During the week of February 5th, students and guests attended the 2018 Social Science Week at Dawson College to hear the experiences of various social science professionals.
Every February, Dawson College invites scholars, artists, and other professionals involved in the social sciences to present their works to students. In this year’s Social Science Week (SSW), several talks had connections with Black History Month, an annual celebration of Black heritage and achievement held through the month of February.
On Monday, Professor Nadir Khan of the History department discussed the former institution of slavery in Canada, particularly in Montreal. Khan addressed the lack of awareness of this part of Canadian history and its legacy in modern society.
“‘How come we had slavery if we are multicultural?’ and ‘But we were a safe haven for slaves and we had the Underground Railroad!’ are what people often think,” said Professor Khan. He added that Canadians sometimes fail to “acknowledge what’s hard.” During his lecture, Khan emphasized the relics of slavery in Montreal. For instance, he reminded the audience of the fugitive slave advertisements in the Montreal Gazette and the slaves owned by James McGill, founder of McGill University.
Ultimately, Professor Khan did not want to demonize the “True North Strong and Free,” but instead to simply make students aware that “slavery was a thing in Canada.”
Later that day, Black feminist writer, educator, and activist Robyn Maynard continued on the topic of African-Canadian history with her talk titled “Policing Black Lives.” During her talk, Maynard explained the history of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized racism. She wanted to “use Black history to enrich our understanding [of the] dehumanization” of African-Canadians.
Robyn Maynard further echoed Professor Khan’s points on the lack of awareness of Canadian slavery. “[Slavery] is a much longer and uniquely Canadian legacy. We need to treat it as such,” she stated. Maynard also pointed out the “ongoing erasure of Black resistance.”
The writer exposed the injustices suffered by Black Canadians because she wants to promote equal rights. “I don’t think anyone is fighting for a racially-proportionate level of police killings,” she concluded, followed by chuckles in the audience, “but we are actually fighting against police violence.”
Nadir Khan and Robyn Maynard’s lectures are just a few of SSW 2018’s talks linked to Black History Month. Other speakers include Omari Newton and his presentation on the history of Black protests in sports. In comparison, there has only been one speaker who addressed African-Canadian heritage during SSW 2017.
Dawson College’s SSW was first organized in 2007. Program Coordinator of Social Science Vivien Watson, the chief organizer of this event, wants to “give [students] an insight into different areas that we might not cover as teachers. For example, in classes, teachers might talk about racial profiling, about slavery, but Robyn Maynard has made it much more real,” she added.
Political science professor Christopher Bourne regularly brings his pupils to SSW because he aims to show them “different directions social science can go in” and “tangible examples” of what they are learning in class. His colleague, Professor Cynthia Martin, also expressed her desire to get students “accustomed to talks, conferences, etc., because that’s what we do in post-secondary education. Education is not simply through textbooks, it’s also learning through the knowledge of people.”
This feeling is also shared by the students attending SSW. According to Cheng Yin Zhu, a fourth-semester student in the Psychology profile, it “lets you learn outside of the classroom environment.”