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Woman King is set in Benin but filmed in South Africa - in the process it erases real people’s struggles

Hollywood undermines Africa’s struggles, creating a false impression of the continent to please western viewers.

A scene from the new movie Woman King, with three female warriors overlooking the ocean.
While the story told in The Woman King took place in what is now Benin, the film was shot in South Africa. Image courtesy (Ilze Kitshoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

The latest film by director Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King, is about a legendary all-woman African army in the 1800s, the Amazons of Dahomey. It takes place in what is today the Republic of Benin in west Africa. It wasn’t filmed in Benin, but in South Africa, in the KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape provinces using locations that look like west Africa.

The film has had an overwhelmingly positive reception, but some critics have cautioned against ignoring history in favour of crowd-pleasing storytelling. I would like to draw attention to the film’s use of the African landscape, as Hollywood tells new stories while ignoring the struggles of the present.

I am a curator of African art in Kingston at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. I arrived in Canada from Cape Town around the time The Woman King was being filmed in the coastal town of Kleinmond in the Overstrand, where I’d lived with my family. I was struck by how the town was depicted.

The film uses Kleinmond as the site of great battles that glorify Africa’s history. But the town’s actual history is one of struggle and the oppression of black people that lives on to this day. The Woman King shows a pristine version of Kleinmond, digitally altering the landscape to erase black lives and settlements.

Cheating one film location for another is common practice. Film infrastructure exists in the Western Cape and there are financial incentives that attract international film makers. Not only is the natural diversity of South Africa appealing, it’s also marketable.

But film locations in Africa are often used as a generic Hollywood backdrop or African cities are easily traded. For example, Blood Diamond is set in Sierra Leone and was filmed in Cape Town. More recently Avengers: Age of Ultron’s battle scenes played out in downtown Johannesburg.

These distortions are part of the global film industry, but they can also lead to a distortion of a continent and its history. The Woman King’s use of Kleinmond’s setting may seem like just a technical gimmick, but it points to a bigger issue: even when telling African stories, Hollywood reimagines the true history and geography of the continent to serve western audiences.


Kleinmond bears witness to apartheid town planning. During apartheid, white minority rulers implemented a policy of separate development, and allocated racial groups to different living areas.

The original town was settled from the 1850s by fisher families who made their living from the Atlantic Ocean. In the 1950s, when it became part of a “white group area”, Kleinmond was bulldozed by the apartheid government, its people forcibly removed to Protea Dorp on the mountainside near the town dump. A letter by a local fisher, Petrus Johannes Fredericks, attests to growing up in Kleinmond harbour and to his family’s forced removal. He writes about the ongoing struggles to secure scarce government fishing quotas.

Retelling Africa and cinematic erasure

It’s ironic that Kleinmond was the backdrop for The Woman King’s battle scenes, and appropriated into a story of a glorious, fictitious African past. Frequent violent protests in the area show that the real life struggle for the ocean and the land is still underway. During recent protests for better housing, burning tyres were positioned around an area called Perdekop and it became a true battleground for its inhabitants.

A moody still of an old port with ships approaching in a rough sea and the sun breaking through the clouds.
The port of Ouidah in Benin was filmed in South Africa’s Western Cape. (Image courtesy Ilze Kitshoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment)

In a similar way, Kleinmond’s complexities and its embattled people are erased for the purposes of tourism. According to local authorities, the natural beauty and biodiversity are the “finest example of mountain fynbos in the Western Cape and (the Kleinmond biosphere is) a world-renowned World Heritage Site”. But this heritage has yet to yield enough sustainable jobs, and for many Kleinmond men, the illegal trade in endangered abalone is one of only a few forms of employment.

The white South African art world also has countless examples of black erasure and distorted storytelling. The apartheid state’s favoured painter JH Pierneef painted empty, detailed landscapes of South Africa that were hung in government buildings across the country. He never showed the conflicted human life inhabiting those landscapes, erasing black people, the original inhabitants. Irma Stern, favoured by white liberals, preferred painting scenes in the Bantustans or black reserves of South Africa to show an “authentic” African life. She ignored the everyday trauma of living under apartheid to capture what she considered the African ideal.

