Complex cultures need complex curriculums

New Dalhousie black and African diaspora studies program a step forward for diversity in higher education


When students of colour open their textbooks to read about Canadian history and culture, they shouldn’t have to look to just one chapter to see themselves, if they’re reflected at all.

Squeezing the complex cultures of racial minorities into a few university electives, while continuously making room in curriculums for courses about white, European populations, contributes to the lack of racial diversity in higher education.

Dalhousie University professor Afua Cooper, who is also their James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, has been working on a black and African diaspora studies program for the last few years. The program “will address black people’s struggle for justice in all forms,” Cooper told The Globe and Mail. 

The new program is a much-needed respite from the singular and underdeveloped narrative that can result from lumping studies of Canada’s non-European people into one or two courses, or even just one unit.

At Queen’s, the Global Development Studies and History departments offer a chance to broadly study cultures and histories of racial minorities. 

But, placing the identities of people of colour under generalizing umbrellas runs a risk of perpetuating a singular narrative about diverse populations of people. When condensed into one unit in a class alongside several others, the complexity of these societies and their people are immediately undermined.

But, by incorporating the complex and culturally significant stories of African-Canadians into higher education, a lot more is done than just diversifying education at one university. 

For many youth of marginalized communities, there are systematic barriers in place that restrict the pursuit of higher education. 

Not being able to see yourself reflected in university classrooms is just another way in which education is inaccessible for many youth of marginalized communities. 

This could also be the case for professors looking for jobs in universities — without seeing themselves and their academic interests tangibly valued by an institution, they’re much less likely to want to work there.

Programs like Dalhousie’s new black and African diaspora studies achieve much more than the obvious. They educate new and more diverse generations of scholars. 

Programs like this work to rewrite the book, and it’s about time.

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