McGill, News

Black History Month keynote highlights Black voices in STEM

McGill held its virtual opening ceremony for Black History Month on Feb. 1, featuring keynote speaker James Jones. Jones is a distinguished professor emeritus of psychology and Black American studies at the University of Delaware, as well as the director of its Center for the Study of Diversity. The event, titled “Diversity within Psychology,” was the first of McGill’s Black History Month series, which, in collaboration with the Faculty of Science this year, is centred on celebrating Black scientists at McGill and beyond.

The ceremony began with remarks from several guests, including Gracia Kasoki Katahwa, the borough mayor of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Katahwa highlighted the measures that the current Montreal government is taking to build a more equitable future for Black communities, but acknowledged that more needs to be done.

“It is clear that as a society, we still have a lot of work to do to fight systemic racism and inequalities,” Katahwa said. “We are strongly committed to affecting these changes within our city with concrete actions. We have started by recognizing the existence of systemic racism and creating the Office of the Commissioner to fight against racism and discrimination to help our public services in this inclusive transition.”

Jones began his keynote address by expanding on the idea that Black History Month must go beyond the celebration of select Black achievements.

“Black History is more than celebrating consequential Black people,” Jones explained. “That is important, but it is more than that. Black history is the story of the human spirit, the will to live, the capacity to love, and the fortitude to endure. Black joy balances out Black trauma.”

Jones underscored the importance of diversity within the field of psychology, emphasizing that it is more than a mere box to check off; it is a crucial component in fostering scholarship in the field. Jones introduced what he described as one of his favourite concepts: Full participation.

“Full participation is a product of diversity, it’s not diversity itself,” Jones said. “It is an affirmative value focussed on creating institutions and societies that enable people, whatever their identity, background, or institutional position, to thrive, realize their capabilities, engage meaningfully in institutional life, and contribute to the flourishing of others.”

McGill’s dean of science, Bruce Lennox, offered the closing remarks, reflecting on his personal experience attending one of the first desegregated schools in New Orleans.

“As we celebrate Black History Month, I recognize that although we might have come far, at least from my first day of school, in New Orleans, we certainly haven’t gone far enough,” Lennox said. “In the present and future, I can certainly pledge that McGill’s Faculty of Science is going to be an active partner and leader in bringing the joys of STEM [and] the societal imperatives of STEM to Black students in the Montreal community, the academic communities of Quebec, and worldwide.”

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