Pristine Africa

The Woman King continues this elided narrative by presenting Africa as largely uninhabited and pristine. But what does it mean when the real, battle-worn Perdekop is not acknowledged and becomes part of an elaborate computer graphic of a white settlement instead? Or a graphic of fictional houses is overlaid on the Overhills settlement?

As a curator, I think about which stories we tell in the present, which stories will endure, but most importantly what shape our collective responsibility takes. Kleinmond is close to my heart, which is perhaps why I’m especially troubled by this new kind of historical erasure, as the African landscape is digitally emptied and its people ignored so that its image can be used as the canvas for a redemptive story.

All this is not to say that The Woman King does not carefully counter harmful African stereotypes; it does. It presents African women as strong, healthy and independent, Africans as the inheritors of a rich cultural tradition and Africans as majestic purveyors of lost ideals. But at what cost does this fictional black redemption come?

In erasing the past, the film undermines Africa’s struggles, creating a false impression of the continent to please western viewers.The Conversation


Qanita Lilla, Associate Curator Arts of Africa, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Advisory committee set for next director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts announced

Following the departure of Tricia Baldwin as Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, and in accordance with the procedures established by Senate, a committee to advise Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Teri Shearer on the future direction of the Isabel, and on the selection of the next director has been established.

Members of the Queen’s University and Isabel communities are invited to submit letters with commentary on the present state and future prospects of the Isabel. Respondents are asked to indicate whether they wish to have their letters shown, in confidence, to the members of the advisory committee.

Advisory Committee membership:

  • Gordon E. Smith (Chair), Interim Director, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts
  • Lauren Sharpe (Secretary), Executive Assistant, Office of the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
  • Julia Brook, Director, DAN School of Drama and Music
  • Emelie Chhangur, Director and Curator, Agnes Etherington Art Centre
  • Andrea Haughton, General Manager, Kingston Symphony Association
  • Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives)
  • Aaron Holmberg, Technical Director, Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts
  • Scott McKenzie, Head, Department of Film and Media
  • Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion)

Interim Provost Teri Shearer extends her thanks to the members of this committee for their willingness to serve.

Please send all submissions to the Office of the Provost, via e-mail, to provost@queensu.ca by Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022.

Connections beyond boundaries

Daniel McNeil, director of Queen’s new Black Studies program, is passionate about exploring connections and the transfer of ideas across the Atlantic.

Daniel McNeil
Daniel McNeil

When activist Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa, he took solace and sustenance from the music of African American artists such as Marvin Gaye. In listening carefully to seriously soulful songs emanating from across the Atlantic Ocean, and adapting them to meet his local needs and political climates, Mandela offers us one revealing example of cultures that exceed the boundaries that the modern nation-state has provided for them.

On Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, the new Black Studies program will mark its launch with a series of conversations, screenings, and celebrations.

This fall, more than 100 undergraduate students are enrolled in Black Studies courses, spanning from Black Studies and Liberation to Black Student Activism and Critique, and Globalization and Black Health. The program is also home to three pre-doctoral fellows and a post-doctoral fellow who examine fields such as Black activism, Black student organizing on Indigenous lands, Black feminist thought, and the socio-cultural impacts of social media videos documenting anti-Black police brutality and their representations in contemporary art. Learn more.

Such cultural and political commitments are at the heart of Black Atlantic Studies, one of the research areas featured by Queen’s new Black Studies program, that prepares leaders and citizens for a global society. Program director Daniel McNeil, who joined Queen’s in 2021 as the Queen’s National Scholar Chair in Black Studies, is one of the experts working in Black Atlantic Studies. He spoke to the Gazette about his research and outreach work.

How would you define Black Atlantic Studies?

For many researchers and thinkers, the Black Atlantic is a network of cultures spanning Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe that was forged, in the first instance, by the transatlantic slave trade. It is a realm of thought, feeling, and action that can help us to step audaciously into the past, and imagine and build more fantastic futures.

Are you looking at a specific timeframe?

My teaching engages with the complexities of global Black communities since 1789, but my research tends to focus on the past hundred years.

My recently launched book, Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel Generation, focuses on the work of celebrated and controversial critics who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s consuming rebel music, revolutionary film, and other forms of expressive culture created by world citizens and the descendants of enslaved individuals. It pays particular attention to the work and ideas of the prominent British intellectual Paul Gilroy (the author of The Black Atlantic, an extraordinarily influential book that popularized Black Atlantic Studies in academic and artistic institutions), and the notorious American journalist and film critic Armond White.

