Canada has over one hundred public and private universities that offer more than 15,000 programs at all levels and cover various fields of study. However, only nine Universities in Canada are currently offering fourteen African Studies degrees and courses. Why is so little attention placed on incorporating African knowledge and history in Canadian institutions? How can Canada advocate Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization (EDID) when there is resistance to recognizing the enriched history and role of Africa in a Canadian and broader context?
In fact, Statistic Canada data shows an increase in recruitment and placement of international students enrolled in postsecondary institutions in Canada from 2000 to 2021. In 2021, around 373,599 international students were enrolled in postsecondary institutions in Canada. Subsequently, in 2021, around 1.1 million students were enrolled in an undergraduate program in Canada. In the same year, there were 89,766 students enrolled in pre-university programs in Canada. There is an increase in recruitment both locally and abroad however the current curriculum does not reflect Canadian multiculturalism.
There is a critical juncture, as the call for a chair of African and Caribbean Studies gains momentum. While African American/African Studies programs have long been established in the United States, and several African Studies programs exist in Canada, the absence of a dedicated chair at most Canadian Universities represents missed opportunities to address the historical and contemporary experiences of African and Caribbean communities within the country. It is important to note that omitting access to African history not only ignores the diverse student bodies across Canadian Universities but can contribute to producing uniformed curriculum violence.
It is imperative to acknowledge that the establishment of programs and departments in African studies across various countries was a result of grassroots activism and demands from students and faculty who felt underserved by traditional academic structures. Canadian Universities cannot afford to ignore these calls for representation and inclusion. The creation of a chair of African and Caribbean Studies would not only address the needs of the student body but also attract scholars who can contribute to ground-breaking research in this field.
What are African and Caribbean studies?
African and Caribbean studies is an interdisciplinary academic field that explores the history, culture, politics, and contributions of the peoples of the African diaspora and Africa. It encompasses the study of African American, Afro-Canadian, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, Afro-European, Afro-Asian, African Australian, and African literature, history, politics, and religion. This field draws on various disciplines within the humanities and social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, psychology, and education.
The absence of a comprehensive African and Caribbean studies curriculum in Canada is deeply concerning, particularly in light of the country’s rich history of people of African descent that dates back to the early 17th century. Among the noteworthy figures who contributed to this history is Mathieu Dacosta, an African interpreter who played a pivotal role as part of the team led by Samuel de Champlain and Pierre du Gua de Monts, often recognized as the founding fathers of present-day Canada
Our Neighbors to the South
While the United States has seen significant progress in the development of African-American/African Studies programs, with more than 1200 colleges and universities offering such programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels since the 1960s, Canada’s academic landscape has been comparatively slower to develop.
The Role of EDI
Although it has been well documented that universities across Canada have embarked on the movement of “EDI” however no substantial results have emerged, other than the performative stamp of being in with the crowd; click, committees done and click, cluster recruitment done- now we are inclusive!? This is directly undermining the work that Black and racialized scholars have been advocating to incorporate the prominence of racialized voices in academia. In addition, the racial capitalism associated with EDI committees, emotional labour, workshops, lectures, and panel discussions has not led to long-term changes within the Canadian context.
What should be done?
A step forward, was the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion in Canadian Higher Education that was created following the 2020 National Dialogues and Action for Inclusive Higher Education and Communities. The notion was to bring forward concrete change that needs to be made and placed on, research, community engagement, policies and procedures, and the board of governors.
Nonetheless, as prominent academic institutions, many have an opportunity to lead the way in rectifying any academic gap. By establishing a chair of African and Caribbean Studies, the university would demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and the recognition of marginalized voices. Such a chair would provide a platform to delve into the experiences, contributions, and struggles of African and Caribbean communities within the Canadian context. The establishment of such chair is an urgent necessity. Such academic field has already gained significant recognition and institutional support in the United States and other countries, but the Canadian landscape lags.
By providing comprehensive academic offerings in African and Caribbean Studies, the Universities would foster a global environment of cross-cultural understanding, empathy, and respect. Students from all backgrounds would benefit from exposure to diverse perspectives and narratives, preparing them to be thoughtful global citizens in an increasingly interconnected world.
It is crucial that Universities seized this opportunity to rectify the lack of African and Caribbean Studies within its academic framework. By doing so, it would join the ranks of universities across North America and the world that have recognized the importance of this field. Furthermore, it would send a strong message of commitment to diversity and inclusion, positioning itself as a leader in addressing historical and contemporary issues facing African and Caribbean communities.
Finally, by embracing this opportunity, higher education would demonstrate its commitment to inclusivity, diversity, and academic excellence. It is time for the institution to take bold steps towards addressing the historical and contemporary experiences of African and Caribbean communities within Canada, and the creation of a chair of African and Caribbean Studies would be a crucial milestone in that journey.