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A long-overdue degree and hope for our future

[Bartholomew degree]
Dean Richard Reznick and Chancellor Jim Leech celebrate with members of the Bartholomew family. 

This article was first published on the Faculty of Health Sciences Dean’s Blog.

On Thursday, May 23 the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine held their convocation ceremony, and those of us on the faculty had the joy of seeing our tremendous graduates receive their new degrees. Convocation is always a meaningful occasion, but this year’s stands out because we had the opportunity to grant a posthumous degree to Ethelbert Bartholomew.

Ethelbert should have been granted this degree 100 years ago, but the 1918 policy that banned Black medical students from Queen’s took away his opportunity to receive the degree he deserved.

You may remember that last month Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf and I signed a public letter of apology for this ban. Ethelbert’s son, Daniel Bartholomew, traveled to Kingston from Whitby to attend this apology ceremony, and I was grateful that he was able to be there.

Afterwards, at a dinner marking the occasion, Daniel looked at me and said: “There’s one more thing I’m wondering if you could do. Could you give my dad his degree?”

Now, this sounded like a great idea to me, but I was somewhat taken aback by this simple yet profound request. So, being a polite dean, I told him I would see what I could do. Granting a degree is a complicated process, and it isn’t something I could just do on my own. Even if it were possible, I was afraid that it might take a long time. Universities, you might know, don’t exactly move at lightning speed.

So that evening, I spoke to Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Ann Tierney and she said “we can do this!”

The next day I spoke to our Director of Diversity Mala Joneja and she said “we can do this!”

To my great thrill, everyone at Queen’s jumped into action with great commitment to granting this degree. Processes that would normally take us a year got finished within a month. Daniel Bartholomew asked for this degree in April, and we were able to confer it in May.

Dr. Maria Bartholomew and Rosalind Bartholomew accept the Doctor of Medicine degree for Ethelbert Bartholomew from Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf, Chancellor Jim Leech, and Rector Alex Da Silva. (University Communications)

Conferring this degree was made all the more meaningful by the fact that Daniel and other members of Ethelbert’s family came to Kingston to attend convocation. Two of Ethelbert’s descendants even agreed to accept the degree on his behalf: Dr. Maria Bartholomew, his great niece, and Rosalind Bartholomew, his granddaughter.

I am so grateful to all the members of the Bartholomew family who joined us for convocation. Handing Ethelbert’s long-overdue degree to Maria and Rosalyn will stay with me as one of the most meaningful moments in my time as dean. I am also grateful to PhD candidate, Edward Thomas, for his incredible and diligent work in unearthing many of the details of this story through his research.

The ban of 1918 is certainly a sad moment from our past, but, as I stood in front of our new graduates, I felt immense hope for our future. When it comes to embracing diversity, the class of 2019 is light years ahead of where we were, as a society, in 1918. Undoubtedly, they are even light years ahead of my generation.

It’s thrilling to see the ways in which they have all embraced inclusivity in the classroom, around campus, and in the hospital. For this generation, the drive to promote equity and diversity is part of who they are as people. And I know that they will all continue to work to make Canada a more equitable society as they embark on the next stage of their careers.

Dean Reznick thanks Andrew Willson for his assistance in preparing this blog.