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Honorary degree citation - Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill

By: Arpi Hamalian, June 1997

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill, teacher, lawyer, professor of law and scholar specializing in Human Rights and anti-racist education and since 1996, the first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Endowed Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University. Her expertise and leadership in analysing Racism and Racial Discrimination and developing educational programs and opportunities for change to positively shape and inform the quality of our social interactions and the understanding of history are recognized nationally and internationally.

Esmeralda Thornhill obtained a B.A. joint honours Spanish and Latin from McGill University in 1969. In 1981 she completed a diploma in International and Comparative Law at the University of San Diego in Paris, France and went on to receive an LL.B. in Civil Law from the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1983. She was called to the Québec bar in 1987. In 1990 she completed an M.A. in Spanish Language and Literature at the Université de Montréal. In 1996 she received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the City University of New York. Along the way she accumulated other diplomas, degrees and honours, too numerous to mention in a short presentation.

Fluent in English, French and Spanish, Esmeralda Thornhill has researched, published and lectured extensively on Critical Race Theory, the "material reality" of Racism in Law, Education and Public Services, Cumulative Impact of Discrimination, Human Rights and International Law. She addresses with equal ease and expertise legal, academic, government, public and grassroots audiences. Her articles and editorials have appeared in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, The Journal of Inter Group Relations, Fireweed, the Gazette des femmes, The Sentinel and the U.S. Congressional Record among others.

Dès sa jeune adolescence, une prise de conscience du fait qu'elle soit à la fois femme et Noire l'a poussée à s'engager tôt dans l'action sociale tout en poursuivant des études qui la conduisent à l'enseignement.

Elle y travaille pendant sept ans avant d'occuper, de 1977 à 1996, un poste d'agente de formation à la Commission des droits de ta personne du Québec. Elle poursuit là aussi la lutte qu'elle mène depuis l'adolescence contre le racisme, particulièrement en ce qui concerne la réalité de celles qui sont doublement discriminées les femmes de couleur. En 1980, elle participe à la fondation du Congrès des femmes noires du Canada qu'elle présidera de 1988 à 1991. Enfin, en 1987, elle devient la première Noire à siéger au Conseil du statut de la femme.

Esmeralda Thornhill a toujours voulu faire de Montréal une ville plus tolérante et ouverte à la diversité. Elle participe à la fondation de La Maisonnée, un service d'accueil, d'aide et de référence pour immigrantes et immigrants. Avocate, membre du Conseil, général du Barreau du Québec de 1981 à 1984, Esmeralda Thornhill collabore à la fondation, en 1986, du Congrès des avocats et juristes noirs du Québec. En 1989, elle est à l'origine de la Déclaration de Montréal contre le racisme. En 1990, par le biais de la Commission des droits de la personne, elle amène la Ville de Montréal à proclamer février Mois de l'histoire noire. Enfin, en 1991, elle devient membre de la Commission de la fonction publique de Montréal, l'organisme chargé d'effectuer les examens, les tests d'évaluation et les listes d'éligibilité des employé(es) de la ville, dans un esprit d'équité et d'égalité.

Esmeralda Thornhill's professional contact with Concordia has been significant and sustained through her teaching in and collaboration with the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. In 1983, Dr. Thornhill conceptualized, developed and taught the first university accredited course on Black Women's Studies offered in Canada - Black Women: The missing pages from Canadian Women’s Studies. Grâce à elle, Concordia devient la première université canadienne à offrir des cours sur les femmes noires et les femmes de couleur.

Starting with the collaboration, Esmeralda Thornhill has continued to serve as mentor and role model to our students and community members not only at the Institute, in Montreal but internationally.

She encourages partnerships and linkages whether it be with the International resource Network for Women of African Descent headquartered in Zimbabwe, of which she was co-founder in 1982 or the Black Women’s International Cross Cultural Communications Institute of New York.

From Halifax, Esmeralda Thornhill continues to be an inspiration to us at Concordia. In a letter dated February 26, 1997 she wrote: “As first holder of the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, I have counted and continue to count the Institute as one of those privileged partners with whom the Chair can “connect” and pool scarce resources in order to pursue and achieve the common goal of a more suitable society in which access to meaningful participation becomes a reality for all.”

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Esmeralda M.A. Thornhill, so that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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