5. Teaching, Learning and Research

5.1 Academic Landscape

5.1.1 Challenging and changing the language around Black inclusion

Participants spoke about the importance and impact of language in post-secondary environments. They shared that the words “equity,” “diversity” and “inclusion” have been co-opted, appropriated and used with a white/Eurocentric lens to maintain the status quo rather than to dismantle the barriers of anti-Black racism. It was also noted that terms like “academic freedom,” “leadership fragility” and “reverse racism” can be weaponized in ways that have significant and harmful impacts on Black students, faculty and staff.

Participants recommended that institutional equity policies and other formal documents be reviewed and updated with language that better reflects the values and promotes the outcomes that Black communities are aligned with. For example, it was noted that a shift to using the term “equity-deserving” instead of “equity-seeking” demonstrates a better understanding of underrepresented communities’ perspectives and provides a strong basis for promoting inclusive excellence across the full spectrum of the academic mission.

5.1.2 Enriching inclusive excellence with Black knowledges and contributions

Participants stated that it is important for curricula to incorporate Black knowledges and the works of Black scholars and scholar-activists. Academic programs need to be inclusive of broader experiences, world views and perspectives. Only then can they foster inclusive excellence that will enrich teaching, learning and scholarship with alternative contributions that challenge the incomplete or false narratives that perpetuate the status quo. Faculty are encouraged to continuously build on the work of Black scholars. Participants also identified the need for curricula review processes to promote racial literacy.

5.1.3 Decolonizing the classroom to create a conducive learning environment

Participants highlighted the challenges that Black students encounter in the classroom. Specifically, the feelings of tokenization and the microaggressions that they experience there are seldom seen as valid or acknowledged as having an impact on their learning experience.

To address this concern, participants called for revisions to classroom cultures and pedagogies, including methods that connect students to the content they are engaging with. The impact of class size, structure, learning outcomes and experiential learning opportunities should be reviewed and updated, with appropriate corrective measures put into practice. Merely presenting Black knowledges is not enough. To have an impact, it needs to be approached through a lens that supports a conducive learning environment and critical engagement with the learning material. People also recommended that faculty examine and implement decolonization practices in the classroom, including opportunities for students to take on a leadership role and co-lead discussions.

Many post-secondary institutions have made community engagement a core element of their academic mission. Creating ways to share various experiences and knowledges allows for learning opportunities that reflect the local and global community. Participants called on post-secondary institutions to allocate additional financial and administrative support to create opportunities and programs specific to Black students, to help increase retention of Black learners. Taking part in these programs will equip the students with relevant leadership skills, networks and experiences. This is necessary to support their personal and career development. It will position them well for success after graduation, in ways that contribute meaningfully to the building of stronger Black communities and a stronger society overall.

5.1.4 Adjusting academic evaluation and assessment measures

Participants commented on the current structures of academic evaluation and assessment and their Eurocentric foundation. These structures do not accurately assess a student’s learning and connection but they significantly impact the institution’s measuring of Black students’ success. Participants say these practices should be adjusted to the medium and method that is most appropriate to the student. They pointed to the benefits of collecting qualitative and quantitative data to inform changes that will improve the measurements of success that impact Black students.


5.2 Curriculum Design

5.2.1 Launching curriculum reviews across Canadian institutions

Black students seek ways to connect their personal identities to their educational journey. This is central to their academic experience. Implementing more intentional ways to support the academic progression of Black students will help to dismantle barriers to their success. Teaching and learning need to reflect our broader society, and this expanded view needs be shared in the classroom. Participants voiced dissatisfaction with the level of inclusive representation of Black voices and experiences in, and decolonization of, the curriculum at Canadian institutions. Responsibility for improved curriculum design does not solely rest with racialized faculty members, but with all members of all academic departments. The current curriculum often reinforces stereotypes and biases and omits different histories and world views. The use of community knowledge, histories and art forms are not often seen as valuable material in learning environments. Eurocentric curricula stands in the way of culturally relevant and inclusive teaching environments for Black students to learn in, and connect to, in ways that intersect with aspects of their personal identity.

Participants proposed conducting campus-wide curriculum reviews across Canadian institutions to ensure that commitments to Black inclusion and indigeneity are reflected in academic programs and embedded in institutional pedagogical approaches and supports. Using Africentric (African-centred) philosophies, practices, frameworks and principles in the curriculum review approach will help in creating sustainable change.

5.2.2 Creating Black and African diaspora studies programs

The lack of widespread Black and African diaspora studies programs at Canadian institutions was a recurring topic of conversation through the dialogue sessions. Participants felt that exploring Black and African experiences through various historical, philosophical and social lenses would counteract the erasure of Black history in Canada. The breadth of Black experiences across Canada varies greatly, but this diversity is often overlooked in the curriculum. A focus on both historical and contemporary issues, and their specificity in different contexts, would provide a more well-rounded picture of Black Canadians’ experiences and of the contributions Black communities have made to multiple disciplines. This would extend beyond existing Black and African diaspora studies programs and would cover migration, the arts, literature and linguistics.


5.3 Research Opportunities

5.3.1 Re-evaluating Black faculty research interests

Participants said that the deeply embedded Eurocentrism in academia results in the devaluation of Black faculty members’ research interests when they are seen as deviating from this norm. Black scholars are perceived as engaging in work that is not academically robust, with implications for their access to teaching reductions, research opportunities and/or academic positions. Finding ways to continue to build on the work of previous Black scholars and the years they have spent on their research would be beneficial to all academic departments.

5.3.2 Increasing postdoctoral fellowships for Black scholars

Postdoctoral fellowships allow scholars to gain further experience while contributing to their areas of research. Participants called on institutions to increase the number of fellowships available to Black scholars, to support their career growth and enhance their prospects as they explore academic careers.

5.3.3 Overcoming challenges in academic research funding

Participants spoke of many challenges that Black faculty members face in securing both internal and external research funding, constraining their ability to find opportunities and get the supports they need to be successful. These challenges include limited personal networks, which are largely a product of the underrepresentation of Blacks in the academy. It was the view of participants that the influence and impact of exclusionary networks, which many Black faculty do not have access to, are particularly strong in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Proposed solutions included that Canadian research funding agencies take proactive steps such as issuing special calls for research focused on Black experiences in Canada and/or targeting Black scholars. This would send Black researchers a positive message that their scholarly interests and contributions are valued, rewarded, supported and seen as valid. Participants also challenged the Tri-Agency research funders to publish race-based disaggregated data on grants awarded. The transparency of these revelations will help guide necessary efforts to correct any inequities.


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