[Book cover] Thinking While Black: Translating the Politics and Popular Culture of a Rebel GenerationWhy did you choose to write about these two thinkers?

To explore how Gilroy combined his career as an academic with a supplementary career as a journalist, it seemed helpful to place his work in dialogue with White, who has had a long career as a journalist and only occasionally taught classes on film history and culture to university students.

The lives of these thinkers reveal how creative artists and critics have sought to conquer greedy and hostile culture industries with their rebel spirit, on the one hand, and demonstrate how we might smuggle moments of dissidence into academic and media institutions, on the other.

Is this work somehow connected to your research about multiculturalism in Canada?

While participating in a panel discussing the art exhibit “Artist and Empire,” Paul Gilroy said that there is a tendency for North American voices to drown out all others in transatlantic discussions. A Canadian participant in the panel immediately suggested this was a US issue, not a Canadian one. But Gilroy challenged that view saying Canada has been “selling multicultural snake oil” to the world for years.

Gilroy differentiates authentic multiculturalism – or what he calls “convivial multicultures” – from the unconvincing narratives of official and corporate multiculturalism. White is also interested in what he considers authentic multiculturalism as opposed to the shiny multicultural discourse of, say, corporate media outlets. So, Thinking While Black considers how the study of multiculturalism can remain as close as possible to the insinuating rhythms of the street, and not be confined to top-down public policies or corporate statements regarding equity, diversity, and inclusion.    

Can we tie this into the goals of Queen’s Black Studies program?

The Black Studies program similarly considers the complexities and capaciousness of global Black communities, and how we can make them legible, audible, and visible to diverse audiences.

[Graphic image] Black Studies PodcastIs the Black Studies podcast a step in that direction?

Yes! One of our hopes is to explore intellectual work within, beyond and outside the university. We take seriously the contention of Black Atlantic intellectuals such as C.L.R. James that ordinary people do not need an intellectual vanguard to help them to speak or tell them what to say. We’re striving to cultivate spaces for people to discuss and delve deeper into the nuances and wealth of Black life, livingness, and culture, and compile playlists and reading lists to supplement our conversations with scholars, activists, and artists about racism and resistance.

It’s wonderfully stimulating to work with students and recent graduates on the podcast and develop social media content that convey politically-infused acts of pleasure. It’s an incredible opportunity to engage with what Black teachers and artists such as Ashon Crawley call the practice of joy in and against sorrow.

Gordon E. Smith appointed interim director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts

Queen’s University is pleased to announce the appointment of Gordon E. Smith as interim director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts effective Sept. 1, 2022. Dr. Smith will also serve as chair of the Search Committee for the next director of the Isabel.

Dr. Smith, an ethnomusicologist in the Dan School of Drama and Music, has served in a number of administrative roles in the Faculty of Arts and Science, many of which intersect with the creative and performing arts. These include vice-dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science (2013-2021), interim dean (2016-2017), associate dean (2006-2012), and director of the School of Music (2003-2006). His current research examines music and intersectional cultural and social practices in Mi’kmaw communities in Cape Breton, specifically Eskasoni.

Dr. Smith received his Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts and PhD in musicology from the University of Toronto. He also received the ARCT diploma in piano performance.

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Teri Shearer offers her most sincere thanks to Tricia Baldwin for her nearly eight-year service as director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Further information on the search for the next director of the Isabel will be shared once available.

Search begins for next director of the Isabel

Tricia Baldwin, Director of the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, will be stepping down from her role at Queen’s University to serve as the executive director of the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon, as of Sept. 19, 2022.

“Since joining Queen’s in 2014, Tricia has provided outstanding leadership to the Isabel, leading it through its formative years to become a world-class performing arts centre,” says Teri Shearer, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic). “Her expertise and passion for her work have enabled the Isabel to attract many leading artists, benefitting the Queen’s and local Kingston community immeasurably over the past eight years. We wish her well as she embarks on this new opportunity.”

In addition to attracting world-class artists to the Isabel, Tricia established the centre for new, socially engaged works, such as those included in the Isabel’s Ka’tarohkwi Festival of Indigenous Arts with curator Dylan Robinson and the Isabel Human Rights Arts Festival. Her leadership has also helped to advance Queen’s academic programs through her work in co-creating Queen’s University’s new M.A. in Arts Leadership program with the Dan School of Drama and Music.

