Precious Nwosu | Contributor
Featured Image: Professor Andrea Davis was instrumental in implementing the Black Canadian Studies Certificate. | Courtesy of YFile
With a Black population as large as the one at York, it is astonishing that the school has never offered a Black Canadian Studies Certificate—at least not until last September. The Certificate provides students at York (not just Black students) with the opportunity to learn about Black culture, Black history, and Black experiences within a Canadian context.
This Certificate is the first of its kind. Students are able to graduate with their degrees along with the the 24-credit certificate, which is mostly rooted in the humanities. The courses focus on cultural studies, history, literature and music. At the first-year level, students are required to take HUMA 1300 The Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African American Experience, or an equivalent, as a prerequisite for the certificate. The Chair of the Department of Humanities, Andrea Davis, has taught this course for several years. It is instrumental to many Black students who have taken it, and there are generally 200 students who enrol in the course annually.
“Every year they say: ‘We’ve never had these conversations before, this is absolutely new, can we have more,’” Davis says about her students prior to the new certificate. “They would come back to humanities expecting more, but there was nothing on the curriculum.”
The York United Black Students’ Alliance and the York University Black Graduate Students’ Collective lobbied for the representation of courses surrounding the histories and experiences of Black people in a way that would allow students to get formally credited for this knowledge. They also fought for a more representative curriculum, considering the large presence of Black students and the demand this presence creates on York’s campus.
Davis was instrumental in the creation of this certificate, which was instituted in September 2018.
Davis, who was not only teaching HUMA 1300 but also Black Literature and Cultures in Canada, was also the chair of the department at the time and responded to the students’ call for action. Davis was immediately supported by fellow humanities professor, Leslie Sanders.
What makes this certificate significantly unique is that it brings together Black-focused courses across multiple disciplines such as: Black Popular Cultures, Black Literatures & Cultures in Canada (Humanities), African Canadian History, Blacks in the Americas (History), History of Gospel Music (Music) and some other Black-related courses together in an organized and recognizable way.
At the moment, progressive steps are being taken so that students from any program at York can take this certificate as a minor, and those taking the certificate who have maintained a B+ average will be able to shadow in an office of public officials that serve Canada’s Black communities.
This Certificate is a unique opportunity because it goes far beyond the issues of race and racism; instead, acting as an exposure to the experiences, narratives and cultures of Black people, not only in Canada but in the Americas.
This Certificate is beneficial but not limited to students who are interested in education, social work, sociology, media and journalism. Its relevancy as a certificate in Canada coincides with being surrounded by so much diversity; it not only helps understand the presence of racism and its structures, but also shows who Black people are, the various cultures that they have, and their histories.