s recent $1.5-million contribution towards the endowment means that the Chair is well positioned to continue with its activities. It also means that we now have endowment funds to create some of the programs we’ve been wanting to.

Q: What is the Day at York program?

A: The Day at York program, which has hosted over 450 students from Ontario (and some from Halifax, Nova Scotia) in the past year and a half, provides Black students enrolled in Grades 7 to 12 with an opportunity to imagine themselves at a post-secondary institution.

We can tell students to go to university, but it’s difficult to imagine if you don’t have something to stimulate or inform that imagination. This program helps insofar as students are able to attend lectures, workshops, campus tours, and networking sessions with students, alumni and Black faculty members.

When students think of, where should I go to university, sometimes familiarity with an institution might help them to choose a particular university or program. It provides many opportunities that students would not have otherwise had.

Q: What are your proudest accomplishments in this role so far?

A: One of the things I’m particularly pleased with is the Jean Augustine Chair (JAC) Student Network, which involves Black undergraduate and graduate students and recent graduates. The group contributes to the work of the Chair by sharing their experiences navigating university and working to be successful in their respective educational programs. Members act as hosts and mentors to high-school students who come on campus; and they do not only help to inform and contribute to the Chair’s research agenda, they also participate in the research as respondents, research assistants and collaborators. Ultimately, the network provides members with opportunities for personal, educational, team building and work-related skill development in an affirming and supportive post-secondary educational environment.

Also, we have the Jean Augustine Chair’s annual Black History Month event that happens every year in partnership with the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design’s music program. Called Word, Sound, Power: An Annual Celebration of Black Artistic Expression, it is a showcase of talent, creativity and cultural pride. It is taking place this year on Feb. 7. It is held in recognition of one of Jean Augustine’s legacies – that is, the crucial role she played in establishing Black History Month in Canada. Therefore, it seems logical to hold an event at York through the Chair.

Q: What are some other projects you’re working on as part of the Chair?

A: We’re currently conducting research on social capital, a significantly new area to explore. We’re looking at how individuals employ their social capital – that is, their cultural assets, interests, aspirations, education and consciousness of what is possible – to take advantage of opportunities by which they might access training and employment to realize their social, economic, career and other ambitions. In partnership with the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism and York University’s School of Continuing Studies, we will investigate the lived experiences and needs of racialized Canadians, using the three years of the project to collect data that will help to inform educational and employment program initiatives.  

As well, we recently received program funding from the RBC Foundation to put in place Securing Black Futures, a national partnership by which we might collectively work to build pathways for Black youth to pursue their educational goals and attain academic and career success. Led by us at York and working in partnership with colleagues from six universities across the country, the program activities will serve to inform us about relevant and appropriate educational and social interventions and supports for Black youth. We will also get to know how we might best mentor, enable, support and educate Black students in their pursuit of post-secondary education, as well as particular educational and career pathways – particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Q: Looking toward the future, how do you hope the now fully endowed Jean Augustine Chair will impact the lives of Black and marginalized youth in Canada?

A: I think that a fully endowed Chair is nicely positioned to continue with its current local, regional and national initiatives. These include: supporting students in constructing their aspirations, in their decision processes as they journey towards their future selves; facilitating the voices of Black Canadians as they tell of their experiences through the research we will conduct, report and publish; helping to build university-community partnerships through which we might help to address structural and institutional barriers to full inclusion and equity of Black and other racialized people within Canadian society; and making substantial research contributions about Black life in Canada, taking into account education, employment, health and housing needs. 

Q: How important is the York University community to the success of the Chair?

A: We cannot underestimate the support that York University has given the Chair, both financial and otherwise. Neither can we underestimate the contributions of the Faculty of Education, faculty members from across the University, our community advisory committee, and our partners at York University centres such as the Harriet Tubman Institute and the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean. It’s this whole network of people that enables the work of the Chair.

Osgoode leads in applications for third year running

Osgoode Hall Law School

For the third consecutive year, York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School has attracted more applications for its juris doctor (JD) program than any other law school in Ontario – and, according to school administrators, this is no coincidence.

Recently released statistics from the Ontario Law School Application Service, a division of the Ontario University Application Centre in Guelph, Ont., reveal that Osgoode received 2,867 applications in 2023 for its 2024-25 first-year class of 315 students.

Marcos Ramos Jr.
Marcos Ramos Jr.

“I think one powerful thing that our admissions numbers show is that we are highly desired, highly sought after,” said Marcos Ramos Jr., manager of admissions and student financial services at Osgoode.

“But also,” he added, “when you look at our numbers closely, we have one of the most diverse classes of students within Canada, if not the most.”