Under Baldwin’s guidance, the Isabel has become an arts hub for the Queen’s and the Kingston communities and a critical resource to support the next generation of Canadian artists and arts leaders, such a through the Bader and Overton Canadian music competition and the IMAGINE Isabel Arts Incubator, which supports numerous artistic creations by diverse local and national artists.

“I am especially honoured to have worked with such a talented staff team who are now bringing the Isabel to the world and the world to Queen’s,” Tricia Baldwin says. “This entrepreneurial and expert team of arts professionals worked together during these important formative years to create a strong foundation to fuel an exciting future for the Isabel.  We are all grateful to Isabel and Alfred Bader for the inspiration to create this marvellous arts centre, and to Bader Philanthropies, Joan Tobin and Ballytobin Foundation, the Bernstein family, and the estate of Alexander Murray Jeffery and many others, all of whom have believed in the power of the arts to transform the university and society at large.”

In her remaining time at Queen’s, Baldwin will work closely with Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Shearer and Nicholas Mosey, Deputy Provost (Academic Operations and Inclusion), to assist in leadership transition planning for the Isabel. Arrangements are being put in place for an interim director, and details regarding the search to attract a leading cultural leader as the next director of the Isabel will be communicated in the coming weeks. 

Register for second traditional Indigenous talking circle for Agnes Reimagined

The second event in this series, aimed at fostering conversation within the community and provide an opportunity for feedback, will focus on housing, caring, and hospitality

As part of the consulting process for Agnes Reimagined, a series of traditional Indigenous talking circles is being held.

The second event in this series, aimed at fostering conversation within the community and provide an opportunity for feedback, will focus on housing, caring, and hospitality.

Facilitated by Georgina Riel, Indigenous Affairs Consultant of RIEL Cultural Consulting, the Talking Circle is a hybrid event taking place on Zoom and in-person at Robert Sutherland Hall on Saturday, April 30, 1-3 pm.

All members of the community are welcome to take part.

Register online for the in-person portion of the event.


In February, Toronto-based KPMB Architects was selected to oversee the design phase of Agnes Reimagined, the initiative to update the campus art gallery and bring a revolutionary vision of the role of the art museum to life.

Artist chosen to create mural for Athletics and Recreation Centre

Anna Jane McIntyre’s illustration entitled “We!” symbolizes an opportunity to visibly illustrate the diversity of the Queen’s community.

Anna Jane McIntyre’s illustration entitled “We!”
“We!” by Anna Jane McIntyre

Two months after introducing three Canadian artists to the Queen’s community, one has been selected to create and install a mural on the Athletics and Recreation Centre this Spring.

Anna Jane McIntyre was select through a public voting process hosted on the site of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. The artwork designed and presented by McIntyre is called “We!”

“The artwork created by Anna Jane McIntyre speaks to a genuine sense of welcoming and togetherness. It shows us that society is made up of a beautiful tapestry of cultures that should be celebrated,” says Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane. “I am excited to see the diversity of our campus community reflected in artwork that will greet students, staff, faculty, and visitors to our campus.”

The mural, to be located on the south wall of the ARC, symbolizes an opportunity to visibly illustrate the diversity of the Queen’s community and signal a future that is focused on celebration, healing, resilience, cultural diversity, and optimism. It is expected to measure approximately 23-meters x 8-meters (76-feet x 26 feet).

“I am absolutely thrilled to create a joyous public artwork celebrating the vital, historic and contemporary QTBIPOC presence at Queen's University in collaboration with Queen’s University Advocacy Coalition and STEPS Public Art,” says McIntyre. “It is a profound honour to be of service. It will be a fabulous and important art adventure. Thank you so much for the opportunity!”

McIntyre will incorporate art that will be commissioned from collaborative workshops with Queen’s and Kingston community members into the original design. Workshops will be held in the fall and the illustration will be installed a short time later.

Read more about Anna Jane McIntyre’s concept here.

In addition to McIntyre, artists Charmaine Lurch and Nuff also presented their concepts during a virtual open house in early February. Following that initial presentation, suggestions were taken, helping to advise the final concepts from which the Queen's community selected the winning artist.

The mural project is a partnership between the student-led Queen’s University Advocacy Coalition, the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and STEPS Public Art.

