Diversity in education: BCom students lobby for Black history to be taught in Alberta classrooms

Photo of Daniel Afolabi and Eric Gadbois
Posted 2020-07-08
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Two UBC Sauder Bachelor of Commerce students are spending the summer getting first-hand experience in social advocacy and government lobbying.

Daniel Afolabi and Eric Gadbois are 20-year-old students from Calgary who met at UBC. When anti-racism protests broke out in cities across the country and around the world following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, they began talking about the problem of racism toward visible minorities in Canada. They agreed that the most effective way to change people’s attitudes was through education. 

“I talked to my sister who is an elementary school teacher in Calgary,” says Gadbois. “She said books and literature were a big method for her to bring the issue of racism into the classroom, and she recommended everyone read a book called The Undefeated.”

   

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson is an illustrated children’s book that traces the African American experience through history. Written as a poem, it pays tribute to famous Americans such as Olympian Jesse Owens, but it also honours the millions of Black citizens who helped build America while facing slavery, police brutality and systemic racial discrimination. 

According to Gadbois, “We talked about the book and other literature, and then we talked more specifics about what’s currently in the Alberta school curriculum and the teaching standards.” 

“That’s when we decided to launch a petition to call on the Ministry of Education to include Black history and its modern impacts in the Alberta school curriculum,” says Afolabi. 

The two students launched their online petition on June 10, requesting the Alberta government:

  • Increase the amount of content and resources involving Black history in the classroom.
  • Incorporate standards for the teaching of Black history and its impacts into the Alberta Teaching Quality Standard.  
  • Support from Alberta Education to ensure teachers are applying the new principles in the classroom.
  • Incorporate local Black communities into schools by inviting Black speakers, educators and activists to speak.
  • Require all schools maintain a database that records all incidents of racial discrimination or inequality.

Afolabi and Gadbois also created an Instagram page with educational resources such as recommended books to help youth, parents, educators and all Canadians learn about the issues affecting Black people in Canada.

Dived.in (Diversity and Education Initiative) account on Instagram

Despite having no prior experience in campaigning, they attracted the attention of national media and their story was shared by over 70 news outlets across the country. In response, Alberta’s Minister of Education, Adriana LaGrange, agreed to a meeting to hear their pitch.

 “We met with the Minister and her staff and she said she’d like to work with us to put Black history and modern racism in the curriculum,” says Afolabi. 

While they wait to hear back from the Alberta government on next steps, the number of signatures on the petition continues to grow, with over 43,000 at last count.

Gadbois believes Canadians are more open to learning about issues involving race as a result of two significant events in the news: the COVID-19 situation and multiple incidents of police brutality toward visible minorities.

“COVID-19 has given me a lot of time to reflect and helped me make changes in my life for the better,” says Gadbois. “It’s really the right time to take a look at how we’re operating and how we’re treating each other and make the changes that are needed.”

   

Gadbois and Afolabi are hoping to achieve the goals of the petition by the time they head back to UBC Sauder in the fall. As they contemplate the new school year, they are also thinking about how universities can play a leadership role in creating a more inclusive and tolerant society.  

“Honestly, my initial source of knowledge that pushed me to seek out more knowledge was my WRDS 150 class in first year,” recounts Afolabi. “The theme of the class was resistance and all the articles we read were written by people of colour.”

One article that stands out was written by academic researcher Nikita Carney and titled, All Lives Matter, but so does Race: Black Lives Matter and the Evolving Role of Social Media.

“It was really cool to hear from all these different voices or communities, and it put into perspective for me that I’m not the only person facing challenges,” says Afolabi. 

Gadbois agrees that it would be great to see more course content involving Black authors in addition to more case studies and business stories involving companies run by Black business leaders. 

“There are a ton of examples of Black entrepreneurs out there that could be better highlighted in our classes,” says Gadbois. “That’s something I’d like to learn more about.”

Motivated by the public response to their petition, they plan on engaging more friends, fellow students, educators and mentors in conversations about how to create more opportunities for diversity and inclusion in education, as well as in the workplace. The question they will seek to answer is: how can we better serve all students, not just the majority?

To learn more about the Diversity in Education Initiative, read the online petition and visit dived.in on Instagram.