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An exciting new chapter for Black Studies at Queen’s

Daniel McNeil
Daniel McNeil, Director of the Black Studies program and Queen’s National Scholar Chair in Black Studies, speaks at the inauguration event on Friday

Throughout 2022-2023, the Black Studies program is hosting a series of screenings, conversations, and celebrations to mark the launch of the new interdisciplinary program at Queen’s University. This past weekend, the Black Studies Collective – Taylor Cenac, Katherine McKittrick, Daniel McNeil, Dalitso Ruwe, and Vanessa Thompson – hosted two events: an evening of art, music, poetry, and film on Friday to celebrate the inauguration of Black Studies at Queen’s, and a celebration of new research and books in Black Studies on Saturday.

The inauguration of Black Studies marks a new chapter in Queen’s University and Faculty of Arts and Science history, as work in the Black Studies field has been ongoing for years but is now formally recognized by the institution.

The program, which is home to undergraduate and graduate students, uses an integrative approach to the field of Black Studies. The undergraduate minor includes courses from 20 different programs. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to critically analyze Blackness in relation to various equity deserving groups, social identities, and axes of oppression and privilege (e.g. class, sexuality, disability).

The event at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre on Friday brought together faculty, staff, students and community members, with an audience of approximately 150 people. The night was the result of years of hard work involving many people, including generations of students, and the energy in the room reflected that.

“The program is a perfect fit for those who are changemakers, for activists, and those who want to broaden their sense of community,” says Vice Dean Lynda Jessup.

Principal Patrick Deane spoke about his pride in Queen’s being one of the first institutions to sign the Scarborough Charter to combat anti-Black racism in universities and gave a congratulatory speech honouring the work of Katherine McKittrick, the first director of the Black Studies program; Daniel McNeil, the current Black Studies program director; Taylor Cenac, the Black Studies program and administrative assistant; Denita Arthurs, department manager, Department of Gender Studies; Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion); Barrington Walker, Associate Vice-President (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion), Wilfred Laurier University; Beverly Mullings, Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto;  and Samantha King, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and Department of Gender Studies.

Approximately 150 people attended the inauguration event for the Black Studies program at Queen's.

The program also emphasizes collaboration with Indigenous Studies and offers a variety of courses that focus on decolonial praxis.

 “I am thrilled to be looking ahead towards innovation and collaboration between Black and Indigenous Studies,” says Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation) Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill). “This program focuses on an interdisciplinary knowledge basis that both explores and engages the connections between the arts, decolonial thought, and practices of anti-oppression. We are looking towards a brighter future for Black and Indigenous communities as we develop leaders who are not only going sustain the change we are starting here today but create and foster positive change for future generations.”

Following the introductory speeches the night featured an interactive reading of a collection of spoken-word poems from Lillian Allen, a professor of creative writing at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD) and past Writer-in-Residence at Queen's. As a two-time Juno Award winner, she involved the audience in her poems and treated attendees to two new, unpublished creations.

After the poetry reading, Rachel Goffe (Department of Human Geography, University of Toronto) moderated a panel discussion on the past, present and future of Black Studies at Queen’s that featured Kristin Moriah (Department of English), Dr. Simpson, and Dr. Mullings. They touched on topics such as geography, the community outside Queen’s, their personal history, and what they thought led to the inauguration of the program.

After an intermission, the night continued with Dr. McNeil providing an overview of the Black Studies program’s commitment to engaging the connections between the arts, social justice and decolonial thought in graphic design partnerships, collaborations with South African activists and artists, and the Black Studies Podcast.

Attendees were then treated to the premiere of Black Studies is…, a short film conceived by the Black Studies program group (Taylor Cenac, Dr. McKittrick and Dr. McNeil) and produced by Dr. McKittrick, which features reflections about Black Studies from anti-racist activists, artists, and intellectuals from around the world.

The night wrapped up with a post-film discussion with faculty in Black Studies (Kangmennaang (cross-appointed with the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), Kesha Fevrier (cross-appointed with the Department of Geography and Planning), and Jennifer Leath (cross-appointed with the Department of Religion); Bianca Beauchemin, the post-doctoral fellow in Black Feminist Thought; and three pre-doctoral fellows in Black Studies (Tari Ajadi, Sefanit Habtom and Nataleah Hunter-Young).

Day two of the event at the Agnes featured an encore presentation of Black Studies is… and a conversation about new books and research in Black Studies. Following an introduction and land acknowledgement by Nasrin Himada (Associate Curator, Academic Outreach and Community Engagement), Dalitso Ruwe moderated a panel featuring Debra Thompson, Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Societies at McGill University, Vanessa Thompson, Distinguished Professor in Black Studies and Social Justice, and Dr. McNeil, the Queen’s National Scholar Chair in Black Studies.

The three activist-intellectuals discussed their recently-released books and how they engage with white supremacy, Black liberation, the revolutionary power of curiosity, and other critical themes and issues in historical and contemporary contexts.

Following the conversation, and brisk business at the table selling The Long Road Home: Blackness and Belonging by Debra Thompson, Abolitionismus: Ein Reader, edited by Vanessa Thompson and Daniel Loick, Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation by Daniel McNeil, and A is for Acholi by Juliane Okot Bitek, the authors at the Agnes signed copies of their books.

For more information on the Black Studies program, please visit the Black Studies website.