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Op-ed: Building a national Black graduate network in Canada

Network aims to provide country-wide institutional support for Black students, Black studies
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KRISTAL MENGUC/THE VARSITY
KRISTAL MENGUC/THE VARSITY

All graduate students require discourse and learning communities where they can study, share resources, collaborate, and build knowledge with others pursuing work in their fields. The lack of Black studies degree programs and the underrepresentation of Black graduate students and faculty in Canadian universities alienate Black students and make it particularly challenging for them — and for all students of Black studies — to pursue their goals. 

The National Black Graduate Network (NBGN) will provide a central structure for academic networking, collaboration, and research exchange by a new generation of scholars shaping the futures of Black studies in Canada. 

Not very long ago, I was a graduate student myself, reading Black scholarship and conducting research within Black communities, in the near-absence of Black professors, and with no Black studies courses offered at the schools I attended. Like countless Black students before me, I did my best to pursue coursework related in some way to my academic interests, and I supplemented my formal curriculum with informal learning in activist communities within and beyond the universities. 

Conferences also provide students with crucial first-hand opportunities to learn from intellectuals and activist scholars across local and national contexts. Those hosted by the Black Canadian Studies Association, R.A.C.E. Network, and Critical Ethnic Studies Association were especially important during my own graduate studies, introducing me to relationships and ideas that continue to shape my work today as a professor of Black studies. Conferences like these are important; however, we can and should do more for our students.   

A collaborative endeavour

The NBGN project is affiliated with the Black Canadian Studies Association (BCSA) and emerged out of conversations among BCSA executive members after a Black graduate student was racially profiled at a major academic event last June. The incident and its aftermath highlighted the ongoing anti-Black racism throughout Canadian academia, despite stated institutional commitments to decolonizing the academy and increasing the recruitment of Black students and faculty. 

The BCSA executive members had critical conversations about how academic racism impacts the growing numbers of students interested in pursuing Black studies in Canada and identified the need for a formal academic network run by and for Black graduate students. For the project, we envisioned an interactive and secure website that would facilitate critical dialogue among members and serve as a public resource for Black studies in Canada. I directed the project with input from the co-president of the BCSA, Dr. OmiSoore Dryden, as well as several Black students and colleagues across the country.

The graduate student team consists of project coordinator and BCSA student representative, Jamilah Dei-Sharpe from Concordia University; Cherie A. Daniel from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE); and Julian Kapfumvuti from Memorial University. These three PhD students have worked together over the past several months to raise awareness of the project across the country and build the initial NBGN membership. 

Launching online this summer

The NBGN will be formally launched online at the beginning of July 2020. This research network is by no means meant to replace vital in-person academic networking that takes place among graduate students and with professors at national and international gatherings, nor is it meant to divert graduate students from membership and potential mentorship within academic associations. 

Rather, the NBGN will add to the resources already available to graduate students, building on decades of work by Black scholars to create institutional support for Black students and for Black studies in Canada. 

The network will provide emerging scholars with unique opportunities for sustained dialogue, generating new ideas and collaborations in Black studies. Membership is open to all Black graduate students, Black students in law and medicine, and graduate students working within Black studies, and the team is in the process of recruiting volunteer bloggers for the 2020–2021 school year.

For more information and to become a member please contact the current Ontario representative, Cherie A. Daniel, at [email protected] or the project coordinator, Jamilah Dei-Sharpe, at [email protected]

rosalind hampton is a professor of Black studies in the Department of Social Justice Education at OISE, co-president of the Black Canadian Studies Association, and the director of the National Black Graduate Network. Her forthcoming book, Black Racialization and Resistance at an Elite University, will be available this summer by University of Toronto Press. She can be reached at [email protected].