February is Black History Month, and we want to take the moment to highlight and appreciate the Black community here at the University of Toronto, Mississauga (UTM). There is a Black Research Network (BRN) at the University of Toronto that serves to promote Black research excellence in the university community through mentorship, programming, and funding opportunities. We can get a glimpse of the different people who are in the BRN and learn more about their backgrounds, academic experiences, and research.
We need to take the time to appreciate and uplift the Black community and to demonstrate the value of the research done by those who thrived despite the barriers around them. While there are so many talented individuals, here are some individuals from the Black community that we should celebrate this month.
Beverly Essue is an Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, in the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation Department. As someone who is both a global health systems researcher and economist, Essue specializes in financial risk protection and advancing equity and gender equality in global health systems. She also helps racialized survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV) regain confidence and economic stability in their lives. Essue, along with her colleagues, started by implementing and providing dental care to IPV survivors. Her other works discuss universal health care and women’s medical inequality, specifically addressing issues in the health care system regarding cancer and other illnesses.
For one of her projects, called “Restoring Smiles,” the goal of the initiative is to help IPV survivors gain confidence and economic stability in any way they can. One way to help these people regain confidence and self-esteem is through access to dental care. Helping them achieve the “perfect” smile, great hygiene, and good oral health creates a huge impact on the survivors who might have lost confidence during their traumatic experiences. This project aims to help IPV survivors with dental pain and smile defects by providing them with a chance to get the resources and help they need; something that they might not have been able to previously due to limiting barriers and potential physical abuse. Essue aims to help uplift others in the community and create more fair opportunities, including access to systems and services that allow others to live to their best potential.
Rhonda McEwen has been the BRN’s interim director as of August 2023. McEwen is the President and Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University at UofT, she is also a professor of emerging technology at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology at UTM. Her research interests revolve around human-machine communication, VR, and the cognitive effects of technology and media.
When explaining the philosophy of the BRN, McEwen states, “The BRN brings together a supportive multidisciplinary network of Black faculty, librarians, and students among the tri-campus through its initiatives and values.” Her commitment to equality and representation does not just stop at research; she even served on the advisory committee that created the Sesame Street Muppet named Julia, who represents children who are on the autism spectrum. This meant altering technology and media to be accessible and inclusive to all types of children across the globe.
McEwen has also researched technology and communication. In her article, “Understanding each other when Communicating in Emerging Technology-Mediated Environments,” she discusses the impact of different forms of technologies—ranging from wearables, AI, and communication using technology like service robots to altering one’s environment through the usage of Virtual Reality (VR). This research challenges our perspective on technology and communication, such as those about interactions between people and products. It brings up the topic of how technology affects collaboration and interaction, especially in remote work settings, and how the use of technology in our lives can be beneficial, but can also result in miscommunications.
Janelle Joseph is an Assistant Professor of Critical Studies of Race and Indigeneity in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto, St. George. Her research interests include creating anti-racism policies and studying how experiences of racism in the sports industry affect athletes, students, coaches, administration, and others. She also has a book titled Sport in the Black Atlantic: Cricket, Canada and the Caribbean Diaspora, which explores how sports as a whole connect people from different parts of the world, such as North America, England, and the Caribbean.
Joseph is also the founder and director of the first laboratory in Canada concentrated specifically on issues of race and movement cultures, otherwise known as the Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity, and Anti-Racism in Sport (IDEAS) research lab. This is such a groundbreaking occurrence for the Black community as this research lab’s mission aims to eliminate racist programming in sports, dance, and leadership in the community. The IDEAS lab conducts studies of sports-related discrimination which provide the opportunity to uncover the underlying systemic biases and racism shown in the sports industry.
Joseph also conducted research on decolonizing kinesiology in their ethics model, which creates an alternate focus of ethics that does not rely on colonial understandings of health and the human body. This also relates to previous research done on the comparison of treatment individuals get based on systemic discrimination in the medical field. The newly revised ethics model is then related to social justice, unravelling the deep layers of inequality and injustice seen in the laws, institutions, and systems involved in kinesiology and sports industries. There is a discussion of different views held against those in minority groups, whether it’s being seen as biologically inferior in the health community or lack of resources and opportunities that might be available to White people. This research demonstrates that the impact of racial biases, even in the health industry, prove themselves to be damaging and discriminatory; this opens the discussion of how we view medical care, especially for those who are marginalized.
There are a lot of talented individuals in the BRN who showcase Black excellence on campus, opening discourse on topics and phenomena they may have not otherwise been researched. From technology and communication to universal health care and the ethics model behind kinesiology, UofT has a wide platform and space for Black researchers and students to speak their truth and create an impact not only in academia but in every aspect they can. These talented individuals are great examples of how we can change the narrative of oppression by overcoming barriers and highlighting the voices in our community.
Associate Features Editor (Volume 50) — Pamela is a U of T alumni with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and minored in East Asian Studies and Italian Studies. She is currently studying at Humber College to be a UX Designer. She was previously the Marketing Manager for On the Danforth Magazine, and even wrote a blog article about "4 Cafés to Visit on the Danforth" (2021). When she's not writing or studying, you can catch her crocheting, designing her bullet journal, and streaming video games. Her favourite games are Valorant, Stardew Valley, and Teamfight Tactics. Pamela loves to write and tries to put creativity at the forefront of everything she does. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Instagram.