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.

Schulich ExecEd expands health-care training partnership in Guyana

Schulich ExecEd Guyana group photo

Schulich ExecEd, an extension of the Schulich School of Business at York University, is building upon its existing partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana by launching a new Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program and kicking off a second cohort of the Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program. Both programs are set to begin their virtual classroom sessions this month.

Representatives from Schulich ExecEd travelled to Guyana last month to celebrate the new program launch with members of Guyana’s government. The attendees from Schulich ExecEd were: Rami Mayer, executive director; Dr. Susan Lieff, program director; Jeff MacInnis, facilitator; Robert Lynn, associate director; and Ai Hokama, program co-ordinator.

“I am excited to announce the continuation of our partnership with the Government of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana,” said Mayer. “Together, we are pioneering transformative learning programs focused on social innovation that are aimed at equipping health-care leaders with essential skills crucial for navigating the evolving landscape of health care in the Guyana region.”

The Schulich ExecEd-Guyana Masters Certificate in Hospital Leadership Program focuses on fortifying the administrative skills of health-care workers, equipping them with the knowledge to effectively manage health-care facilities, resources and personnel. Its sister program, the Guyana-Schulich ExecEd Masters Certificate in Physician Leadership Program, is a direct response to the needs of physicians in the region. The goal is to build up physicians’ leadership abilities, improve their decision-making skills, and sharpen their capacity to manage health-care facilities and resources. 

“These programs have been specifically designed to empower health-care professionals in Guyana and enhance the quality of health-care services they provide to their patients,” said Frank Anthony, Guyana’s minister of health. “We are grateful for the co-operation of the Ministry of Public Service and the Government of Guyana in delivering this training to the participants free of charge.”

Schulich ExecEd’s ongoing mission with this partnership is to transform Guyana’s health-care system to deliver more equitable, accessible and enhanced health care. The shared vision of these partners is to develop better health care and physician leaders in Guyana and to provide innovative health-care solutions to improve patient outcomes across the country. Program participants hail from all 10 regions of Guyana, including the country’s Indigenous communities.

“Our programs are meticulously designed to fill critical gaps in business education, addressing skill needs not traditionally covered in medical school,” explained Mayer. “We are committed to empowering physicians and health-care leaders with the tools to manage difficult conversations, solve complex problems, foster collaboration, lead effectively and elevate the overall quality of care in the country.”

Both programs are expected to graduate their current participants in September of this year.

For a closer look at the Schulich ExecEd team’s celebratory trip to Guyana last month, visit

LA&PS prof publishes three books in one month

colorful book shelf banner

A busy 2023 has led to Hassan Qudrat-Ullah, a professor in York University’s School of Administrative Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), publishing three new books in short succession this past November, covering topics as diverse as systems thinking, supply chain management and sustainable development.

Hassan Qudrat-Ullah
Hassan Qudrat-Ullah

The first of the three, Managing Complex Tasks with Systems Thinking (Springer, 2023), is about improving human decision making and performance in complex tasks. Using a systems thinking approach, it presents innovative and insightful solutions to various managerial issues in various domains, including agriculture, education, climate change, digital transformation, health care, supply chains and sustainability.

Qudrat-Ullah’s second recently published work, a co-edited volume with York University Research Fellow Syed Imran Ali called Advanced Technologies and the Management of Disruptive Supply Chains: The Post-COVID Era (Springer, 2023), explores the cost-effective and efficient supply chain management strategies required to achieve resilience in the post-COVID environment.

“The book follows a didactic approach through which it informs global researchers and practitioners to deal with the most significant insights on future supply chains with a more in-depth analysis of post-COVID opportunities and challenges,” said Qudrat-Ullah. “In particular, it provides an in-depth assessment of disruptive supply chain management in certain industrial contexts and explores various industry 4.0 and industry 5.0 technologies to achieve resilience.”

The final book of the bunch, Exploring the Dynamics of Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in Africa: A Cross-Country and Interdisciplinary Approach (Springer, 2023), explores the potential of renewable energy sources to promote sustainable development in Africa, with a specific focus on Cameroon, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa and Algeria. It delves into the challenges and opportunities presented by various renewable and clean energy technologies, including nuclear power, liquefied petroleum gas, bamboo biomass gasification and geothermal energy in addressing the energy needs of African nations. Additionally, it assesses the socio-economic and environmental impacts of renewable energy projects and evaluates their alignment with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“The book’s interdisciplinary and cross-country approach, as well as its incorporation of innovative concepts like social innovation and bamboo-based development, makes it a unique resource,” said the author.

