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Diaspora Centre takes tri-campus teaching approach

Conference for scholars to examine global street life to be held mid April

Though it's less than two years old, the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies has quickly made a unique contribution to academic programming at U of T.

The centre’s core course, Introduction to Diaspora and Transnational Studies, is taught on all three campuses in the same semester, with the three professors teaching the course rotating among the different campuses.

“We’ve broken the course into three segments so that each professor teaches one segment at each of the three campuses,” said Professor Ato Quayson, director of the centre. Quayson said there’s an interdisciplinary benefit to this tri-campus approach. Quayson is an English professor and teaching the course with him this semester are Ken MacDonald, a U of T Scarborough geography professor, and Rima Berns-McGowan, a professor of historical studies at U of T Mississauga.

“Academically, the advantage is the students get a perspective on diaspora and transnational studies from different disciplinary perspectives,” Quayson said. There’s also a practical benefit, as students enrolled in the centre’s major and minor degree programs don’t have to leave their campuses to take the core course.

International trends and changes in the ethnic diversity of Toronto over the years means this is an apt time to create a centre focused on diaspora and transnational studies, said Quayson, noting that the annual financial remittances sent by immigrants and diaspora groups back to their homelands now outstrips the value of bilateral aid countries distribute worldwide each year.

“There’s recognition today that diasporas are a massive economic conduit that’s not to be ignored,” he said.

Then there’s Toronto itself, which in the span of a few generations has become one of the most ethnically diverse and multicultural cities in the world. That diversity is reflected by the student body at U of T, Quayson observed.

“We don’t need to go far. The material to study diaspora and transnationalism is right here in Toronto. The centre is a way of providing proper institutional support to talk about and study something that is happening right now and, in many cases, right in front of us.”

The centre’s degree programs now offer undergraduates approximately 125 listed courses from a range of departments and Quayson and his colleagues are working to establish a master’s program for the 2008-09 academic year.

In the nearer term, the centre is working in conjunction with the Department of Anthropology to host a four-day conference, Street Life: A Conference, to be held April 18 to 22 in Toronto. The conference is intended to provide a venue for scholars from the humanities and social sciences to examine and understand global street life. (Visit for more information about the conference.)

“The conference is one of the first of its kind to focus on the street as a significant element for understanding cities,” Quayson said. “By organizing such a conference in Toronto, we are acknowledging that the city’s streets have become more multicultural and transnational than they were 20 or so years ago.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough