School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Black Student Activism and Land – Meet Sefanit Habtom

Pre-doctoral Fellow in Black Studies 

by Danny McLaren, April 2022

Sefanit Habtom

Sefanit Habtom is one of three Pre-Doctoral Fellows in Black Studies, the first fellowship students of this new and growing program. She comes to Queen’s from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, where she completed her Master of Education and is currently a PhD Candidate, both in the Department of Social Justice Education. She is the recipient of the 2021-2022 Doctoral Completion Award at OISE, and the 2021-2022 Doctoral Fellowship in Critical Studies in Equity and Solidarity at New College, University of Toronto.

Sefanit’s dissertation is tentatively titled Black Student Organizing on Indigenous Lands, and seeks to examine Black student organizing, paying particular attention to how their organizing is shaped by their relationships to and theorizations of the land Black students are situated upon. Her work draws from the interviews and focus groups she conducted with 30 Black student organizers in post-secondary institutions across Canada and the United States. About the interview process, she says, “These set of conversations have been meaningful and reveal all the tension, hope, complexity, and care that goes into organizing work.” She aims to share her research back to the community of student organizers she draws from, in creative, visual ways that are useful to their organizing work. She will work to complete her dissertation while at Queen’s.

Sefanit’s doctoral research is shaped by her experiences during her masters, both in the classroom and beyond. She began organizing with other Black students on the UofT campus, at a time when, as she describes, “Black student activism was ramping up across institutions in Canada, the United States, and abroad.” She was simultaneously inspired by a course she took with Dr. Eve Tuck, which drew her to on-going “scholarly discussions on the entanglements between antiblackness and settler colonialism.” Between her activist and academic work, Sefanit saw the parallels between the theory of her coursework and the organizing spaces she worked in, which centered Black and Indigenous freedoms.

As one of Black Studies’ first fellows, Sefanit is excited to be involved in the launch of the Black Studies minor program and to receive the mentorship and support of the combined Black Studies and Gender Studies faculty. She works alongside the other two pre-doctoral fellows, Nataleah Hunter-Young and Tari Ajadi, who she describes as brilliant and thoughtful peers. This fellowship also offers the opportunity for Sefanit to teach a special topics course in Fall 2022, entitled Black Student Activism and Critique. Her course will examine histories of Black student activism and its co-optation by the university. About how this course fits into the Black Studies program, Sefanit says, “The course is an opportunity to discuss Black critiques of inclusion and to grapple with the role and purpose of Black Studies against the backdrop of the new Black Studies minor at Queen’s.” She is looking forward to the opportunity to connect with the students in Black Studies and support their learning.

The Black Studies Pre-Doctoral Fellowship will run for twelve months, from January 2022 to December 2022. To learn more about Black Studies, please visit their website.

To learn more about Black Studies at Queen’s  go to their website.