News and Events

Black History Month: Prof-Collins Ifeonu

February 09, 2024

In this Black History Month series, we share the stories of Black community members at SFU. In alignment with the Scarborough Charter, SFU has adopted the theme “Building Connections for Black Flourishing” for 2024. Read other stories, discover events and activities and learn more about Black History Month at SFU.

Prof-Collins Ifeonu holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Alberta, where he explored the social and political integration of international students from sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. He recently joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology as an Assistant Professor and is currently teaching SA 304: Social Control.

1. What does Black History Month mean to you? And do you celebrate it?

For me, Black History Month is a time for reflection, education, and joy. It offers an opportunity to understand the painstaking contributions Black Canadians have made to put someone like me in the position I’m in today. It also represents an opportunity to assess the current state of Black communities across the country: where are we now, and what must be to smoothen the pathways for those that will come after us? This powerful question has guided the actions of our forebearers. It also shapes my approach to my professional and personal commitments. Initiatives, such as the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black racism, which SFU is a signatory to, are premised on such questions. 

I also celebrate Black History Month because promoting Black joy is important. Too often our stories are written, interpreted, and illustrated through a lens of pain and suffering. Please do not forget that we are also a joyous, loving, and affable people. Indeed, these are the emotions I experience at all the events and gatherings I attend within and beyond February.

2. What do you love most about your work/studies at SFU?

I consider it a privilege to be in imparter of knowledge and a facilitator of knowledge sharing. I love to share new ideas with students, helping them to make sense of their own lives and their surroundings. The students in my current class are brimming with insight and enthusiasm, and that gives me great joy. 

3. What kinds of barriers in your work or studies have you faced?

Blackness in Canada is, according to Rinaldo Walcott, “an absented presence always under erasure”. In other words, Black people, issues and concerns generally struggle for visibility unless under specific circumstances. In academia, this issue often manifests in a lack of visibility or a perceived illegitimacy of scholarship that centers Blackness and Black people as a topic of focus. I experience this in subtle and overt ways. For example, writing about Black experiences can often be misconstrued – by defaults – as insensitive to, or dismissive of other lived realities. To cope with this challenge, you become hyper-vigilant about the spaces you occupy. This is mentally and emotionally draining. 

4. What does Black flourishing mean to you?

To “flourish” means to grow healthily in a supportive and enabling environment. For me Black flourishing means creating the right conditions to enable Black students, staff and faculty feel valued, respected and at ease. These are not, and should never be special privileges – everyone, including Black people, deserves to feel this way. Also, fostering such experiences must be independent of accolades, personal accomplishments, and milestones. It is a bare minimum requirement that should premise all we do at SFU.

Also, Black flourishing includes, but cannot be reduced to celebrations of individual expertise, resilience, and heroism. That we constantly display these qualities in our daily lives is true and important to note. However, Black flourishing also requires systematic efforts aimed at producing better outcomes for the collective good. It is about engaging the right tools and resources to positively impact current and future Black communities. With such investments, Black flourishing not only becomes an attainable goal, but also one that can be sustained for years to come.   

5. What figure in Black history inspires you most and why?

I have too many inspirations to name and my answer to this question would differ on each day of the week. For now, I can only name two. The writings of bell hooks are a source of intellectual and moral nourishment. With books like “the will to change.” hooks challenges me to be better human being, for the benefit of myself and others. Also, with essays like “theory as liberatory praxis” hooks, reminds me of the value of my profession, and the potential to inspire and be inspired by scholarship. Also, Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s work piqued my interest in becoming an academic. His rejection of post-racialism in favor of an approach that stresses enduring impact of racism on social life, inspired my interest in understanding the intricacies of racial structures – how they mutate and survive through historical periods. 

6. Anything else you’d like to share with the SFU community regarding Black history/community/experiences?

Black History Month presents a great opportunity to learn about the history of Black communities at the local, international, and global level. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie cautions us not to rely on a single story as a definitive account of any people. While our history, as Black people, shares several common denominators, we must also be attentive to nuances, divergences, and historical specificities. As a new resident in British Columbia, I have been educating myself on the history of Black Canadians in the province. I’ve found a report authored by Alice Mũthoni Mũrage, helpful in this process. I encourage anyone interested in this history to read this document. Also, SOCA has organized an exciting line up of events – please mark your calendars and make some time to attend some of them.