Simpson celebrates two decades at Queen's with significant appointment
January 25, 2018
When the time came to pick a university after graduating from high school, Queen’s University was Stephanie Simpson’s overwhelming choice.
At the time, it was one of three universities in the province – York and Trent were the others – offering a concurrent education program.
Leaving her Mississauga home as a young adult to reside in a university dorm nearly 270 kilometres away was also another compelling reason for selecting Queen’s which is one of Canada’s oldest degree-granting institutions.
“While I wanted to experience an out-of-town university, the transition was difficult at first because Kingston wasn’t very diverse,” said Simpson.
Graduating with her first degree in 1995, she joined the university’s human rights office a year later as an anti-racism advisor and education co-ordinator.
Twenty one years later, Simpson is still there relishing the environment and her new role as executive director of the human rights & equity offices and university advisor on equity and human rights.
“Stephanie has been a leader on equity, diversity and inclusivity at Queen’s for many years and her appointment reflects the important role she plays in the Queen’s community,” said Teri Shearer, the deputy provost for academic operations and inclusion. “She brings deep knowledge, experience and commitment to this new position and her appointment will be a significant gain for the cause of creating a more welcoming Queen’s.”
In the role that becomes effective on February 1, the Master of Laws (LLM) candidate will lead the equity and human rights offices and continue to play a key role in fostering competence and legislative compliance around issues of inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, human rights and equity on campus.
Public & Constitutional law professor Dr. Beverley Baines, Simpson’s LLM supervisor, is confident that she will be an asset in her new position.
“Last year in my Equality Rights and the Charter course, Stephanie wrote a very thought-provoking paper entitled ‘Giving Shape to Silences Surrounding Race in Section 15 Jurisprudence’ in which she argued for more professional and scholarly recognition of the disservice to racialized equality-seekers of continuing to proclaim an absence of race-based Charter equality rights cases,” says Baines. “Stephanie will be a trail-blazer for equity and social justice for the entire university community.”
Simpson will also provide guidance to senior administration, governance bodies and units on achieving equity within the university’s strategic priorities.
As a member of the Office of the Provost team, she will work with Shearer to develop initiatives that support the creation of a welcoming campus in collaboration with equity-seeking communities.
“Queen’s is committed to responding to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion,” Simpson said. “I am looking forward to working with community members, specifically those from Black and other racialized communities and fully engaging them within the university experience.”
Simpson’s passion for social justice was fuelled while attending Westwood Secondary School in Malton that merged with Morningstar Secondary School in 2000 to become Lincoln M. Alexander Secondary School.
She promoted Black history initiatives and started the Coalition of African-Canadian Students that advocated for African-Canadian subject matter to be part of the curriculum.
“Westwood was very diverse and there was a wonderful appreciation of differences,” said Simpson whose teachers included Ken Alexander who, with Dr. Avis Glaze, co-authored an important textbook for children, ‘Towards Freedom: The African-Canadian Experience’, that was released in 1996.
Though carrying a heavy workload in the Human Rights Office, Simpson found time to complete her Bachelor of Education degree in 1997 and a Master’s in Education in 2011.
The title of her Master’s thesis was, ‘Black in Kingston: Youth Perspectives on ‘Blackness’ and Belonging in a Small Ontario City’.
“Queen’s offers lots of opportunities and there are wonderful people here,” she said. “We have a growing and strong community of scholarship with faculty members that include Barrington Walker, Beverley Mullings and Katherine McKittrick. Apart from the academic work they are doing, they are very much committed and involved in the work of community building.”
An associate professor in the history department, Walker’s research interests are Black Canadian history and the histories of race and immigration in Canada.
Mullings is an associate head of geography undergraduate programs while McKittrick is a gender studies professor.
The product of Jamaican immigrants, Simpson is proud of her roots and also to be at a Canadian university that has a building bearing the name of Jamaican-born Robert Sutherland who was Queen’s first Black student and graduate.
Nine years ago, the policy studies building was renamed after Sutherland who was a major benefactor
The Walkerton resident and Upper Canada’s first Black lawyer, who won 14 academic prizes at Queen’s before graduating in 1852 with honours in Classics and Math, passed away at age 48 in 1878. He left his entire estate of $12,000 – which was then equal to Queen’s annual operating budget – to the university to help place it on a solid financial footing in the wake of a banking crisis that threatened its existence at the time.
Sutherland, who enrolled at Queen’s eight years after the university was established in 1841, was the treasurer of the dialectic society which is now the alma mater society and an outstanding debater.
He launched his legal career in Kitchener and practiced law for close to two decades in Walkerton, serving briefly as the town’s Reeve. His donation – drawn up in his will three weeks before he succumbed to pneumonia – came at a time when Queen’s had lost most of its endowment in a bank collapse a few years earlier.
“Queen’s has a unique history,” said Simpson who has two other siblings. “While we have challenges, there is really a positive legacy to build on.”
A longtime member of the Black Inmates and Friends Assembly, Simpson represents Queen’s on the Kingston Immigration Partnership Operations Committee and is a past chair of the Kingston Employment & Youth Services board of directors
Her parents, who are retired, came to the Greater Toronto Area in the mid-1960s.
Sanford Simpson was a printing press operator and his wife, Leonie, was a nurse.