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Concordia Public Scholar unveils the impact of identity and anti-Black racism on Canadian campuses

Dalia Elsayed explores the intersection of race, gender and community narratives
December 8, 2023
Smiling young woman with long, dark hair in braids, wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a white button-down shirt.
Dalia Elsayed: “Black feminism depends on storytelling. It depends on centring Black women in the narrative.”

For Concordia Public Scholar Dalia Elsayed, moving halfway around the world to pursue her PhD at Concordia’s Department of Education has been transformative on several levels.

Elsayed grew up in Qatar, where she earned a master’s in Middle-Eastern and gender studies at Qatar University. The focus of her research was feminisms in the Gulf region, something she was originally going to expand upon in her Concordia PhD studies.

However, her experience as a newcomer to Canada — specifically, as a Black woman — and her encounters with anti-Black racism in Canadian academia steered her doctoral research in a new direction.

With this newfound perspective, Elsayed is examining how race, gender, class and other categories of identity and oppression impact Black women on Canadian campuses.

Community is a big factor in the well-being of Black graduate students

Identity is at the core of your research. What are some of the differences between Canada and the Middle East when it comes to how you are perceived as a Black woman?

DALIA ELSAYED: Growing up in the Gulf, I was mostly intrigued by the role of gender and how it shaped social relations, interpersonal dynamics and my own sense of self.

Since moving to Canada, race has become the most visible element by which social interactions are based on. For example, the “angry Black woman“ stereotype is a very clear example of anti-Black racism on Canadian campuses. In other words, if Black female students express disagreement or a distinct perspective, they risk being characterized as confrontational and aggressive.

A lot of the women that I speak to find themselves self-monitoring and adjusting their tones due to the concern of coming across as hostile.

Is this something that has been explored on Canadian campuses?

DE:  Community is at the centre of Black women’s well-being.

What I’m trying to highlight in my work is the role of community. Community is a big factor in the well-being of Black graduate students.

I think it’s important that we have some sort of — sister colleagues — who we can rely on. We need people who can understand the specific nuances of our experiences in the academy.

Tell me more about how storytelling is integral to your research.

DE: My relationships with different Black women in my life has defined the direction and my understanding of what it is to be a Black woman — my understanding of Blackness overall.

I argue that the experience of being Black is universal, yet manifests itself in different ways. There is no monolithic Black women’s culture, but rather a multiplicity of cultures each uniquely defined by the circumstances of race, gender and class, and each contribute to the formation of Black women’s culture.

Black feminism depends on storytelling. It depends on centring Black women in the narrative. For this reason, I think we need to hear about the specifics of these experiences on Canadian campuses. That’s the direction that I want to go in my research.

To understand what anti-Black racism is, we need to actually hear from those who experience to understand how anti-Black racism manifests.

At the end of the day, how would you like to see your research used to improve the experiences of Black women in academia?

DE: I want to make sure that stories are seen as data. This data can contribute to the development of concrete equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies.

There is a lot of investment in EDI these days, but I don’t always think these strategies take into consideration specific stories that highlight the experience of Black women with gender and race-based discrimination. We need to include the nuances of what it is to be Black and the nuances of experiencing anti-Black racism on campus.

Storytelling and narrative inquiry offers a framework through which we can approach and address these issues.

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Concordia’s Public Scholars.



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