Four U of T leaders speak to CBC News about being Black in academia, inspiring future generations


From left to right: Charmaine Williams, Njoki Nathani Wane, Rhonda McEwen and Catherine Chandler-Crichlow (image via CBC)

Charmaine WilliamsCatherine Chandler-CrichlowRhonda McEwen and Njoki Nathani Wane – all leaders at the University of Toronto – recently sat down with CBC News’s Dwight Drummond to discuss their many accomplishments, as well as the challenges they faced, as Black women in academia.

Airing in time for Black History Month, the roundtable interview underscored the importance of inspiring future generations.

"I certainly think representation matters,” said Williams, professor and dean of U of T’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “I think that it's important not only for Black students, but for other students who don't see people like them in this space, to see us representing that possibility.” 

McEwen, president and vice-chancellor of Victoria University in the University of Toronto, told Drummond she always believed she belonged in these spaces.

"I think in every one of our origin stories, somewhere along the line, some people built into us a belief that we could attain it and we could get it," said McEwen, who is also a professor at the Institute of Communications, Culture, Information and Technology at U of T Mississauga. 

Chandler-Crichlow, dean of U of T’s School of Continuing Studies, said she was told early in her career to learn the system.

“You don't lose your culture, but you have to understand where you are,” she explained. “Because if you don't understand where you are, then you can't play the game. And we must be bold enough to see we are in the game.”

Wane, a professor and chair of department of social justice education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, has told her children to not let racism put them down. 

“What you need to focus on is that you are grounded in your cultural identity, you are grounded in your goals, you are grounded in your vision,” she said. 

Watch the CBC News interview