#BlackProfessorsMatter: Intellectual survival and public love

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Guest blog by Wesley Crichlow, Associate Dean of Equity and Diversity, Ontario Tech University, and the Federation’s Board Director of Equity and Diversity

There is a distinct paucity of material, scholarly or otherwise, on the experiences of African Black Canadian scholars within the Canadian academy. This #BlackProfessorsMatter blog post — and others in the Equity Matters series — aims to help fill and contribute to a Black intellectual space to create an international conversation that includes Black professors across the country. It builds on the tradition of past Equity Matters blogs, through which, since 2010, the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences has been fostering scholarly debate on diversity issues in Canada, such as : Trans, LGBTQ, feminist, disabled, Indigenous faculty and staff equity issues. A pressing question we must ask ourselves is why is it that after 30+ years of Justice Rosalie Abell’s “Employment Equity Report” (1984) and the enactment of the Employment Equity Act (1986), Black Professors are still calling the university and public attention to Black employment in Canadian universities? The discriminatory barriers in employment make this unconscionable three decades after enactment of the employment equity act. Posts in the Equity Matters blog series  serve as a platform and contribute to public conversations on equity and build recognition for the need for Black scholars, community researchers, activists and students to come together to share our work and interests, in the areas of arts, humanities, social sciences, law, STEM and medicine.

My decades of community and institutional efforts towards equity, Black LGBTQ rights, criminal justice reform, social justice and transformation attest to the need for this diligent work also. I collaborated with colleagues from Ryerson University and York University to host the first Anti-Black Racism: Criminalization, Community, and Resistance Conference in Canada (2015). The conference aimed to advance scholarship on social issues facing Black Canadians and to construct concrete ways of addressing these structural problems. The conference was a gathering of over 500 African Black Canadian leading academics, community organizers, activists, students, human services providers, policy makers, and artists/performers whose work pertains to the life experiences of Black Canadians. Areas including education, criminal justice, and child welfare systems were all represented.

This conference was the outcome of Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Connections Grant funding in the amount of $25,000, with the principal applicant from Ryerson University, Dr. Akua Benjamin (Principal Investigator). I was a co-applicant in this grant and a participant in the conference organization. Many of us attending the conference at Ryerson University were concerned with how those with academic interests can deal with timely community and public issues by disseminating our findings and knowledge to broader audiences outside of academia. I strongly believe that the future of universities is contingent on academics being able to engage the pressing social problems of contemporary society in an accessible manner and to use their position to inform social policy and public debate.

Antiblackracism (ABR) is a conceptual framework for understanding a dialectic, which involves “a particular form of systemic and structural racism in Canadian society, which historically and contemporarily has been perpetrated against Blacks.” (Benjamin, 2003: ii) ABR is systemic and historically grounded discrimination towards people of African descent and origin and about the relationship Black bodies have to various systems which have historically stratified societies.

An extension of my antiblackracism (ABR) scholarship encompasses Black queer bodies. Race intersects with the over-representation of particular groups of youth in varying ways and degrees. Blacks are dramatically over-represented in every stage of the criminal justice system. But what we do not know is what percentage of Blacks in or under criminal justice supervision is Black LGBTQ. I have been actively researching the criminalization of Black LGBTQ bodies through an examination of Black queerness and Queer experiences during incarceration; this is research which is breaking new ground in Canada. To date, there is no theoretically informed engagement with sexual orientation and gender identity within Canadian correctional facilities (in either youth prisons, adult prisons, or detention centers). This research is both timely and important because of the marked absence of theoretical and scholarly Canadian evidence and/or data demonstrating that LGBTQ young adults are being overlooked in correctional institutions and gang-exit rehabilitation programs.

In 2017, Ryerson University hosted the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, and I organized the first #BlackProfessorsMatter panel, attracting over 150 attendees with a distinguished Black professor panelists, highlighting the yearning for a continuing discussion. I committed myself to organizing this panel every year at Congress after feeling motivated by the Ryerson panel’s attendance and discussion. A common theme at this Ryerson panel was that — despite public commitments to improving equity and enabling full participation by all members of the academy — universities and colleges continue to be places that exclude Black, Indigenous people; persons with disabilities; persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and two-spirited; racialized minorities; and women. A recent study shows that universities in Canada are still predominantly led by white men. And the lead researcher says it’s time for the government to call a royal commission on racialized minority academic staff (Smith & Bray, 2016).

In 2018, I was elected Director, Equity and Diversity for the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. As a national organization, and as the organizer of the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Federation has an important, scholarly role to play in giving voice to Black professors who struggle to have their voices heard and their contributions to the production of knowledge in the academy recognized. As Director of Equity and Diversity, my aims are, first, to bring critical reflection to the fore on the meaning of Black professors as one of Congress’s key themes. Another aim is to create conversations on the tenure and promotion process, publications, research grant writing, collaboration, student opinion surveys, university committee service, mentoring and investing in each other and creating global connectedness. These conversational threads aim to humanize and contextualize our experiences. Another thread focuses on how equity, diversity and inclusion work involves recognizing that people from different social groups face different barriers, and on how equity means providing different supports to reduce barriers and give more people an equal chance to participate in university life. The Equity Matters blog will continue to work on projects and initiatives to provide resources and support to promote Black professors. Equity is more than a particular set of issues; it is a lens through which all issues need to be considered. Our university campuses and communities should have a climate that is welcoming to everyone. Everyone needs to take responsibility. If we want a campus community that is welcoming and inclusive, we all need to play a role in contributing to that vision.

I recognize that the Equity Matters blog may be placing more demands on — among others’ —  Black professors’ time to write and publish while they are juggling the work of university service responsibilities, research, teaching, publications, conference presentations, family and self-care. As Cornel West in his essay “The Dilemma of the Black Intellectual” (1985) puts it, “the Afro-American who takes seriously the life of the mind inhabits an isolated and insulated world . . . the choice of becoming a black intellectual is an act of self-imposed marginality; it assures a peripheral status in and to the black community. . .[but] the predicament of the Black intellectual need not be grim and dismal. Despite the pervasive racism of American society and anti-intellectualism of the Black Community, critical space and insurgent activity can be expanded” (pp. 109-110, 124). It is hoped that the blog will not dilute but offer practices of intellectual survival, a space for public love, and foster Black professors’ empowerment and humanity through an equity lens.

Want to learn more about #BlackProfessorsMatter?

Attend this session at Congress 2019 at UBC:

#BlackProfessorsMatter: Experiences in White Academe
Thursday, June 6 at 13:30 to 15:00
Leonard S. Klinck Building 201
The University of British Columbia campus
This session is open to all Congress 2019 attendees


Congress 2019Equity Matters