That impressive diversity, he said, is a reflection of the law school’s long-standing holistic admissions policy – which takes into account more than just grades or Law School Admission Test scores. When considering potential students, Osgoode’s recruiters look beyond strong academic skills to each applicant’s life story and passions.

“Show me the passion,” said Ramos Jr. “Show me how you want to contribute.”

Osgoode also prioritizes a determined effort by recruiters to create Canada’s most diverse law school because, Ramos. Jr said, law students educated in that environment simply become better lawyers.

“Academics are essential,” he noted, “but what makes an excellent lawyer is your social skills. And we’re bringing to students an understanding of different walks of life – be it class, race, or creed.”

In the process, Osgoode hasn’t just created a highly sought after and diverse law school. It’s helping make the legal field – and the world – a better place.

Osgoode’s Sikh law students create first-of-its-kind national network

Group of Indian friends at the park

Members of the fledgling Osgoode Sikh Students Association (OSSA) – the first group of its kind in Canada – are playing a key role in bringing Sikh law students together. Not just at Osgoode Hall Law School, but across the country.

The rigours and demands of law school can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, but even more so without support. “The feeling of community in law school can make or break a student’s experience,” says Dalraj Singh Gill, co-president of the OSSA, which was launched in the summer of 2022 and aims to improve its members’ law school experience.

Tripat Kaur Sandhu (left) and Dalraj Singh Gill (right), co-presidents of the Osgoode Sikh Students Association, receiving the Osgoode Student Club Award for Community Building.

Third-year Osgoode student and OSSA co-president Tripat Kaur Sandhu and Osgoode graduate Karen Kaur Randhawa, a co-founder of the group, established the group with the hope that the initiative would benefit not only Sikh students at the law school, but the wider Osgoode community, the legal profession at large and Sikh law students across Canada.

Gill – a 2025 candidate in the Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration program at Osgoode and Shulich – said one way the organization is looking to accomplish that is by helping Sikh students to remain rooted in the central principles of the Sikh faith, including the pursuit of justice and standing against oppression – ideals that are also relevant to the practice of law. 

Members also hope OSSA, through events and activities, can help improve understanding of the Sikh community at Osgoode and provide a platform to advocate for Sikh issues and other racialized and minority communities at the school.

“Our goal, among others,” said Gill, “is to tackle systemic barriers which prevent Sikh students and persons of colour from accessing the legal profession.”

Since establishing OSSA, the co-founders have actively reached out to Sikh law students across Canada, encouraging and supporting their efforts to launch chapters at their own universities. And their outreach has proven successful, with many Sikh Students Association (SSA) chapters popping up across the country throughout 2023 – at the University of Ottawa in January, at Toronto Metropolitan University in February, at the University of Windsor in May, at Thompson Rivers University in the summer and at Queens University in the fall. This year, an SSA chapter is being eyed at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

Last year, the Osgoode Legal & Literary Society recognized OSSA’s impactful work with its annual Student Club Award for Community Building.

“We are also hoping to get in touch with B.C. law schools,” said Gill, “and then later expand across to law schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan and at Dalhousie in Nova Scotia.”

Gill added that although the SSA chapters are not affiliated with the Canadian Association of Sikh Lawyers, his group’s goal is to create a Canada-wide network and community that will extend to alumni groups and established legal professionals. A longer-term goal is to eventually host a national conference involving all SSA chapters.

York prof to moderate panel on Black students’ mental health

Two Black students walking inside on York's Keele Campus

Research continues to indicate that anti-Black racism takes a toll on mental health – and academia is not immune to this unfortunate reality. As part of the upcoming Black Student Mental Health Symposium, York University Professor Agnès Berthelot-Raffard will moderate a panel discussion featuring experts from York and beyond speaking about mental health challenges faced by Black students, the racial climate on campus, and equity, diversity and inclusion in the university setting.

Agnès Berthelot-Raffard
Agnès Berthelot-Raffard

Open to all community members, the Feb. 5 event – taking place from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the Founders Assembly Hall on York’s Keele Campus – aims to provide a space to explore strategies and resources to support the mental well-being of Black students, faculty and staff on university campuses.

Berthelot-Raffard, a professor in the School of Health Policy & Management, is the principal investigator of the Promoting Black Students’ Mental Health: A Pan-Canadian Research and Intervention Project on Social Determinants of Health and Equity in Canadian Universities, a project funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada for 2021-24. For this event, she gathered a group of notable York leaders and experts to contribute their diverse knowledge to the panel discussion:

  • Delores Mullings, vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion at Memorial University and a professor of social work;
  • Sophie Yohani, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta;
  • Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora, a professor at York University, and York’s senior advisor on equity and representation in the Office of the Vice-President of Equity, People and Culture;
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, instructor and special advisor at the Schulich School of Business; and
  • Yasmine Gray, York University alumna from the Critical Disability Studies program.

