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Queen’s Black Faculty and Staff Caucus building toward a promising future

The group is committed to fostering a greater sense of community for all Black faculty and staff at Queen’s.

Queen's Black Faculty and Staff Caucus members Stephanie Simpson, Beverley Mullings, Kristin Moriah, and Katherine McKittrick.
Queen's Black Faculty and Staff Caucus members include, clockwise from top left: Stephanie Simpson, Beverley Mullings, Kristin Moriah, and Katherine McKittrick.

Community. Connection. Understanding. Progress.

These words serve as the building blocks for a group of Queen’s faculty and staff members seeking to infuse the sentiments into the fabric of the university. Born from what once was an email list in 2017, the Queen’s Black Faculty and Staff Caucus emerged. The group of more than 30 members represent a wide swath of disciplines in the Queen’s academic landscape – from neuroscience to geography to business.

This list of names and contact information, also known as an email listserv, supplied its members with helpful information about navigating both the Kingston and Queen’s communities, academic resources, and providing a support system in a homogenous environment. Growth of the email list would seem straightforward, but for those included in the group, the addition of names served as an opportunity to witness an element of progress in motion. When Beverley Mullings joined the Department of Geography in 2006, she was one of four Black faculty members in the Faculty of Arts and Science. In 2012, the death of Stephen Gyimah brought that number to three.

“I was surprised, dismayed, horrified that in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences there were only four black professors,” says Dr. Mullings, who was a professor at Syracuse University in New York before coming to Queen’s.

Through programs like the Principal’s Implementation Committee on Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (PICRDI) and the University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity (UCARE), a more concerted effort has been made, and remains ongoing, ­by the university to hire more Black faculty and staff. The by-product of that expanding representation on campus was the organic growth of the listserv that Black faculty and staff built largely by word of mouth.

“I would say 2017 is the year and it's a watershed year because there were finally enough people for us to actually do something together,” Dr. Mullings says. “Not necessarily formal, but we could all go somewhere in Kingston to meet and have dinner. It's an amazing thing when you've got numbers who know each other, who meet throughout the year, that you can become something more formal, collaborative, powerful.”

Ultimately, those dinners led to substantive conversations, which accelerated the formation of the Queen’s Black Faculty and Staff Caucus.

Prior to the 2017 formation of QBFSC, a foundational degree of dialogue came on March 12, 2015 inside the University Club at Queen’s. The dinner, co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Human Rights and Equity Office, the Division of Student Affairs, and the Office of Advancement was entitled Shaping the Future of Black Scholarship. The event, attended by Queen’s students, faculty, staff, and local community members, drew forth vibrant conversation on nurturing Black intellectual leadership, including a recommendation to increase representation of Black staff and faculty. One of the fundamental goals behind that recommendation was for Black students to see themselves represented throughout the institution. Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion) hosted the event. Flashforward several years later and Simpson recalls a moment during a recent QBFSC meeting that highlighted the purpose of the caucus.

“What I recall from that meeting was just how elated people were to be in a virtual group with so many people who looked like them, who shared interests with them,” Simpson says. “There was just a real sense of joy in the room around simply not being alone. To be in a space where we could safely speak to and touch on all of those aspects of ourselves that don't find expression necessarily in other places in the university, I think, has been really important for people.”

Kristin Moriah, Assistant Professor of African American Literary Studies in the Department of English Language and Literature, played an integral role in raising the visibility of the group by creating its website. QBFSC helped Dr. Moriah, who came to Queen’s in 2018, gain a sense of support among other Black faculty members. Entrenched in many of those organic moments have been interdisciplinary discussions that have sparked new ideas.

“It’s been great,” says Dr. Moriah, who is also a Penn State Center for Black Digital Research Satellite Partner. “I met Yolande Bouka, who’s in Political Studies, through our meetings and that’s somebody who I now think of warmly as a colleague and who has become a partner with me in other projects. Yolande has become an advisor board member for the Black Studies Summer Seminar that I’m coordinating with a colleague at the University of Toronto. The Queen’s Black Faculty and Staff Caucus has provided us with a forum to meet each other and learn about our respective research.”

The group’s power in numbers came to pass during the summer of 2020. After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and as traction gained for the Black Lives Matter movement, QBFSC asserted itself into the public discourse. The caucus denounced the mistreatment of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) community, while also supporting efforts to educate people about the history of anti-Black racism and violence in Canada and the United States. This is paired with their efforts to help Queen’s better understand Black communities outside North America — from the continent of Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere — which overlaps with the diverse Black communities who are part of the caucus.

Katherine McKittrick, Professor and Black Studies Program Director, came to Queens in 2004 and in that time has witnessed and welcomed increasing numbers in the Black community at the university. She’s enjoyed the power of drawing connections with QBFSC members across varying disciplines and backgrounds. When plans for the Minor in Black Studies program in the Faculty of Arts and Science was in its infancy, Dr. McKittrick consulted with the group. The caucus has nurtured instances where members can celebrate their interconnected dynamics, from applauding the book written by member Celina Caesar-Chavannes (Senior Advisor, EDI Initiatives and Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences) to participating in seminars involving member Oyedeji Ayonrinde (Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry).

“I love that social aspect of it,” says Dr. McKittrick. “Sharing ideas, sharing how to navigate Queen’s, sharing how to navigate Kingston. Just the joy of laughing with you right now about hair products. I don't have to over-explain it to you. It's a really beautiful way to make community.”

There is an optimistic outlook on the role the group can play in the months, years, and generations ahead. From offering a space of familiarity and support to being a group that is consulted during important, transformational moments at Queen’s.

“I see the caucus being a space for a voice that is consulted as a collective voice of a community and being able to weigh in in moments,” Dr. Mullings says.

For membership inquiries, please contact Kristin Moriah: kristin.moriah@queensu.ca.