Friday, 14 September 2018

Jamaican Professors Create New Study Programs at Universities


By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed    Lillian Allen, professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, OCAD University in Toronto, Canada.


Students pursuing postsecondary studies at two universities in Toronto will be able to select new programs spearheaded by Jamaican professors this academic year and the next.

Andrea Davis, Chair of the Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University and Lillian Allen of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Graduate Studies at OCAD University have been instrumental in developing these areas of study.

In 2016, Davis, with the support of colleagues in her department, worked hard to create a new certificate program in Black Canadian Studies.

The Black Canadian Studies Certificate is being launched this month, the start of the 2018-19 academic year.  The program will be available to students concurrently enrolled in an undergraduate degree.

This is a unique certificate program in that it examines questions of black people’s experiences from a humanities perspective and not social science.

“A lot of existing courses at York that seem to address these questions are really courses about race and racism, which are really to me, questions about how other people perceive and relate to black people, and kind of re-educated them,” said Professor Davis when she was named the 2017 recipient of the President's University-Wide Teaching Award in the senior full-time category.

This certificate will focus entirely on black people’s cultural production, literature, film, music; black people’s voices, cultural expressions, and histories.

She said it's a pretty narrow but focused curriculum, the idea is to keep students together as a community so they’re likely to be in classes together at the same time and to build wraparound support programs.

The certificate will be working with the Jean Augustine Chair in Education and the Harriet Tubman Institute.

The Jean Augustine Chair in Education has committed to provide graduate students with workshops to help support their writing.

The Harriet Tubman Institute will help them to organize and host undergraduate student conferences where students can share their work, and opportunities to go out to community groups and share the work they’re doing in the university.

They are also developing a practicum course that would place certificate students in the offices of local government to see how those offices function.

The hope is that this will expand eventually to the graduate level and possibly that these students from the certificate program will go into the graduate programs in black studies, and come back eventually into the university as faculty.

“So that the diversity at the undergraduate level extends all the way up and then begins to produce a critical mass of new faculty in the university,” said Davis.

Photo contributed    Andrea Davis, chair of the Department of Humanities, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies at York University in Toronto, Canada.

Meanwhile, Allen, a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the creative writing specialist at OCAD University, is leading the development of the Bachelor of Fine Arts in creative writing with the slogan “the degree with attitude.”

The application process for the four-year undergraduate degree starts this month but the program will actually begin in the 2019-2020 academic year. 

Allen said she wanted to do this this because “coming to writing is also coming to voice” and what is missing from the literary terrain are the voices of younger BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) folks.

She says they do not have to wait until they are 50 or 60 to take up the writing practice and to get published.

“It is changing and has been changing for over the last decade, maybe two decades in this country where you’re having more and more of these people. But if you look around where are the stories that we know, for example, where are the stories that would be set in Jamaica Day or the mystery set in a Caribana Parade. How amazing that would be even for film.”

The university says the degree is a dynamic hands-on, studio-based approach to the study and practice of writing as artistic creation. Unlike any other creative writing program in Ontario, it enables students to hone their craft while exploring multiple art and design practices.

Allen said the key thing for her is that the spoken word movement, which she has opened up, led and developed, has produced and given permission to these young people to come to voice – something they do in a poetic short narrative.

She said they just need a few strategies to be able to build stories, in the sense of time, setting; character development, and “some of those other strategies that we love when we read.”

Professor Allen noted that they have strong point of views and can change the writing ecology in this country.

“We want to hear from people with attitude, we want to hear from the loud ones, we want to hear from the ones who are fighting against the system. We want to bring the ones who are fashionable out there, who are counter-fashion, we want to bring that attitude and we want to wrestle it to story and poetry to the page,” said Allen in explaining the program’s slogan. She said this makes for good and exciting writing.

By the end of their degree, each student will complete a body of work, book, recording, performance, installation piece, broadcast, or digital work suitable for ‘publication’ to launch their career to the public. 

[This story was published in the NA Weekly Gleaner, Sept. 13-19, 2018.]




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