For more information and to register for the event, visit the Eventbrite page.

Podcast series shakes up Shakespeare

pink headphones

Four York University community members have launched “Shaking up Shakespeare,” a 10-episode podcast series that looks to re-examine playwright William Shakespeare – and productions of his work – through a lens that considers issues like gender discrimination, racism, ableism and more.

The origins of the podcast begin, much like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, with a ghost.

In 2021, Marlis Schweitzer, professor of theatre and performance studies – along with her York colleague Assistant Professor Jamie Robinson and PhD student Marilò Nuñez – held an online event that gathered Canadian professional actors, directors and playwrights to discuss how casting practices in Canada affected their work.

The event was part of a five-year project called “(Re)setting the Stage: The Past, Present, and Future of Casting Practices in Canada,” supported by funding from Schweitzer’s position as a York Research Chair (Tier II) in Theatre & Performance History, and aiming to situate debates about theatrical representation and the politics of casting in Canada within a broader historical context.

“Although the event’s primary focus was on contemporary theatre, one of the names that kept popping up was ‘Shakespeare,’” says Schweitzer. “He was like a ghost haunting the event. Some people spoke with reverence about him – others with revulsion.”

The conflicting feelings around Shakespeare led to the project team’s decision to host a followup symposium – supported by a Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council Connections Grant – to engage more directly with Shakespeare and examine the legacy of his work, specifically in the context of Canadian theatre culture and society more broadly.

The symposium – titled “(Re)casting Shakespeare in Canada” – was held in spring 2023 and became the foundation for the recently launched “Shaking up Shakespeare” podcast, which sees Schweitzer and two recently graduated York research assistants, Hope Van Der Merwe and Liam Lockhart-Rush, serve as hosts and interviewers, with dramaturgical support from recent master of fine arts graduate and current theatre instructor Jeff Ho.

The podcast features interviews with over 30 individuals, across a range of professions, who all have a connection to Shakespeare or have been impacted by his work in some way. And rather than celebrating Shakespeare, no questions asked, the series takes a critical perspective, acknowledging a host of issues, including gender discrimination, racism and ableism, both in Shakespeare’s plays and in productions of his plays. It does so by incorporating recent conversations throughout the arts about diversity and casting practices, colonial structures and accessibility – all in the hopes of cultivating in listeners a different perspective of the famous playwright.

“Our big hope is to engage listeners in thinking anew about the role Shakespeare plays in their own lives – whether that’s casually, when they go to the theatre or watch a movie or tv show with Shakespearean references, or when they drive through a town like Stratford or Shakespeare, Ontario,” says Schweitzer. “We want listeners to consider some of the deeper questions we ask about how the historical privileging of Shakespeare in Canada has helped to exclude the voices of racialized and other minoritized artists.”

The podcast series will also shine a light on the artists who are grappling with Shakespeare, reworking and adapting his plays to meet the needs of contemporary audiences, including those whose stories have existed in the margins. For example, one episode will feature interviews with the cast of theatre company Why Not Theatre’s remounting of their production Prince Hamlet, an intersectional adaptation in which the role of Horatio, Hamlet’s friend, is played by Dawn Jani Birley, a Deaf actor and American Sign Language (ASL) translator. (This also led to a collaboration that resulted in translating the entire podcast series into ASL and recorded videos of each episode with a team of Deaf interpreters).

In spotlighting creative efforts like these, the podcast series hopes to not just facilitate listeners rethinking Shakespeare, but imagining what creative – and more equitable – productions of the playwright’s work may be yet to come. “We hope listeners will be excited to learn about how such artists have adapted Shakespeare to tell their own stories and are offering new critical perspectives on what it means to perform and produce Shakespeare in 2024,” says Schweitzer.

“Shaking up Shakespeare” is currently available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts. ASL videos of the series are available on YouTube and the project website, which contains additional information about the series.

New smudging program makes Indigenous tradition accessible to all

Bundle of sage for indigenous smudging ceremony

York University’s Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages (CIKL), an interdisciplinary research centre that supports Indigenous and decolonizing scholarship, launched a new smudging program late last year to provide all students, faculty and staff with a welcoming place to clear their minds and experience the benefits of sacred Indigenous medicines.

Practised by many Indigenous people in Canada and around the world for both medicinal and spiritual purposes, smudging ceremonies typically involve prayer and the burning of sacred medicines such as sweetgrass, cedar, sage and tobacco.

