Laurentian cuts stifling BIPOC, feminist conversation in Sudbury, former professor says

Shana Calixte, a former sessional instructor at Thorneloe University, says deep cuts at the university will stifle conversation, especially around controversial topics like racism in the community.

"When you take a full department … out of the curriculum, it's not just about adding women and stir'

Shana Calixte, a former instructor at Thorneloe University, says the Sudbury campuses- including Laurentian, U of S and Huntington- were becoming more diverse before insolvency challenges forced serious cuts to staff. (Markus Schwabe)

Shana Calixte, a former sessional instructor at Thorneloe University — one of the three federated schools whose status changed following Laurentian University's challenges with insolvency — says deep cuts at the university will stifle conversation, especially around controversial topics like racism in the community.

Calixte, one of the many instructors affected by massive cuts after Laurentian filed for insolvency protection in February, said she noticed that over the past decade, discussions in her class were becoming more diverse, more critical, and more popular with students.

She offered courses like "Girl Cultures," "Reproduction and Mothering" and "Female Sexualities."

Calixte said it was the first time many of her students — most who came from northern Ontario — had encountered such topics, or the first time they had a Black instructor. 

"I was very fortunate that a number of students were very interested in my classes and told their friends to take it," Calixte said. "I started seeing that my classroom would start to become much more diverse — more Black students, specifically Black women students would be taking my courses."

As the diversity increased along with the students' interest level, Calixte said the school was able to offer different, more progressive classes.

"We started offering courses that also had concepts or names that said things like race and racism in the title," she said.

"People knew we were going to challenge some of those concepts and have conversations that might have applicability to their own lives."

But those types of conversations — Calixte calls them "pushing the envelope" — will be harder to come by on campus next year. The school's federated universities, Thorneloe, Huntington and the University of Sudbury, along with their liberal arts programs, bore the brunt of the cuts.

 "Challenging the mainstream is not easy," Calixte said. "It was already difficult to have these conversations."

"When you take a full department out, like Indigenous Studies or Women's Studies out of the curriculum, it's not just about adding women and stir," she said. 

"It really is about thinking about the foundational ways in which our understandings of gender and race are part of our understanding of the world."

For that, Calixte said a school needs people trained to do that type of work and that mode of thinking.

"To think that those perspectives are being taken out, and also the faces of people, the actual lived experience of people who know this because of their lived experience, it's also been just ripped out of the university. … I'm still grappling with that reality and what that means for students and what they've lost as a result." 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



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