Have you met… Dr. Giselle Thompson?

The Assistant Professor of Black Studies in Education joined the Faculty of Education in 2022.

23 January 2023

Portrait of Giselle Thompson - a Black-Caribbean woman with glasses and curled hair that falls just past her shouldersTell us about you!

I am a Black-Caribbean feminist scholar, and I approach my work from this distinct positionality in partnership with, and in service to, Black Communities in transnational, local, and diasporic contexts. To that end, I hold a PhD in Sociology from York University in Toronto, which I obtained in 2020. Prior to accepting my appointment as the Assistant Professor of Black Studies in Education (Social Justice and International Studies in Education) at the University of Alberta, I served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. 

Beyond the Ivory Tower, I am engaged in work as a Research Associate and Consultant at the Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement. The Centre was founded for the purpose of dismantling anti-Black racism in all its forms at the Board in 2020. It is the first of its kind in public education in Canada.

Concerning my transnational community work, I am a member of the World Class Jamaica (WCJ) Think Tank, and was recently appointed to the organization’s Advisory Board. WCJ serves the material needs of severely underfunded primary schools in rural parishes in Jamaica. The organization was also the largest contributor to the Ministry of Education, Youth, and Information’s (MOEYI) “A Device for Every Child” initiative at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. As a private citizen, I am engaged in discussions with the Consulate General of Jamaica-Toronto, the MOEYI, the Jamaica Early Childhood Commission, and teachers and administrators about designing more equitable educational futures for Basic and primary school-aged children in the country. 

This work exists within an international development context as an intervention in addressing the historical problem of under-resourcing in public education in Jamaica, which is the result of the country’s insurmountable debt to the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions. 

What brought you to the University of Alberta?

I came to the University of Alberta because the institution offered me an opportunity to widen the scope of my research, and to contribute to the broader knowledge project to build the transdisciplinary field of Black Studies in Canada.

What are your current research interests?

I would describe my research as a combined articulation of critical studies in the Sociologies of Education, Race, Diaspora, and International Development. However, as is common in the Black Studies tradition, my work transcends disciplinary boundaries. I also draw from the reservoir of my emotional, spiritual, experiential, and other embodied forms of knowledge to fulfill the objective of my scholarship, which is to work in partnership with, and in service to, Black Communities, as I mentioned previously. 

Broadly speaking, I am concerned with understanding how colonialism, racial capitalism, white supremacy, and modernity operate globally and are implicated in the ongoing (mis)education of Black people. Whilst doing this work, I also remain committed to disrupting traditional academic notions about what is, and who constitutes theory; who has intellectual and disciplinary authority; who has licence to create and diffuse knowledge, and relatedly, which localities count as sites of education.

A note on some of my current work: I recently co-authored a book chapter entitled “Examining the educational rights of Black Caribbean diasporic youth in Toronto'' in Youth, Education, and Wellbeing in the Americas (2022). The chapter examines the ways in which Black youth who are of Caribbean heritage’s rights, as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, are not being upheld in schools.  I am currently working on two manuscripts for publication in the Journal of Eastern Caribbean Studies and the Journal of Education and Development in the Caribbean. And, I am also planning to undertake a new research project that uses a Black Caribbean feminist lens and an anti-colonial discursive framework to explore the transhistorical phenomenon of Black/African “othermothering” in the school setting, and the extra non-contractual labour of Black women teachers in Jamaica and in Canada.

What inspired you to enter this field?

My lived experience as a second-generation Jamaican in Canada inspired a deep intellectual curiosity about the Diaspora’s transnational role in supporting schools, and other public institutions, in Jamaica through various forms of organizing. Growing up, I recognized how this form of, what I refer to as "transnational connective politics" was so vital, not only for public institutions but also for family members and fictive kin who remained in Jamaica. 

As it pertains to my Canada-centred research, my own encounters with anti-Black racism in K-12 and post-secondary schooling led me on a journey to make sense of how and why this hostile social milieu negatively shaped my self-perception as a learner. Because I know what it feels like to be the victim of low-expectations and under-investment, the spirit of this work is to understand and explain Black experiences and subjectivities within the context of education, and in the broader society, more accurately and honorifically.

Describe your teaching philosophy.

I draw from the tradition of Black women abolitionist teachers who approached teaching as a liberatory and anti-oppressive act. Because, we “Black women have always been at the forefront of making education inclusive for all [people]” (Muhammad et al., 2020, p. 420), I maintain the philosophy that anyone can learn, and thus, am ardent about knowing who is in the classroom — as well as who is not in the classroom — so that my pedagogy is attuned to the diversity of students and their learning styles. 

In the words of bell hooks (1994) “[my] work [as an educator] is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of [my] students” (p. 30). This approach to teaching is transgressive and problematizes the traditional understanding that education is a mere systematic process of instruction. I believe that education is about everything. And, as such, my pedagogy encourages students to engage in the act of knowing themselves, others, and the world around them so that they come to harness their innate ability to construct, validate, and legitimate knowledge.

What are your impressions of Edmonton/the University of Alberta so far?

Downtown Edmonton is quite scenic. I particularly enjoy the view of the River Valley from my home, and the quaint little coffee shops. As it pertains to my time at the University of Alberta, it’s been lovely working with, and getting to know, my colleagues in the SJI specialization and learning from my students.

What interests you outside of work? 

I am a fashion and natural hair enthusiast. I also enjoy reading historically based fiction, listening to music, singing, cooking, cardio kickboxing workouts, and spending time with my family and close friends.

Photo: Ryan Parker Photography