Niarchos scholarship brings students from Greece to York U

skyline of Greek town

By Elaine Smith

Students from Greece have an opportunity to study or conduct research at York University through a scholarship supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), an international philanthropic organization that honours the late shipping magnate.

Alexandros Balasis
Alexandros Balasis

In fact, Alexandros Balasis, a PhD student in history at York University, can trace his connection to York back to that scholarship. In 2018, when he was a fourth-year history student at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki in northern Greece, one of his professors told him about the Niarchos Foundation scholarships that provided an exchange to York.

He applied, was invited for an interview and was accepted in November 2018 for admittance in January 2019. York International, the office that handles exchanges, assisted him with orientation, registration and other logistics. Balasis arrived on Jan. 2, 2019, in time for York International’s orientation for international students, and from there, he was off and running.

“I saw a university system that I really liked,” Balasis said. “I got hooked from the very beginning.”

A photo of Sakis Gekas
Sakis Gekas

At York, he met Sakis Gekas, an associate professor who holds the Hellenic Heritage Foundation Chair of Modern Greek History, and they met every few weeks to discuss various aspects of modern Greek history.

“The scholarship gave me an opportunity to clarify my goals,” Balasis said.

He decided to pursue a master’s degree in history with Gekas, a degree that he obtained remotely during the pandemic. Gekas urged him to continue on to a PhD program and he has done so, studying Greek migration to Canada after the Second World War.

“The foundation changed the course of my life,” he said. “My experiences, both in Toronto and later with their Istorima project in Greece, gave me the opportunity to understand how much I like history. It made me decide to keep open to opportunities and take advantage of them.”

Grigorios Iliopoulos
Grigorios Iliopoulos

A Stavros Niarchos Foundation scholarship has also impacted Grigorios Iliopoulos‘s PhD studies, bringing his topic to life. Iliopoulos, a third-year PhD student in the American Literature & Culture Department at Aristotle University, is working on a thesis about contemporary literature that talks about the city of Toronto. However, until recently, he had never visited the city that is at the heart of his research.

“This was the perfect program for me,” Iliopoulos said. “I worked on material referring to Toronto, but this was my first chance to see the place.”

Iliopoulos’s work centres on literature depicting urban spaces. He chose Toronto because it is one of the most diverse metropolitan areas in North America and he has focused on novels and collections of short stories by authors of non-French or -British background, those less represented in the past.

“When I got to Toronto, I walked the streets and got a much better idea of how the city and the residents worked,” he said. “I got a sense of scale that is much different than in Europe and it felt like there was a huge difference in how we perceive space. I acquired a different understanding of the perspective of the authors I’ve studied, including David Bezmozgis and Dionne Brand.

“I was also able to access a wealth of library material that wasn’t available in Greece, so this opportunity will have a huge impact on my dissertation.”

Gekas, who serves as a liaison with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is eager to see more students in Greece take advantage of the opportunity to study at York. The foundation provides funding for three or four undergraduates and one graduate student each year, and he would like to exploit York’s partnership with the University of Crete and connect with the University of Athens to provide broad national coverage in Greece.

Faculty members who collaborate with colleagues in Greece and want to promote this opportunity are encouraged to contact Gekas or Ashley Laracy, associate director of global learning at York International.

Two profs earn awards for postdoctoral mentorship excellence

Audience clapping

York University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) honoured two exceptional professors, Alison Crosby and Amro Zayed, with the Postdoctoral Supervisor Award during an FGS council meeting on Dec. 7. The award is presented annually to a faculty member in any department and program at York who demonstrates exemplary support for postdoctoral scholars.

This award serves to applaud Crosby and Zayed for exceeding general supervisory expectations to their postdoctoral Fellows while acknowledging the important work performed by both the professors and Fellows. Alice MacLachlan, vice-provost and dean of graduate studies, said the two recipients embody the award’s spirit of mentorship creativity, excellence and dedication. “You serve as a role model for all of us to follow,” she added.

“This is the kind of work that places York in the top 40 globally in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, through our work as a progressive, research-intensive institution,” said Lisa Philipps, provost and vice-president academic.

Alison Crosby

Alison Crosby
Alison Crosby

Crosby is an associate professor and interim Chair of the School of Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies. Her research projects and publications use an anti-racist, anti-colonial and transnational feminist lens and participatory methodologies to support protagonists’ multifaceted struggles to redress and memorialize harm in the aftermath of political violence, with a particular focus on Guatemala, where she has worked for over 30 years.

