When the Future Skills Centre asked people across Canada to identify the most important skills for career success, they overwhelmingly identified social and emotional skills like communication, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills, along with leadership and adaptability.
Participants were clear that technical skills and knowledge remain important, but they were also in agreement that social and emotional skills are essential to career success across a range of workplaces. Despite increasing digitization and tech adoption, one participant concluded that, “You can’t automate compassion, organizational skills, communication. Those skills are increasingly important as we move towards a more digital economy.”
The Future Skills Centre suggests that we need to re-conceptualize post-secondary teaching and training to place more emphasis on social and emotional development.
A new program at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) looks to do just that, and more. TMU’s Black Studies Minor, one of few in Canada, is an opportunity for students to delve into the expansive history, experiences, and lives of Black people globally. Created by Dr. Mélanie Knight, Dr. Anne-Marie Lee-Loy and Dr. Cheryl Thompson, this is a comprehensive program, which kicked off in the Fall of 2022.
Magnet connected with Dr. Mélanie Knight, Dr. Anne-Marie Lee-Loy and Dr. Cheryl Thompson to discuss this unique program, what students can gain from being in the program, and how it helps prepare them for the workplace.
Magnet: Why is this program important?
Melanie: The launch of the Interdisciplinary Black Studies minor in Arts is an important acknowledgment of the depth and validity of Black scholarship in Canada.
The Minor is an essential curricular initiative in terms of building community and countering the alienation felt by some Black students in the academy. Students in the Black Studies minor have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the study of the histories, cultures, and politics of African peoples and diasporas; to engage in a scholarly tradition that challenges the limits of Eurocentricity; to participate in local and international community-based learning opportunities; and to gain knowledge that fosters transformative social and political change.
“Having courses on the Black experience helps me feel included and wanted in the university community.”
— Kiera Nisbett, Sociology, TMU
Magnet: Can you elaborate on some of the unique courses within the Black Studies minor and how they contribute to a holistic understanding of the Black experience?
Anne-Marie: The interdisciplinary approach to Black Studies is intentional: it reflects the reality that the field is itself inherently interdisciplinary, characterized by a diversity of experiences, approaches, and interests. The Black diasporic experience is one of inter-migration, connected with the Caribbean, Latin America, North America, and Africa. An interdisciplinary approach is the only means by which to develop a holistic understanding of the Black experience and to capture its vibrant heterogeneity.
For example, courses in the Minor allow students to explore topics as diverse as fashion, music, carnival arts, and creative practices more generally; the relationship between race and media; as well as the politics, histories, societies, literatures, and business environments of the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
Magnet: What are some unique features of the minor?
Melanie: Many of our courses incorporate community-engaged learning and teaching (CELT) that prompts students to apply what they are learning to real-world problems and contexts.
Faculty have partnerships with a number of community and government organizations at the local, national and international levels. For instance, some of our courses have been part of the Global Justice and Change Program. A course is currently being proposed for students to take part in a trip to Senegal, the first of its kind. Also, the depth of Black scholarship we bring to our courses is amazing! All of this makes for a unique robust learning experience for our students.
Magnet: How does the Black Studies minor at Toronto Metropolitan University prepare students for the workplace?
Anne-Marie: In general, students in the Minor develop skills in communication, research, and analytical and critical thinking. Because of its decentring of Eurocentric perspectives, the Black Studies Minor gives students an edge in the development of interpersonal skills like empathy, listening, and teamwork and a deep understanding of the complicated and nuanced ways in which race has been constructed, negotiated, and managed in a variety of contexts.
These skills are in demand in businesses with global connections, in education, in the fields of law and policy making, communications and media, and social, health, and community services and activism. Because of the hands-on, experiential nature of many of our courses, graduates may also have demonstrable skills in archival research and creative practice.
Cheryl: The Minor prepares them to think critically, to make connections across time, and space, and to engage in necessary conversations about race, culture, politics, and resistance.
In essence, the Minor is preparing students for the kind of life skills necessary in our global and complex world to be global citizens with an ability to challenge and fix the complex problems of our times such as dismantling anti-Black racism, confronting xenophobia, and challenging colonial ideologies and practices.
Magnet: Could you share your vision for expanding this program in the future, in terms of course content and faculty involvement?
Melanie: We really have enough courses already for a full-scale program! If TMU could support undergraduate interdisciplinary programs, we would already have a Black Studies program on the books. We have Black faculty involvement. Students are keen and with the diversity of courses from a multitude of disciplines, Black studies is truly interdisciplinary, experiential, connected to community, and provides essential critical skills for meaningful employment that will support our social ecosystem.
Anne-Marie: We will continue to encourage faculty across the University to develop and contribute courses to the Minor. It is so exciting to be surrounded by colleagues with a variety of research interests and specializations. The diversity of the Black faculty at TMU promises a rich and expanding roster of courses that will be grounded in both a legacy of Black thought and research, and be responsive to emerging issues and discoveries.
Magnet: What do you see as important indicators of success for the program in the coming years?
Melanie: If we see our students employed in various forms of work that contributes to community wellbeing, that will be a success for us! If we see our students well-prepared for and pursuing graduate degrees, that will be a success. And if we see them return to college and university classrooms as instructors and researchers in Black Studies, that will be a success.
Anne-Marie: We also measure success in the ongoing growth and vibrancy of Black Studies at the University. Having more students who choose TMU because of the opportunity to pursue Black Studies; new and innovative community partnerships that involve our students; healthy enrollment in courses in the Minor; and an ongoing commitment from TMU to support Black Studies programming are all important indicators of success.