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Grad Student Lecture Nights at Massey College

    I continue to work on some posts for the coming weeks to encourage journalists to apply to be a Fellow-at-Large of the University of Toronto and Southam Fellow at Massey College. This adds to the community aspects of the role.


    Being a Fellow-at-Large of the University of Toronto was a great experience, especially because the role places one among the students of the university. (We take classes as if we were actually grad students)

    The monthly lectures series put on by graduate students at Massey College was a highlight in my calendar, nothing stopped stop me from attending.

    Anticipation of the Junior Fellow Lecture Series, the title of the event, grows during the week. It begins when the theme is announced, usually a music album, which each of the three graduate students delivering lectures must relate their topics to. They are given 15 minutes for their lectures.

    Spectators look forward to asking questions based upon the theme. There is much playful banter during the week, especially if the speaker seems overly anxious or tense as they prepare. For some, this is step of passage towards the day they will defend their thesis. Within the Massey graduate community, the banter is a gentle rite of initiation. (For the more senior graduate students, the banter is endearment expressed ironically)

    On the day of the lecture, anticipation peaks during dinner. Lecture night means tiny desserts. Tiny desserts means rushing out of the dining hall, running down every available stairwell, and dashing in full academic gown by the first to the tray.

    (Tiny desserts were the exception to my duty of care as a Fellow-at-Large, I secure first dibs more than once. I may have once 'accidentally' bumped a student or two.)

    Wine is served at dinner, and the bar is open afterwards. The light drinking helps people feel more relaxed.

    The graduate students discuss their research and work in short lectures (my memory fails me on just how short) with questions to follow.

    The lectures start just after 8:00pm, and can be quite a bit of fun. Nobody drinks too much, the wine primarily serves as an indicator that for all the formality of the academy, people can relax and have fun.

    One particular presentation, on the suppression of African spirituality in the British Caribbean, caused me to significantly reconsider my view of Christianity's role in Caribbean society.

    The lecture discussed the debate over decriminalizing Obeah, and the strong opposition of Christianty to decriminalisation. Jamaica is a deeply Christian country today, which is a legacy of colonialism. The British criminalized and violently suppressed Obeah - declaring it to be witchcraft. Today, Instead of the white British suppressing African spirituality, it is the Black descendants of those brought as slaves to the Caribbean islands who demanding the spiritual practices of their ancestors continue to be suppressed.

    As a practicing Catholic myself, who greatly enjoyed visiting Black Baptist churchs, this short presentation gave me much to think about.