Crosby is currently working on the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council-funded project “Remembering and Memorializing Violence: Transnational Feminist Dialogues,” which brings together feminist scholars, artists, activists and community practitioners from a wide range of contexts and disciplinary perspectives to explore the transnational dimensions of how we collectively remember and memorialize colonial, militarized and state violence. The project also provided Crosby’s postdoctoral Fellow, Ruth Murambadoro, with a space to house her research and become part of this digital community.

“Professor Crosby embodies Ubuntu principles of communitarianism, humility, mutual respect, hospitality and so much more, which have enabled me to integrate and chart a new pathway for my career in Canada,” noted Murambadoro in her nomination letter. “She remains a key player in my life and role model, who taught me fundamental lessons on collegiality, humanness and effective mentorship. I value the contributions that Prof. Crosby has made in my research, scholarly and personal development over the time we have worked together.”

In response to the award win, Crosby said, “It’s my pleasure, privilege and honour to work with postdoc Fellows.” Of her nominator, she said, “I look forward to my collaborations with her for many years to come.”

Amro Zayed

Amro Zayed
Amro Zayed

Zayed, a professor in the Department of Biology and York Research Chair in Genomics, is currently the inaugural director of York’s Centre for Bee Ecology, Evolution & Conservation, leading a research program on the genetics, genomics and behaviour of social insects, using the honey bee as a model organism. 

Zayed’s lab provides opportunities to conduct research and network with academics and industry partners worldwide. Since 2009, Zayed has supervised eight postdoctoral Fellows who have collectively produced a total of 28 peer-reviewed publications and 71 conference presentations. He aims to equip postdoctoral Fellows with the skills necessary to successfully navigate the increasingly competitive job market.

“His approach to leadership has inspired us to seek creative solutions in research and to collaborate with diverse groups of stakeholders,” stated Sydney Wizenberg and Sarah French in their letter of nomination. “To this end, Amro exemplifies all of the characteristics one would expect of an intellectual leader and role model. He provides a unilateral environment of support to his research group. He is personally invested in our success and well-being, going above and beyond to help with professional skill development. He is actively involved in our career development, prioritizing our long-term success over our short-term role in his group.”

Zayed was caught off-guard by the award. “I was really surprised by this,” he admitted. “When I started my career, I never appreciated the joy of having postdocs.”

The Postdoctoral Supervisor of the Year Award accepts nominations annually by no later than June 1 of each year. Nomination letters should provide evidence that the nominee meets the following criteria: is a role model for intellectual leadership and professionalism in research; fosters an environment of support for professional skill development; promotes a climate of respect and collegiality; and offers advocacy and guidance in long-term personal and professional developments.

For more information, visit

York advances projects to support Indigenous scholarship, knowledge

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Indigenous

Nine new projects dedicated to increasing Indigenous scholarship and voice within teaching and learning at York University have earned grants through the Indigeneity in Teaching in Learning Fund.

Funded by the Office of the Vice-Provost Academic, these innovative projects selected in the 2023-24 academic year create new opportunities for Indigenous students to build knowledge and increase participation in cultural activities, while expanding meaningful connections with Indigenous communities.

Marcia Annisette
Marcia Annisette

“We are pleased to see the uptake and interest in this fund. We get more applicants than we can fund and this year was no different,” says Marcia Annisette, vice-provost academic. “This speaks to the great interest across the University to bring meaning and intention to the Indigenous Framework and to the University Academic Plan. These funds are catalysts for what we hope will lead to richer teaching, learning and relationship across the University.”

Projects are estimated to engage approximately 1,000 students, faculty and staff. Susan Dion, associate vice-president, Indigenous initiatives, says these projects “contribute to embedding Indigenous voices and perspectives in courses, student learning and partnership building with Indigenous leaders, advancing York’s commitment to integrating Indigenous thought and perspectives throughout the academy.”  

In 2023, the University launched its Decolonizing, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which includes a commitment to cultivating inclusive teaching and learning environments that nurture multiple and intersectional ways of knowing. The nine projects awarded with grants aim to advance this goal in concrete ways and demonstrate how the community is contributing to advancing positive change in 2023-24.

