Thursday, 20 December 2018

African Canadian University Professor Wins 2018 Equity Award


By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed      Dr. Annette Henry, David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia and winner of the 2018 Equity Award from the CAUT


A professor from the University of British Columbia is the winner of the 2018 Equity Award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

Dr. Annette Henry holds the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The award was established in 2010 “to recognize post-secondary academic staff who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to challenging exclusionary behaviours and practices such as racism and homophobia and by so doing have made post-secondary education in Canada more inclusive.”

Founded in 1951, CAUT is the national voice for academic staff representing 70,000 teachers, librarians, researchers, general staff and other academic professionals at some 123 universities and colleges across the country.

“Even now, in 2018, the contributions of Black Canadians are often not recognized.   Thus, it means a lot for our community. It allows for a vision of what’s possible for young people.  I’ve noticed the proud reactions of my students in particular,” says Professor Henry about the award.

She has been a professor since 1992, and a professor at UBC since 2010 in the Department of Language and Literacy Education. Henry is also cross-appointed to the Institute for Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice.

Her scholarship examines race, class, language, gender and culture in socio-cultural contexts of teaching and learning in the lives of Black students, Black oral histories, and Black women teachers’ practice in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean.

She has written extensively about equity in the academy, diverse feminisms and conceptual and methodological research issues especially in culture-specific contexts.

Professor Henry came to Canada from the U.K. at 9 years old in 1965 and completed all of her education here.

Her parents -- father from St. Mary and mother from St. Ann -- valued education, and having a sense of purpose in life. She said they both had a strong sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice.

“I didn’t see any positive images or histories of Black people throughout my Canadian education,” she says.

She had to rummage through the Robarts library at University of Toronto in her spare time, during her doctoral studies and found “a whole lot of research and literature about and by Black women of which I had been unaware, and that no teacher or professor had shared with us in my classes.”

Henry said the curriculum was very white and male and it has changed minimally. 

“I felt that the educational system had betrayed me and denied me a lot of meaningful (self)-knowledge.”

After living in the United States for 18 years, she returned to Canada and found that not much had changed.

“Canadians still had a difficult time acknowledging systemic racism and engaging in discussions on the topic.”

Since 2015, she initiated a “Race Literacies” series in which she invited Black Canadian scholars to the campus to share their research and ideas and engage in dialogue with the UBC community.

“The aim was to increase intersectional understandings of language, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class and encourage the development of new racial literacies for our contemporary times. I think Canadian universities do a better job of discussing gender and sexuality than race,” she says.


Professor Henry hosted these events with a group of transdisciplinary UBC black scholars and Professor David Chariandy from Simon Fraser University.

As the David Lam Chair in Multicultural Education, part of her mandate is to increase capacity in the Faculty of Education and the university.

To achieve this, she taught an innovative course in dub poetry, and focused on Canadian women dub poets. This fall, she hosted Jamaican Canadian dub poet, d’bi,young anitafrika, as the culmination of this course.

The event was open to the public. In April 2019, she will be hosting Black Feminist sociologist, Patricia Hill Collins, as part of her David Lam lecture series.

Asked whether she was hopeful or optimistic that the challenging of exclusionary structures and practices is leading to more inclusion in academia, Henry said, “Audre Lorde encouraged us to be ever vigilant for the smallest opportunity for change even without the certainty that we will see it come to fruition.  She wrote, “Each of us must find our work and do it.” We have to believe that change is possible.” 

To date, Canada only has one Black university president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Gervan Fearon of Brock University, who in 2014 was appointed the president and vice-chancellor of Brandon University in Manitoba. 

Regarding whether she foresees the day when there will be more black university presidents and vice-chancellors, especially Black women in those roles, Henry is doubtful.

“Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Given what research tells us about Black women in higher education leadership, I do not see this happening soon.  Professor Malinda Smith ‘s research in the book, “The Equity Myth,” tells us that racialized women remain locked out of most top university leadership positions” and rarely crack the ‘concrete ceiling.’”

Professor Henry is currently working on a number of projects, including a chapter on Black women in leadership that should be published shortly, in an edited volume by Tamari Kitossa, Erica Lawson and Philip Howard. 

She is also involved in a research project with Dr. Loraine Cook from the University of West Indies, Mona campus. They are analyzing a lot of data that they have collected at a school over several years.

Locally, the National Congress of Black Women Foundation in Burnaby conducted over 50 interviews with members of the Black community about 12 years ago.

Henry is working with these interviews and hope to create an interactive digital archive that can be used as a curriculum resource for schools and communities. She will also work with the foundation to produce a book with these interviews. 

[This story was published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Dec. 13-19, 2018.]

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