I am a Black student in my third year at Trent University as an English major and Sociology minor. Only once, in my entire career here at Trent, have I ever had a Black professor. Or any visible minority educator for that matter. It is not typically considered why students might need representation in the educators in their classroom, but it's non-negotiable that they do. According to a study performed by Penelope Moore and Susan Toliver, "Black students are more successful in traditionally White colleges and universities when they see professors with whom they can identify."
At first glance at Trent's website, nearly all faculty members with visible photos appear to be White or, at minimum, White passing. As you click through faculty after faculty in various departments at the university, the number of visible minorities within the school's paid staff is meagre. Multiple departments appear to have no visible minorities in their staff at all, for example, forensic sciences. While the photos on the Trent website are not conclusive of all faculty and staff, and many do not have a picture. It is a good indicator of the minimal faculty, particularly Black faculty, at the university. There is a near-total exclusion of any minority representation at the school.
What does this demonstrate to the students that attend the university? What impression does Trent leave when they give full-time and even part-time positions that should be extended to Black and racialized educators to white ones instead? Does this leave a bad taste in your mouth as well?
In addition to leaving Black scholars out of the general course list, Trent does not offer Black scholars the opportunity to teach subjects they would have a real connection with. In what ways is a White educator better suited to teach courses surrounding Black topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement? For example, a fifth-year course offered at Trent called ENGL-5311H: Black Lives Matter is taught by a White woman. While I don’t want to comment on the capacity of this professor, and whatever her intentions might be to teach a course surrounding the injustices inflicted against the Black body, I’m left wondering, how can she truly provide a better understanding of what it is like to be Black in our current society?
While it is important to note that there can be a heavy onus placed upon Black educators to continually speak on race and racism, and this burden can be exhausting, the exclusion of an opportunity to do so when there are so few courses offered at Trent surrounding these topics raises the question: to what extent are Black professors being discriminated against during the hiring process at Trent? If the same White professor is offered the opportunity to teach these topics year after year, what are they doing to ensure their position teaching the course will be eventually given to a Black person? Doesn't proper allyship entail knowing when it is your place to speak and your place to take a step back?
According to a study performed by Turner Consulting Group in 2014, though 26% of the Ontario population was racialized, only 10% of educators were. This is the most recent study on the topic, and it would be interesting to see what new statistics on this issue would report, as the study did report concerns that the diversity gap would only increase as more racialized minorities move to Canada. It would be even more interesting to compare the number of racialized minorities enrolled in Trent university versus racialized educators. In what ways are the White educators at this school trying to address this problem?
In addition to the need for Black educators to teach Black subjects, Black educators are necessary across all departments. As an English major at Trent, I've had one Black professor who taught a course on African Literature. However, I have had almost exclusively White professors for the rest of my courses. These professors seem unprepared to teach Black students; I've had one professor only refer to Black people as "African Americans." Though this term is thought to be politically correct, I do not prefer it, as I am Black, and I am neither African nor American.
Yet the most shocking incident I have had in my time here at this school was when a White male professor claimed he would not censor the n-word while reading Huckleberry Finn. Claiming that the "author put the word in there to provide emphasis, to make the reader uncomfortable." Yet, he seemed to have forgotten that the novel came out in the late 1800s, and the only people who would have been uncomfortable by the use of the word then would have been Black people. And most certainly, the people who are made most uncomfortable by the word now are absolutely the Black students present in his class.
As a Black student at Trent, I am calling on the school to make real attempts at improving its relationship with racialized communities. In Zuhra Abawi’s analysis of the teacher diversity gap in Ontario, they found that "in 2007 the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) asserted that the lack of a teacher and administrative representation that reflects the student population is a barrier to equitable and inclusive access to education." Trent is making little attempts to improve the quality of education that their racialized students are receiving. Racialized students need to see racialized teachers in the classroom. If we can understand why we need representation in the media of racialized folx, we can also understand why we would need it in our classrooms.
Having Black professors would provide a different level of education to all students. It would provide insight into the lives of Black people. It would give new texts to read, new sources, new information that White scholars simply do not possess. Additionally, having Black educators would decrease the chances of the only Black student in a classroom being the foremost advocate for their race. It would stop instances of White professors saying the n-word because they've deemed it acceptable. It would improve the school entirely.
This being said, the diversity gap in education is not only limited to Trent, and to post secondary schools. I grew up in Nogojiwanong/ Peterborough, and not once did I ever see a Black person standing at the front of my classroom. Not once was I taught in school that Black people could be successful, that Black people could be leaders. This is a problem across Turtle Island that needs to be addressed.
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