The projects, which will receive approximately $2,000 each, are:

  • Bridging Indigenous Women’s and IndigiQueer Voices from Community to Indigenous Feminisms Class, by Angele Alook;
  • Community Voices in Indigenous Spirituality in the Contemporary World, by Michael White;  
  • Creating a SAGE Nest: Collaborative Mentorship & Support for Indigenous Graduate Students, by Rebecca Beaulne-Stuebing;  
  • Regeneration: All Our Relations Speaker and Performance, by Laura Levin, Brenda Longfellow, Archer Pechawis and Emilia White;
  • Lunch and Learn: Connect, Educate, Enhance, by Sage Hartmann and Hannah Johnson, Osgoode Indigenous Student Association;
  • Making Good Tracks Moccasin Project, by Kiera Brant-Birioukov
  • Reclaiming Aatisokaanan: Traditional Anishinaabe Stories, by Maya Chacaby;
  • Exploring Toronto as a City of Solidarity and Alienation, by Soma Chatterjee; and  
  • Houdensosaunee Social Dance, by Jeremy Green

SDGs in Action: from desk research to global citizenship curriculum

tablet united nations sustainability goals unsdgs

By Elaine Smith

Although they have now graduated, a team of students who took part in York University’s Go Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Action Student Challenge hope to continue pursuing opportunities to incorporate their community-oriented projects into university extracurriculars.

With funding from the Government of Canada’s outbound student mobility pilot program Global Skills Opportunity, the Student Challenge aims to empower York students and their peers around the world to take action toward achieving the United Nations SDGs with a global lens under the supervision of York International.

Under the auspices of the challenge, two York students, Christiane Marie Canillo, who earned her bachelor of arts (BA) in psychology, and Ravichandiranesan Ponnudurai, a bachelor of environmental studies graduate, along with two students from the University of the Philippines Diliman – Renchillina Supan, a BA sociology graduate, and Mila Monica Maralit, a master of arts in tourism student – connected to work toward ensuring SDG 4: Quality Education. Now known as the iGoCitizen team, they welcomed a new member in November 2022: Anjali Kumar, a BA in law and society graduate from York University, who also shares motivation to transform conversation into active global citizenship.

In the winter of 2022, the team earned the SDGs in Action Creative Solutions Award for exhibiting a high degree of interdisciplinary thinking to mobilize and engage communities to act on the SDGs. And that was only the beginning.

The iGoCitizen team determined that global citizenship education (GCED) is integral to achieving the SDGs because it teaches action skills for quality education. Their pilot project, based on a discourse analysis, targeted the need to integrate GCED into school curricula as extracurricular activities. This helped them build this program, which organizes and equips teams with global citizenship learnings, design thinking and project management skills that allow them to create socially grounded and concept-based social action plans (SAPs) in their own communities.

“We need a relevant and transformative education that will enable learners to think critically and act toward a more ‘just, peaceful, tolerant and inclusive’ society,” they wrote in their plan.

Starting with Sri Lanka, the team prepared a country-specific curriculum to teach students about social cohesion, peace-building and active citizenship, and challenged them to create SAPs for their own communities.

Creating the curriculum required extensive research, consultations and discussions, and it would have been easy for the iGoCitizen team to hand in their deliverables and walk away at the end of the semester. Instead, they created an opportunity to deliver the curriculum the following fall, piloting it as a five-day hybrid workshop in partnership with VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka and the University of Jaffna in Sri Lanka.

Ponnudurai was on hand to deliver content live, while the other team members taught and facilitated the online portions of the workshop. The enthusiasm that greeted the workshop made them eager to keep the project alive.

“The participants wanted to model GCED and do projects in real time in Jaffna,” said Ponnudurai. “We all saw their passion. After three decades of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the younger generation wants to make changes to help rebuild their communities. This is so important in order to achieve the SDGs.”

Supan said, “It was great to see our ideas become reality. We met virtually to create this project, and I never thought that our concept notes would lead to social action plans and actual impact on student engagement activities.”

The iGoCitizen team is working on the possible second implementation in Sri Lanka and project contextualization in the Philippines. Anticipated efforts also include iterations to other countries not initially included in their discourse analysis, since there have been inquiries from countries such as Mexico. The team is also finalizing a memorandum of understanding discussion with their non-governmental organization partner, VISIONS Global Empowerment Sri Lanka.

It is challenging, because the team has limited funding and human resources, and members are also managing personal commitments such as work and studies. Nonetheless, all members remain passionate and committed. They hope that another team of students who join the Go Global SDGs in Action Student Challenge will be interested in pursuing the iGoCitizen initiative elsewhere in the world.

“York University’s SDGs in Action project team is in awe of team iGoCitizen. They are a model for anyone who aspires to create change and positive impact in their community(ies),” said Helen Balderama, director of global engagement and partnerships for York International. “With passion, determination and collaborations, the possibilities are endless.”

The 2023-24 SDGs in Action Knowledge Fair (third edition) is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 6 from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Those interested can register to join the conversation and learn about the student groups’ transformative SDGs projects.

For more information about iGoCitizen, contact the team at or