“We are very excited to work with her on this project and directly include the lived experiences of the Queen’s community through art workshops in the mural’s realization,” says the Queen’s University Advocacy Coalition.

McIntyre is a visual artist based in Montreal with a playful practice that combines storytelling, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, performance, installation and microactivism. Her work investigates how people perceive, create, and maintain their notions of self through behaviour and visual cues and is an ever-shifting visual mashup of British, Trinidadian and adopted Canadian cultural traditions.

New art installation shines light on migrant workers

Exhibition at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts gives voice to South Asian men working and living abroad.

A plate of biryani.
Biryani, the traditional South Asian dish that inspired the exhibition.

A close up shot of a heaping plate of biryani was the inspiration for what became an multi-media exhibition premiering this Monday (April 25) at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. The project, named This is Evidence, was developed by documentary filmmaker and academic Professor Reena Kukreja (Global Development Studies) and depicts the experiences of South Asian migrant men living in Greece.

The picture that started it all came to Dr. Kukreja’s WhatsApp account from Anayat (pseudonym), an undocumented male migrant from Pakistan. Her curiosity aroused, she texted back, “yeh kya ha?” or “what is it all about?” He called right back and said, “Biryani. I made it. It’s my ammijan or mother’s recipe.” He appeared proud that he had made the biryani the exact way his mother had taught him and that it tasted just as if his ammijan had cooked it.

“The project really started in 2015 when I was visiting Greece with my family,” she explains. “I noticed a large number of South Asian men in the informal tourist economy and, when they approached my daughter and asked if they could buy her a gift, I realized they were lonely, they missed their families. I started to think about love, about family, and the project started to evolve from there. I saw them as people who deserved to be respected and for the world to learn more about their story from their perspective.”

The resulting multi-media exhibition, which took about three years to complete, puts together South Asian migrant men’s voices and testimonies, visual and oral, that they consider important to share with the larger world. All images and videos were taken either by the research collaborator, Dr. Kukreja, at the behest of the men who pointed out what needed to be documented, or by the men themselves with their cell phones which they then shared on closed WhatsApp groups for the project.

There are an estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan living in Greece—most of whom are young, poor men. Despite leaving their homes in search of a better life, their work as agricultural labourers or participants in the urban informal economy is characterized by low wages, and poor living and working conditions.

Compounding the exploitation that many migrant workers experience is the social and political exclusion. Prevailing discourses of Islamophobia and xenophobia have enabled an “us” versus “them” narrative in the Greek political landscape.

Reena Kukreja and an agricultural worker.
Reena Kukreja went to Greece to research the experiences of undocumented South Asian male migrant workers.

“I was able to get them to trust me,” says Dr. Kukreja when asked how she was able to develop the project. “My co-ethnic insider positionality as a diasporic South Asian woman with family roots in Pakistan and India and fluency in the men’s languages, Urdu, Punjabi, and Bangla, has proven valuable in building rapport and trust. It has also allowed me to bridge differences in migrant status, class, and gender identity, and to act as their cultural interpreter.”

This exhibition champions the concerns of migrant men to a wider audience and equips activists to advocate for policy changes to labour migration and family reunification laws. This is critical as the numbers of migrants increases globally while populist backlash against racialized poor migrants gains strength.

The exhibit first premiered in Athens on 11 April where some of the participating men came for the opening and spoke about their experience as undocumented migrant workers. It now moves to Canada, where it will be hosted by the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts from April 25 to May 3. Dr. Kukreja presents an opening talk on April 27 at 5 pm.

Dr. Kukreja’s work was funded by a Connection grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. At Queen’s University, various departments have collaborated for the realization of the exhibition. These include the Global Development Studies, Dan School of Music and Drama, Film and Media, and the Cultural Studies Program.

To learn more about This is Evidence, visit the website.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement in 2021.

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.


Queen’s secures second consecutive top 10 position globally in Times Higher Education Impact Rankings

Queen’s places 7th in international rankings out of over 1,500 institutions in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

[7th in the world - 2022 Times Higher Education Impact Rankings]

Capturing 7th position globally, Queen’s is ranked in the top 10 of the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings for the second year in a row. The rankings measure the actions universities are taking to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) both within and beyond their local communities. This 2022 international competition saw participation from over 1,500 post-secondary institutions (up from 1,240 in 2021).

