Western University has launched a new minor in Black Studies through the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies.
“Black students, staff and faculty have different experiences of Western, and indeed of London, than do others – including others who are also racially minoritized but not Black,” said W.G. Pearson, chair of the department. “It is obviously important to address racism and inequity on campus in practical and material ways, but in a university, it is also important to address these same issues from a scholarly perspective.”
Open to all Western students, the minor in Black Studies will offer a variety of local, national and global disciplinary perspectives on Black history, culture and heritage. One focus, given Canada’s proximity to the United States, is how race plays out there – including how government race policies generated resistance both historically, with the Civil Rights Movement, and currently with Black Lives Matter.
The minor ties in with Western’s commitments to creating an inclusive campus and the priorities of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), said Opiyo Oloya, associate vice-president, EDI.
“Students who enrol in Black Studies courses will not only learn more about what it means to be Black in our society but will also be well-positioned for careers in a variety of sectors tackling issues of equity, diversity and inclusion,” Oloya said.
Black Studies has a long scholarly history, particularly in the United States, but also in Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, Pearson said.
“In creating the Black Studies minor, we can make that scholarship more available and better known to our students, whether they are themselves Black or not. The Black Studies minor is one part of the task of creating a better, more equitable, more inclusive university and a better world.”
Developed by the faculties of arts and humanities, social science and information and media studies faculty and students on the Black Studies organizing committee, the minor officially launched this month.
The Introduction to Black Studies course, taught by Erica Lawson, professor of gender sexuality and women’s studies, already has more than 60 students registered.
A major in Black Studies is in the planning stages.
Cornel Grey, a new professor in the department of gender, sexuality and women’s studies, is developing course content for the minor. He will be teaching Blood, Breath and the Black Body, a course that will consider how anti-Black racism negatively affects health outcomes for Black people. Students will also consider how health science scholarship has historically harmed Black communities, constructing them as non-human, as vectors of disease, or as a problem for public health.
Among the topics explored in the course will be the politics of blood donation in Canada; Blackness and fatphobia; anti-Black racism in pandemics; Black experiences of sexual risk and pleasure; and environmental racism.
The work of Black scholars and artists examined in the course will challenge students to think differently about what health science data can do for Black people and to imagine models of care that account for the multiple dimensions of Black people’s lives.
Grey recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, where he examined the impact of COVID-19 on the social and sexual lives of gay, bisexual and queer men. His doctoral research at the University of Toronto’s Women & Gender Studies Institute looked at how Black queer men enact kinship and intimacy through physical touch.
PhD candidate Jade Nixon will be teaching the course Black Girl Magic: A Study of Black Girls and Girlhood. Western is believed to be the only university in Ontario set to offer a course focused on Black girls.
“This course emerges from the belief that Black girls know a lot about the worlds they inhabit,” Nixon said. “Engaging a range of multimedia sources, this course invites students who want to learn more about the lives that Black girls lead and learn from the expertise that Black girls have.”
Matthew Dawkins, a fourth-year student in the School for Advanced Studies in the Arts and Humanities (SASAH) and English language and literature, member of the Black Studies organizing committee, and Western’s student writer-in-residence for 2022-23, helped shape the program from a student perspective.
“More than anything, I hope the minor in Black Studies stirs important conversation in the university,” said Dawkins. “I hope it makes students a little more uncomfortable in ways we can’t ignore, and simultaneously that it forces us to come to terms with the root of that discomfort.”
And as a Black student, Dawkins hopes the program will lead to long-overdue accreditation and praise for Black scholarship.
Other courses offered for the minor Black Studies include Intersections: Race, Class and Sexuality and Contemporary Topics in Critical Race Studies.
All of the courses may be credited toward other undergraduate programs as electives.