Culture-specific studies, like Africa studies, Global Asia studies, and Aboriginal studies, were created in order to explore, understand, and question the policies and events that people of specific cultures have historically experienced, and continue to experience. Each of these mentioned courses are offered at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus (UTSC), but should a culture-specific class be taught only by someone who is from said culture? Or is it wrong to exclude professors from teaching what interests them?  

This question is made more significant in light of UTSC’s noted lack of faculty and curriculum diversity. Highlighted in the ‘(Lack Of) Diversity in the Classroom’ discussion held in 2015 by the Scarborough Campus Students Union, several racialized UTSC staff members addressed that faculty homogeneity was a pressing and pervasive issue. In considering this, some argue that culture-specific studies should be a reserved opportunity for racialized professors, though others argue that barriers around who can teach what are counterproductive.

Stephen Rockel, director of the African Studies Department at UTSC, expressed the mindset that while lack of faculty diversity is an issue, culture-specific studies should be promoted and encouraged as a field important for everyone to study. He argued that professors with cross-cultural perspectives can be insightful, and can offer new and unique views derivative of multiple cultural influences. Rockel also proposed that exclusivity would pigeonhole racialized professors into teaching these courses, when the focus should be encouraging diversity equally, in all fields.

He also argued that there are ethical and practical issues surrounding solely hiring professors from nations which may be developing.  

“History, literature, etcetera are unfortunately relatively low priorities for so-called developing countries. Thus, who would teach the history, politics, literature of the those regions if we had to wait for enough of their people to get PhDs?” he asked.

According to Rockel, other ethical considerations include that, “Canada has a very bad record of poaching experts in certain areas in certain countries, for example in the health field. Do we want to poach all their experts and bring them here?” he asked.

In contrast, Datejie Green, who taught critical journalism at UTSC in 2015, argued the disparities that exist in opportunities for aspiring racialized professors are so vast and persistent it is crucial and truly fair to create equitable teaching outlets. She said that these disparities in resources, opportunities and barriers extend far past hiring outposts, to the institutionalized inequalities that still structure society, and make so many aspects of racialized life, education, and success, far more difficult.

Green said that racialized professors must go through a much more difficult process in order to be successful, prove themselves, and become professors in the first place, hence, she questioned, is some form of compensation not simply fair? There is also the practicality of the matter; exclusive culture-specific studies would create a distinct and direct opportunity, along with a surefire process by which racialized professors would be hired, and would slowly adjust the lack of diversity that UTSC has recognized as a serious and fundamental educational flaw.

Green also noted that racialized professors come equipped with experiences and understandings that can offer a valuable and embodied approach to these studies, leading to a richer educational experience.

“There is a big influence on how you learn if you are racialized, you learn about racism [and other crucial cultural aspects]. All of these experiences are lived experiences” she said. “It has an infinite impact on your view of the world and the way you teach.”

This valuable experience then extends to the students.

“Your scholarship is influenced by osmosis,” she said. 

Many students are able to reflect that diversity is a problem that must be addressed, including Cheyenne Litt, a UTSC student pursuing a double major in Global Asia studies, and human geography. 

I think it is really important to have diversity in the teaching staff, especially in cultural studies, because not only can they bring their own experiences to the classroom, but they can create a more comfortable atmosphere for students,” said Litt. 

So should postsecondary institutions establish these barriers and exclude? Should they hire the best possible person for the job, or acknowledge that often this person is not racialized? 

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By Alexa Battler

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.