Dr. Camisha Sibblis: Bringing anti-oppressive frameworks to academia and beyond
Dr. Camisha Sibblis shares how discrimination shapes Black individuals’ perceptions of identity and how academia should create more inclusive practices.

“Growing up, my parents, as immigrants, […] always raised me to be hyper-aware of the meaning of my Blackness in the bigger matrix of my identity,” shares University of Toronto Mississauga Sociology professor, Camisha Sibblis. She explains that her experience and awareness as a Black woman naturally led her to learn more about how “Blackness shapes our realities and shapes our opportunities or lack thereof.” Dr. Sibblis is also an adjunct professor at the University of Windsor’s School of Social Work, and is currently the Co-Investigator of a project funded by Social Science and Humanities Research Council, titled “Sealing the Leaky Pipeline: Constructing Mentorship Best Practices for Racialized Graduate Students in the Academy.”

Dr. Sibblis has worked extensively with marginalized youth within the public school system as a social worker and as a clinician, assessing the mental health of convicts who are dealing with anti-Black racism. One of the most important learning experiences for Dr. Sibblis while working with Black people dealing with discrimination within the criminal justice system is a phenomenon she calls “the ubiquity of carcerality.” Carcerality refers to methods of social control, including but extending beyond prison incarceration, that systematically discriminates against racialized communities. Having spoken to convicts, through their stories she learned that “it’s really evident how […] the carceral is implicated at every stage of their life.” 

Dr. Sibblis explains that Black people who have been convicted often deal with carcerality earlier in life, either due to being first-generation immigrants, or through their school system, child welfare, or the medical field. She emphasizes that as a result of their experiences dealing with hyper-surveillance within these institutions, Black people’s construction of their identity is heavily affected. “All of that I find very carceral because it’s this inability to transcend what their Blackness means, and I think that in itself is a tool of containment,” she adds.

Dr. Sibblis’ current research project, which is piloted through the Canadian Sociological Association Black Caucus, emphasizes the importance of building community by connecting students to people working within academia. “There is a kinship that we don’t take for granted, and we can be candid around what our common struggles are,” she notes. Dr. Sibblis points out that through this community building, mentors enlighten their mentees on how to navigate academia and ensure that they are excelling within the academic institution. When asked what she hopes to gain from this project, Dr. Sibblis says that she hopes for “more critical numbers of Black and racialized faculty in academia,” so that not only are students of colour better represented, but the Eurocentric nature of academia can change. 

Having worked with children and youth as a social worker, Dr. Sibblis draws connections between the public school model and post-secondary education. Addressing the reality of systematic forms of oppression, she says that the Ministry of Education has recently started to deal with the streaming issue, whereby Black students have been streamed into tracks that do not lead to post-secondary education. Dr. Sibblis shares that she has witnessed similar patterns within academia: “Black undergrads and Black graduate students [are] not actually ushered and put into advantageous roles and positions by their superiors.” She further explains that through reviewing applications for incoming graduate students, she has noticed that white students are often groomed for success in ways that Black students are not.

Dr. Sibblis acknowledges that she has noticed positive changes with academia. For example, Dr. Sibblis says that universities taking action to hire more Black and racialized academics is a step in the right direction. However, she states that more can be done, as in certain instances, many Black academics are scattered across multiple faculties and departments. “So, they still end up being the one token Black educator in the faculty or in the department […]. It’s a very isolating and alienating position,” she adds. Dr. Sibblis praises the University of Windsor for starting a Black Studies Institute, which she says allows Black academics to have a sense of community and rely on each other as a resource for scholarship. This is a model she hopes to see adopted by other institutions as well. 

When it comes to preventing systematic forms of oppression within academia, Dr. Sibblis emphasizes the importance of working toward the redistribution of power. She argues that while it is a positive step to have more Black and racialized professors in assistant and associate positions, “we don’t see a whole lot in full professorships, […] as deans, as provosts.” Dr. Sibblis stresses that it is important for the entire institution and organization of academia to reflect the diversity of society. 

For sociology students who are interested in studying and pursuing work that deals with racial identity and anti-oppressive frameworks, Dr. Sibblis encourages them to take courses in social work. She mentions that given her background as a social worker, she makes sure to bring that lens to her sociology and criminology classes. “My advice is to do work outside of sociology and to gain a critical lens,” she shares. She explains that through this, students will be able to make the shift from recognizing statistics and theory to humanizing the experiences of people in the real world. She adds that it is important to be reflective and reflexive: “Ask yourself how is it that you are implicated, know that we can never really be separate from our object of study,” Dr. Sibblis explains.  

For Dr. Sibblis, Black History Month is a bittersweet occasion. She shares that it can feel peripheral in the importance it is given. “I think it should be Black History every day. It should be completely integrated,” she stresses. She further elaborates that she thinks “Black History” is a misnomer, “it kind of separates us from the greatness that we are achieving today,” she says. Dr. Sibblis argues that perhaps “Black Heritage” could be more accurate, as it is important to not just engage with the past, but the present and future as well.


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