Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Jamaican Appointed James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden, James Robinson Johnston (JRJ) Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia

A Jamaican Canadian scholar has been named the new James Robinson Johnston (JRJ) Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden is an interdisciplinary scholar working at the intersections of health science, social science and humanities.

The Chair, which will be located in the Faculty of Medicine's Department of Community Health & Epidemiology, is a six-year appointment, effective May 1, 2019.

The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies is an endowed national senior academic chair, established in Halifax to honour and recognize the unique historical presence of African Nova Scotians.

“How do cultural and historical notions about medicine and racial bias in the health and medical system shape the health prospects of Black people and the society as a whole?” asks Dr. Dryden.

“Public health discourse have, at times, framed the body as dangerous, with some bodies presumed to be more prone to risk and vulnerability to disease; and thus pose a greater danger to the rest of society. My research seeks to understand how the interlocking systems of oppression (through racism, gender, and sexuality) influence the health experiences of Black people in Canada,” says Dr. Dryden in the official announcement of her new role published on Dalhousie’s website on February 14.

Dr. Dryden earned her PhD in Social Justice Education from the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education and the University of Toronto, where her dissertation examined how blood donation rules discriminate against certain populations. 

She has served as an assistant professor and Chair of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Thorneloe University (Ontario) and as a visiting professor in the Faculty of Community Services at Ryerson University.

The academician immigrated to London, Ontario with her mother, Veronica Dryden, of Kingsvale, Hanover in 1968.

Her appointment marks the second time that a Jamaican Canadian scholar has been the JRJ Chair in Black Canadian Studies and the fourth holder of the Chair.

It follows the tenure of Dr. Afua Cooper, a scholar, poet and author who is originally from Westmoreland and served in that position in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology from 2011 to 2017. Her goal was to raise the profile of African Nova Scotian history to Nova Scotians and Canadians.

"I'm thrilled to be appointed the new JRJ Chair, and to be given this great opportunity to work closely with African Nova Scotian communities, and my colleagues in Community Health & Epidemiology. I appreciate the trailblazing work of Dr. Cooper and the generous commitments made by the Faculty of Medicine.  I'm excited about the many opportunities for university-community engagements and building on, and expanding, the contributions made by Black and African Canadian people in the fields of medical and health studies, research, and education," says Dr. Dryden. 

Dr. Esmeralda Thornhill, the first J.R.J Chair, was appointed to the Faculty of Law in 1996. The second chair holder was Professor David Divine who was appointed in January 2004 to the School of Social Work in the Faculty of Health Professions. 

Photo credit: Thorneloe University
Dr. OmiSoore H. Dryden addresses an Intro to Women and Gender Studies class in 2014

Dr. Dryden's research has been published in various peer-reviewed journals and books. She has been a Researcher-In-Residence with the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, and has received research grants from Canadian Blood Services and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

In announcing the appointment, Dr. David Anderson, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine said Dr. Dryden will help the Faculty of Medicine strengthen Dalhousie's institutional priorities to enhance diversity, foster community outreach, and build a health research mandate that is collaborative, interdisciplinary and nationally recognized.

The hiring followed the standard academic search committee process, with representation from the Dalhousie Black Faculty Caucus and black student representation. 

The community presentation asked of each candidate also played an important part: The Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute (DBDLI), in its capacity as the Africentric education and research Institute, and in partnership with Dalhousie University, hosted an African Nova Scotian Community Meet & Greet with each of the three candidates last fall. 

In this open forum, the public had an opportunity to meet the candidates and talk about their research and community health needs. 

Established in 1991, the Chair connects local black communities with a national and international perspective. Its goal is to develop Black studies in Canada, develop a program of research on Black peoples in Canada, and the African Diaspora, and create bridges between academia and the wider African descended communities.

James Robinson Johnston (1876-1915) was the first African Nova Scotian to earn a Dalhousie degree (Bachelor of Letters, 1896), the first African Nova Scotian to graduate from any university, and the first Black lawyer to practice in Nova Scotia.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, March 21-27, 2019.]

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