Observations by a 'tenured black sheep'

- April 27, 2009 You Must Be a Basketball Player, Dr. Anthony Stewart describes how the university looks at present and makes a case for how this appearance must change." />

Anthony Stewart has written You Must Be a Basketball Player: Rethinking Integration in the University. (Danny Abriel Photo)

For some in the university community, it may not be the easiest book to read but Anthony Stewart’s You Must Be A Basketball Player: Rethinking Integration in the University will force its readers to think about a series of often-challenging topics, from white privilege, to race and integration.

Dr. Stewart, associate professor of English at Dalhousie, has penned a pointed critique of the university system and the challenges evident in integration at post-secondary institutions. He wants the book to make a productive contribution to the way people think about issues related to diversity hiring in universities and issues of diversity more broadly.

“The students we teach will be in positions to hire other people at some point in their lives,” he says. “My hope is that those students will gain some practice in dealing with these issues constructively and see diversity hiring not just as noblesse oblige on their parts, but as the more general benefit and ethical practice that I know it to be.”

The book is the result of Dr. Stewart’s thoughts and observations on the way “the academy” continues to look, in spite of 20 years’ worth of equity polices. He also notes that seeing a black President of the United States invites us to rethink many of the ideas we've held about who holds positions of power, authority, and influence in society.

While the university system as a whole comes under scrutiny, Dalhousie isn’t immune from criticism. Dr. Stewart says Dal must come to terms with its own weaknesses when it comes to integration.

“A university that shares a province with the largest historically black population in the country should be a recognized leader in its successful efforts to recruits students of colour to its campus and faculty of colour to teach here,” he says. “People will tell you that the James Robinson Johnson Chair in Black Canadian Studies shows the university's commitment. While the chair is important,  it must be remembered that the chair only enables one new hire every six years. Maybe some people feel that is a fast enough pace, but I don't.”

“My argument is that we as a profession and as a professional class within Canadian society should bring the same creativity, intelligence, and honest consideration to this important issue that we do with the other aspects of our careers,” he adds. “I am an optimistic person, and believe that the situation can improve and that everyone in the university and in society more widely will benefit from such improvements. But I'm not kidding myself into thinking that such change will be easy or without its opponents.”

Dr. Stewart is quick to point out that book is not an attempt to lay blame, but it is a challenge to the university system to walk the walk instead of merely continuing to talk the talk.. “These are not problems that will fix themselves by our pretending they don't exist,” he says. “My hope is that my book will give people a vocabulary with which to think about these issues in ways that won't necessarily alleviate people’s discomfort about these issues, but so that people will be able to be more honest about what the university does to maintain its present composition, and how that might change.”

You Must Be A Basketball Player: Rethinking Integration in the University is published by Fernwood Publishing. It had its official launch last month at Dalhousie Art Gallery.


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