Andrea Davis teaches in a way that empowers students
June 29, 2017
Five years ago, Dr. Andrea Davis was recognized for teaching excellence with the Ian Greene Award presented annually to a professor and teaching assistant chosen by York University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies students.
The exceptional educator was honoured last week with the President’s university-wide teaching award in the full-time senior faculty category.
Davis chairs the Humanities department and holds cross-appointments in the graduate programs in English, interdisciplinary studies and gender, feminist and women’s studies.
A York University faculty member since 2003, her research focuses on the literary productions of black women in the Americas. She is interested in the intersections of the literatures of the Caribbean, the United States and Canada and her work encourages an intertextual cross-cultural dialogue about black women's experiences in diaspora.
Carlo Panaro, a student in her first-year course, ‘Cultures of Resistance in the Americas: The African-American Experience’, nominated Davis for the prestigious honour.
“Dr. Davis is thoroughly devoted to the critical thinking and intellectual development of her students,” he said. “Every explicit text is always interpreted in an empowering and self-enriching manner. Through this, she inspires her students to recognize the true worth inherent in diversity. She transcends the narrow-mindedness of 21st century thinking and urges her students to always challenge the unsubstantiated social constructions upon which our society is unfortunately based.”
Panaro said Davis’ innovative teaching style appeals to her students.
“Acknowledging that students learn in different ways, she does not solely adhere to verbal teaching,” he added. “Through the linking of course content to films, she engages in visual learning. By connecting course themes to contemporary music, she acknowledges students who may be auditory learners. This was ideally exemplified through the two Black Lives Matter Toronto members who she invited to one of her courses as a means of demonstrating the workings of social activism in a contemporary context…Dr. Davis is the epitome of the values of diversity and equity that York University represents. Her visible admiration for teaching and profound devotion to social justice embodies all that is required to change the world.”
Former student Andre Harriott, who graduated in the same ceremony in which Davis was honoured, feels extremely lucky to have had her as a professor.
“It was my first time having a professor who is genuinely concerned about the well-being of her students,” the aspiring school board superintendent said. “Andrea’s lecturing style is always engaging since it consists of music, videos and critical discussions of current events. Every week, she encouraged me and other students in her class to challenge the ways we view the world and our position within it…I took a third-year course with her two years ago that focused on the experiences of women and the class comprised mostly students who identified as females. Andrea created a space that made me feel comfortable to speak. Her careful and methodical approach to teaching and her ability to create a safe learning environment that is inclusive of all voices makes her the perfect candidate for this award.”
Niloofar Abedzadeh was very impressed with Davis the first week she sat in her class.
“I realised that her teaching abilities were beyond comparison with any other teacher I have ever had in the past,” she said. “One of the primary things that stood out for me was her genuine and caring personality. As the classes went by, it became more obvious how much she truly cares about each and every one of her students. Her knowledge about course material is sensational, but aside from teaching the course content, she teaches her students about the real world and how we can be the best versions of ourselves.”
Osgoode Hall Law School visiting professor Jamil Jivani, who graduated from York seven years ago with an 8.3 on the university’s nine-point grade point average scale, met Davis after transferring from a community college.
“The transition wasn’t easy and every time I contemplated quitting or giving less than my best, Andrea made me a believer in myself, encouraged me to participate in class discussions and then provided me with the kind of feedback I needed to grow intellectually and find a passion I could pursue as a university student,” the Yale University law graduate and Citizen Empowerment Project founding co-chair said. “…By the time I completed my first year at York, I not only had the academic skills to be successful as a writer and researcher, but I also had the motivation needed to bring my best to the classroom daily.
“…She’s an example of how to teach in a way that empowers students. She is also a shining example of how to balance publications and administrative responsibilities as a member of the university’s community without diminishing how engaged she is when working directly with students. The balance she has struck in various roles at York is remarkable and one I hope to reflect in my own career.”
Janice Anderson, a second-year PhD. Student in the Humanities graduate program, said Davis is a prime example of how instructors can invest in the development of students’ academic and social well-being.
“Dr. Davis teaches her students to take their learning beyond the classroom and to make their mark on the world in positive ways,” she said. “She goes about this task selflessly at every turn, making herself available in ways far beyond her job description
Dr. Patrick Taylor is well qualified to judge Davis having taught and worked with her on Master’s and PhD. dissertation committees. He also served with her on executive committees in Latin America & Caribbean Studies, the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean and the Department of Humanities.
Davis has enjoyed a remarkably productive career and students have thrived under her guidance.
“When we co-directed Humanities 2310, An Introduction to Caribbean Studies, I found the substance, clarity and tone of her lecture so impressive that I was in awe of her talent as a teacher who connected with her students and moved them to high levels of accomplishment,” Taylor said. “…Her courses are carefully conceived, organized and delivered and I have borrowed pedagogical ideas from her, including reading analysis sheets and assigning marks for attending extra-curricular events. Committed to experiential teaching, she has often invited distinguished guest speakers to campus, organized keynote lectures and facilitated workshops and conferences.”
Taylor said Davis is one of the university’s very best teachers.
“Respected by all, she is an inspiration to her colleagues and a role model for her students,” he added.
Over the years, Davis – a University of the West Indies graduate -- has mounted new courses in Black literature and Black Women’s writing that respond to the university’s student body. She also teamed up with Dr. Carl James to conduct a professional development program for teachers at Kingston College in Jamaica.
Davis is currently developing a new certificate program in Black Canadian Studies.