Black community members advocate for Black studies program at University of Windsor

Members of Windsor-Essex's Black community say a Black studies program should exist at the University of Windsor. 

Program needed that focuses on Black history of Windsor-Essex, says one panelist

Panelist Kaitlyn Ellsworth says there are no courses at the University of Windsor dedicated to the region's local Black history. She says these courses should exist given that the area played such a large role in the Underground Railroad. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

Members of Windsor-Essex's Black community say a Black studies program should exist at the University of Windsor. 

In an online discussion Wednesday, four members of Windsor-Essex's Black community and a professor from Brock University explored the importance of offering a Black studies program that focuses on local history. 

During the event, panelist Leslie McCurdy says the youth she's spoken to want that understand that local connection and they want to learn about it from the Black community's perspective. 

"I know in my conversations with young people they are very interested in the truth of our history and they are tired of the one-sided European, male-based focus and perspective from all of our teaching because they are all very curious as to our real history," she said. 

She said a history course related to African, Asian and Indigenous communities should be mandatory for all students at the university, similar to math and English. 

Before the online panel began, Kaitlyn Ellsworth who joined the event as a speaker talked to CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre about the event. 

The panel discussion was held online Wednesday and has been recorded for members of the public to watch. (University of Windsor)

Ellsworth is an educator and Black studies student at Wayne State University in Detroit. She also sits on UWindsor's Anti-Black Racism Task Force. 

"Most people know that the University of Windsor is right underneath the bridge and we sit at a transnational border where African Americans liberated themselves from enslavement and escaped into Canada, so this region specifically is extremely important for Ontario Black history and larger North America and Canadian Black history," she said. 

LISTEN: Ellsworth talks to Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre

"The university should at least have something to speak to the existence of Underground Railroad people in this area." 

She says from her understanding this is something that past students and staff have asked the university for in the past, but it's now become a more public conversation. 

At this time, Ellsworth said there are some courses at the University of Windsor that touch on African-Canadian themes, including some in the English, History and Political Science departments. 

But, she said there's not one that looks at the Underground Railroad or local Black history. 

"It's important that a university like the University of Windsor who sits in a very interesting geographical area should at least speak to the people that have historically been here," she said. 

During the call, president of the Essex County Black Historical Research Society Irene Moore Davis said the courses she teaches at St. Clair College — Underground Railroad Pioneers, Race, Racism and Anti-Racism in North American Society and Hip Hop Culture and Social Change — are sought out by students and the community. 

"They're full with wait lists and it's so exciting and it definitely shows us that there is demand for courses like that," she said. 

Based on this, Moore said she would like to see the school offer these same courses and more, knowing that they will likely be well-received. 

The other panelist included Marium Tolson-Murtty, who is an anti-Black racism strategic planning officer at the University of Windsor. At the end of the panel discussion, she said the university is working on a number of upcoming initiatives for the Black community and that it's a "few steps at a time, but we're going to get there." 

Also on the call was Richard Ndayizigamiye, who is a lecturer of modern languages from Brock University. 

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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