Western University in London, Ont., is set to offer a new minor in Black Studies, according to the institution.
Through the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, the program will offer an array of local, national and international “disciplinary perspectives” centred around Black culture, history and heritage.
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“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 of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies.
“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.”
According to Western officials, the minor ties in with the university’s commitments to “creating an inclusive campus and the priorities of the office of equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Launching this month, the program was also a collaborative effort between the faculties of arts and humanities, social science and information, media studies faculty and students on the Black Studies organizing committee.
Cornel Grey, a new professor in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies and is developing a course for the upcoming minor.
Titled Blood, Breath, and the Black Body, Grey said his course will uncover how anti-Black racism negatively affects the health outcomes for Black people.
“One of the things that was actually exciting to me [was], when I was applying to Western initially, the strength and quality of the health science programs,” Grey said.
“I think there’s a really wonderful opportunity here to collaborate and partner with folks working in the School of Medicine who are doing work in a public health space to think through how antidote criticism is really shaping the impact of black communities.”
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Other topics Grey said students will explore in his course are Blackness and fatphobia, anti-Black racism in a pandemic, Black experiences of sexual risk and pleasure, environmental racism, and the politics of blood donation in Canada.
Western officials explained that students will also, through Grey’s course, have the chance to consider how health science scholarships have historically harmed Black communities, “constructing them as non-human, vectors of disease, or as a problem for public health.”
Grey said he recently completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto where his focus was on examining the impact of COVID-19 on the social and sexual lives of gay, bisexual, queer men.
“COVID has also had a particular kind of effect on black communities, not just in Canada, but across the world,” he said. “Even when we think about the Monkeypox outbreak where, recently, Black communities have been targeted and scapegoated in a particular kind of way.
“One of the things that I wanted to do in the course is really think through how and why Black communities are regularly and disproportionately affected when it comes to various kinds of public health crises,” Grey added.
Additionally, PhD candidate Jade Nixon will be teaching the course Black Girl Magic: A Study of Black Girls and Girlhood.
“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.”
Western is believed to be the only university in Ontario set to offer a course focused on Black girls.
Grey added his excitement for the launch of the minor. He said there’s been a “cultural shift” in Canada, and at Western in particular, since the murder of George Floyd in 2020. “I think there’s an energy, there’s an interest in really taking up some of the issues that black communities face, day to day.”
“I’m really excited to expand the scope of the black studies program and to get departments from campus more involved,” he added.
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