Rainingbird Daniels
Rainingbird Daniels

Rainingbird Daniels (Cree/Souix/Dakota from Sturgeon Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan), CIKL’s current work-study student and special projects assistant, came up with the idea to introduce a smudging program at York in October 2023. It was approved and launched the following month, and resumed on Jan. 9 following the winter break. 

“The smudging program is a way to support all/Indigenous students, faculty and staff by offering the four sacred medicines in Indigenous (Native American) culture,” said Daniels. “This was implemented so the smudge is accessible for everyone, regardless of their situation.”

Daniels hopes this program will help community members start their week with positivity and provide a safe place to pray and/or gain knowledge about traditional Indigenous practices. 

The smudging program, which runs every Tuesday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in 353B York Lanes, is open to all York community members (Indigenous/non-Indigenous). For more information, visit the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges & Languages.

Voice-activated sexism: exploring consequences of gendered technology  

Man using virtual assistance

By Corey Allen, senior manager, research communications 

New research from two PhD candidates at York University examines the trend of smart speaker unboxing videos on YouTube, arguing that women who create content about devices like Siri or Alexa are perceived as a kind of domestic technology themselves.    

“Voice-activated personal assistants (VAPAs) use women’s voices as a default setting, and this gendered technology significantly influences the treatment of women tech experts by male audiences online,” says Stephen J. Neville, who conducted the work alongside Alex Borkowski, both of whom are in the Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture at York and Toronto Metropolitan University. 

Stephen J. Neville
Stephen J. Neville
Alex Borkowski
Alex Borkowski

Unboxing is a popular video genre on YouTube and features people unwrapping and reviewing the latest high-tech gadget or product, like smart speakers. These videos often also offer a walk-through or demonstration of such a device.

“Today’s consumers learn about new tech products online before buying them, and unboxing videos are seen as providing a trusted third-party review,” says Borkowski. “We were curious to learn more about the resonance between VAPAs and women tech experts.”   

Neville and Borkowski watched over 200 of the most popular smart speaker unboxing videos on YouTube, the majority of which featured men, studying their contents, structure and aesthetics. Videos of women doing the unboxing made up only 10.9 per cent of their initial sample and garnered far fewer views.  

Analyzing over 4,000 comments on videos made by women revealed a troubling but rather unsurprising finding: the women’s intelligence was often insulted, or they were sexually objectified.  

The pair of researchers argue some of these comments treat the women as if they are broken machines – a concept developed in previous media studies research – and are issued commands like a smart speaker to stop talking (or shut up), go mute or turn off.  

“Sexism and misogyny are pervasive online and offline, and it extends to YouTube, which creates a challenging environment for female content creators,” says Borkowski. “Our research shows the domestication of smart speakers has had a spillover effect in the media consumption of these unboxing videos and women tech experts.”  

A substantial portion of the pair’s research focused on analyzing each woman YouTubers’ presentation or performance style, and the ways in which they engaged with the product.   

Based on this analysis, Neville and Borkowski observed the female content creators showed technical prowess and a solid understanding of smart speakers overall, but one aspect of their performances contradicted this display of expertise.   

In some of the unboxing videos, when the VAPA is turned on, the women’s reactions were over the top, with some acting overwhelmingly shocked or audibly gasping.   

The pair see this exaggerated behaviour as indicative of the way women are forced to navigate society at large, being expected to conform to traditional femininity.  

“Our findings suggest that some of these women can at times act ditzy to undercut their own authority and expertise with new technology,” says Neville. “This behaviour functions almost like a pre-emptive defence to the negative reaction they anticipate receiving from the audience.”  

According to Borkowski, the idea of a technologically savvy woman is threatening to some, so these women have learned to adapt their behaviour in an attempt to minimize the level of vitriol or hate they receive online.  

“It’s a burden male tech experts never contend with,” she says.  

Despite these negative conditions facing women online, there are grounds for optimism. Neville and Borkowski see potential for the concept of women as broken machines to be co-opted to promote equity and social justice. 

“Albeit broken, women tech experts viewed as machines provides them with a platform and channel to shape the way their audiences see and use technology,” says Neville. “They can also block trolls and disable comments as a way to resist online misogyny.”  

“The popularity of these unboxing videos provides an opportunity for female content creators to discuss bigger issues with technology beyond the functionality or practicality of one product, including concerns about privacy, surveillance and control,” says Borkowski.  

The research, “Broken domestication: The resonant politics of voice in gendered technology,” was published as a book chapter earlier this year in the Routledge Handbook on Media and Technology Domestication.