Official Launch of CBU’s Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice

Cape Breton University has partnered with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board and Sydney Academy to launch the Viola Desmond Chair in Social Justice on Monday, November 8 at Sydney Academy. The two part event will begin at 9:30 a.m. with a town hall and student panel discussion on social justice issues followed by the official launch and public reception at 10:45 a.m. Steve Sutherland, host, CBC Information Morning will moderate the panel and MC the morning program.

In June of this year, CBU President John Harker appointed Dr. Graham Reynolds as the Chair’s first holder. Harker notes that “Wanda Robson, the sister of Viola Desmond, attended CBU as a mature student and credited Dr. Reynolds for enabling her to fully understand Viola’s case in the context of the never ending struggle for social justice. The Viola Desmond Chair is important to this university as we work towards achieving a Masters degree in Social Justice at CBU, in that it honours Viola Desmond and all those who have struggled, and continue to struggle, in an environment that does not always foster fairness and equality.”

Initially, Dr. Reynolds hopes to drive support for the Viola Desmond and Wanda Robson Student Scholarship/Award campaign as well as develop educational resources for use in classrooms across Nova Scotia and other provinces that speak to current social justice issues and concerns.

“I am deeply honoured to be the first holder of this Chair,” says Dr. Graham Reynolds. “Over the past number of years I have worked with Wanda Robson, and she is a true testament to what this Chair represents. Since our inception, CBU has extended the opportunity to obtain a university education to all who seek it. No one symbolizes this vision of CBU better than Wanda, the youngest sister of Viola Desmond.” In 2003, Wanda Robson, at age 73, entered CBU to pursue her life-long dream of obtaining a university degree and in 2007 she graduated with at Bachelor of Arts degree.

Dr. Reynolds adds, “For me, this new role will be used as an instrument to promote the value of education as a means of individual personal advancement as well as educating Canadians about the broader issues of social justice.”

Student participation will highlight the launch beginning with a town hall session with Wanda Robson. Students will have an opportunity to ask questions about her book, Sister to Courage, followed by a student panel that will discuss current social justice issues. Panelists include Neil MacIsaac, Kanivanan Chinniah and Yaeesh Sardiwalla, students at Sydney Academy and Wanda Robson and Dr. Reynolds. Sixty students from Mi’kmaq History, Political Science, African History and Sociology classes have been invited to explore thoughts and approaches to matters of social justice.

“We wanted to engage students in the launch because social justice issues are relevant at all times. In today’s world students are facing concerns about bullying, homophobia and other challenging situations. We have also invited several CBU BEd students to attend, listen and consider what this means in a classroom/school setting. They and their peers will ultimately be contributing to the development of pertinent educational resources longer term. I am so glad that the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board has been supportive of this first initiative; both the Board and Sydney Academy made a tremendous effort to make this event happen. As Chair, I hope to build upon this relationship.” says Dr. Reynolds

The official launch of Sister to Courage will also take place during the formal portion of the program and copies of the book will be available for purchase. “I think the students will really enjoy the panel, and I am hoping there will be some very interesting discussions,” says Reynolds.

November 8 also marks the 64th anniversary of the incident in a New Glasgow, N.S. theatre where Viola Desmond resisted the practice of racial segregation.

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