Trent University has a diversity problem

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Trent’s propaganda videos and posters, each with a different student showing what Trent has to offer. These promotional pieces also highlight Trent’s diversity, depicting students of various races and genders. The problem is that Trent is not as diverse as we like to pretend. In fact, we have a race problem, and it’s more than just the micro-aggressions black students have to face on campus—it’s on an institutional level, and the reality is that we’re not much different than the schools we try to separate ourselves from.

Coming to Peterborough and enrolling at Trent, I knew there wasn’t going to be a program on black, African or Caribbean studies, and I was also aware that there wasn’t going to be a plethora of courses available on the various intersectionalities of blackness. Despite this, I was hoping that there would be some courses available for me to explore the history of my ancestors and community both in a global and a Canadian context. Over the duration of my four years at Trent, I have yet to experience a comprehensive exploration of the Black Canadian identity, diaspora or homeland that lasted longer than a week and a handful of readings. This has always left me frustrated. I couldn’t understand how an entire community’s perspectives, differentiating cultures and histories could be condensed into such a small frame for students to engage and learn from.

This year, however, I decided to stop searching for courses that had a specific week dedicated to these topics and instead find an entire course that highlighted them. Trent University has a total of 38 programs to choose from, each ranging from around four to 137 documented courses. Out of those courses, each program offers a handful per year level for students to register in. Like many other Trent students, I read through the academic calendar and cross-checked the courses I was interested in with the academic timetable. While going through the 2016-17 academic calendar, I was shocked to find there were only 10 courses that specifically focused on various black-centered materials. That means that out of 38 programs with hundreds of registered courses, only ten had a syllabus dedicated to either the continent of Africa or the diaspora. Nonetheless, I began to read course descriptions, looking for a subject that grabbed at me, until at last I found one. Unfortunately it wasn’t available this academic school year, and even more disappointing was the caveat that it was only being offered on the Durham campus. The other troubling issue was that the course I had chosen, HIST 2421H: Slavery and Freedom, stated in its description that in just four months (including a reading and winter break) we would be covering “a historical survey of slavery, slave trading, and the contested meanings of freedom in Africa, Brazil, Cuba, the United States, and the Caribbean. We examine revolutions, revolts, being bought and sold, representations of blackness, slave cultures, health, belief systems (Voodoo, Santeria, Obeah), abolition, post-emancipation diasporas, and reparations.” Black history and culture, in all of its variations, cannot possibly be properly examined and understood in a half-year course, let alone a full year one. Especially when a course states that it will be covering the entire Caribbean, the whole continent of Africa as well as the United States and South America. With one avenue clearly not feasible without creating a reading course, I was left with nine remaining options. Three of the remaining courses ANTH-AHCL 2201H: Introduction to Egyptian Archaeology, ANTH-IDST 3010Y: African Culture and Society, HIST-IDST 3401H: Southern Africa in the Nineteenth Century, currently are not offered for the 2016-17 academic school year. This leaves interested students with six options, two of which are only offered in Ghana (IDST-ANTH 3770Y: Society, Culture, and Development in Africa, ANTH-IDST 3781Y: Ghana Seminar). That means that Trent Peterborough Campus students are left with only four courses (ANTH-AHCL-HIST 3275H: Cultural Identity and Ancient North Africa, HIST-IDST 3402H: Southern Africa in the Twentieth Century, IDST-2401H-A: Modern Africa Before 1880, IDST-2402H-A: Modern Africa Since 1880), from 38 programs to choose from if they wish to explore blackness, the diaspora and various African histories and studies. This leaves no options for the exploration of the complexities of the Caribbean or even a chance to explore the African-Canadian narrative. Canada itself has a rich black history and yet even the Canadian studies department does not have a course available for undergrads.

While not every program can integrate black history/culture courses into their programs, many of them can. The question is why aren’t they? If Trent truly wishes to be as diverse as they promote themselves to be, more of an effort needs to be made. If international students from the African continent and the Caribbean are good enough to exploit for promotional materials and marketing while they see their student fees increase, the least Trent can do is offer courses with content that teaches their histories and narratives.