Created in 2019, the THE Impact Rankings are the only international assessment to evaluate how universities’ programs and initiatives align with the SDGs. This set of 17 wide-ranging goals is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a universal call to protect the planet and its people.

"I am incredibly proud of the Queen’s community for this repeat stellar performance," says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University. "The ranking recognizes the sustained impact we are having in our local and global communities, but also serves to inspire future action fueled by our collective intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaboration – key to our mission and values."

Using calibrated metrics and indicators across four key areas – research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship – the rankings assess hundreds of data points and qualitative evidence that tangibly measure the impact of higher education institutions in addressing urgent global challenges. Since its inaugural year in 2019, participation in the THE Rankings has increased from 450 institutions to 1,500 participating institutions across 110 countries in 2022. This includes 400 first-time ranked institutions and 24 Canadian universities.

"The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are unique in examining universities’ impact on society, through each of the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals," says Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education. "Canada is one of the outstanding performers in this ranking, with ten universities in the world top 50 – and it is great to see Queen’s among Canada’s leading institutions, making the world top 10 and excelling in its contribution to SDG 1, and SDG 11, and SDG 16, in particular. It is important to be able to identify and celebrate the work universities do to make the world a better place."

Queen’s performance

Queen’s results once again reflect the cross-university collaboration and partnership of dozens of units across faculties, portfolios, and departments. Highlights from the 2022 rankings include:

  • Queen’s was ranked across all 17 SDGs
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 1: 'No Poverty.' Queen’s strong performance acknowledged the Commitment Scholars program, which provides financial support for students who are members of underserved or underrepresented groups and who have demonstrated leadership in, and commitment to, racial justice, social justice, or diversity initiatives, and Swipe it Forward, a peer-to-peer program that facilitates the donation of meals to students facing food insecurity
  • 3rd worldwide for SDG 11: 'Sustainable Cities and Communities.' Queen’s supports public access to green spaces, including self-guided tours of the university’s Snodgrass Arboretum, free trail access at Elbow Lake Environmental Education Centre, and the castle gardens at the Bader International Study Centre in the UK. State-of-the-art cultural facilities – including the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre – showcase world-class performing arts and collections to the community
  • 2nd worldwide for SDG 16: 'Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.' In addition to significant collaboration with all levels of government and training the next generation of policy makers though the School of Policy Studies, Queen’s supports academic freedom and is a member of the Scholars at Risk program, which arranges temporary research and teaching positions for scholars whose lives, freedom and well-being are under threat
  • Queen’s ranked in the top 100 of 12/17 SDGs and in the top 30 of 8/17 SDGs

Evidence of impact

[Report Cover - Queen’s contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals Advancing social impact | 2020-2021]
Read the report: Queen's contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Advancing social impact | 2020-2021 [PDF Report 13 KB]

More than 600 pieces of quantitative and qualitative evidence looked at Queen’s research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship and included:

  • Queen’s partnership with the Karta Initiative to provide educational opportunities to low-income youth from rural India
  • The new Queen’s Institute for Global and Population Health, created to boost research, education, service, and collaborative projects that will help advance and decolonize global health systems
  • Black Youth in STEM, an outreach program engaging Black elementary students in science, technology, engineering, and math programming through fun, hands-on activities in a Black-positive space
  • Leanpath Spark, a program to measure food waste and foster education and inspire action in Queen’s dining halls
  • A new Campus Map focused on accessibility to assists campus visitors in navigating Queen’s buildings and accessible routes, entrances, washrooms, and more
  • The Queen’s University Biological Station, one of Canada’s premier scientific field stations dedicated to environmental and conservation research and outreach
  • Supporting and connecting women of all ages through the Ban Righ Centre, dedicated to diversity and community building
  • Queen’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and meeting its goal for a 35 per cent reduction in emissions between 2008 to 2020
  • A website and report created to illustrate Queen’s commitment to the SDGs and showcase programs and initiatives that address some of the world’s most pressing challenges

The Queen's University’s community of exceptional students, researchers, staff, and alumni all contribute to making a positive contribution to social impact and sustainability. For more information on the THE Impact Rankings and how the university is contributing to the SDGs, visit the Advancing Social Impact website.

[Illustration of Queen's campus and collaborations]


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