Black History Month: Cornel Bogle

February 02, 2024

Cornel Bogle became an SFU English assistant professor in July 2023. Originally from Jamaica, he completed his graduate studies at the University of Alberta and taught at York University prior to accepting his current position at SFU.

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

Black History Month holds significant meaning for me as a Jamaican scholar living and working in Canada. I see Black History Month as a chance to engage in meaningful conversations, research, and educational initiatives that promote a more inclusive understanding of our collective history. It's not just about celebrating achievements but also about acknowledging the systemic challenges and continuing the dialogue on how to address them.  

My research reflects this understanding of the challenges and joys of being Black in the Americas, particularly as I focus on Black literary friendships, networks of support among writers from the Caribbean, and Black literary traditions and those who engage with them. Furthermore, my work on Caribbean Canadian literature aims to give further visibility to archives of Black life in Canada that are often obscured by larger institutional, national, or hegemonic narratives, leading to the erasure of the Black presence in the arts.

I wholeheartedly celebrate Black History Month. It's a time to educate, inspire, and foster a sense of pride in our heritage while contributing to the ongoing narrative of a more equitable and just society.

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

So far during my time at SFU, I have found immense joy in teaching. My teaching focuses on Black diasporic, Caribbean, and postcolonial literatures and cultures. Being able to introduce students to the Caribbean, a space whose histories many people in B.C. are unfamiliar with, as well as creating connections and implications between multiple spaces, such as Vancouver within the Black diaspora, has been meaningful for myself and for my students who are engaged in further understanding themselves (as we are all implicated as a result of colonization and empire) and their world in relation to historical processes such as slavery, colonialism, indentureship, revolutionary struggles, and more.  

In the current era of decolonization within institutions in Canada and beyond, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in educating students about the Black knowledge, artistic expression, and aspirations for collective liberation that they inherit, negotiate with, and sometimes celebrate without full awareness.

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

I have recently written about some of the personal challenges I have faced as a Black scholar in Canada. To discuss the challenges faced not only by myself but also by other Black scholars in Canada, I can point to various obstacles. Black scholars find themselves underrepresented in academic spaces, both as students and instructors. They also encounter limited access to resources, mentorship, and networking opportunities. Being the only Black scholar in a department or program may lead to feelings of tokenism, making it challenging to build a sense of community or find support among peers.  

Black scholars who identify with other marginalized groups, like myself—being Black, queer, and an immigrant—may face compounded challenges due to intersectionality, experiencing unique forms of discrimination. Additionally, Black scholars encounter obstacles in reaching leadership positions within academic institutions, contributing to a lack of diversity in decision-making processes.

I do not want to solely focus on the negatives, it's important to acknowledge the progress being made. However, I urge against complacency with momentary institutional recognitions. Instead, let us continue to make the needs of the Black community known. I want to celebrate the work of SFU Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) and the Black Caucus, who are actively addressing issues faced by the Black community at SFU. They are also working towards celebrating Black students and faculty, fostering a sense of community.

4. What does Black flourishing mean to you?

While there are many things to celebrate about Black life and its attendant everyday joys, my focus lies more on what is required for Black flourishing. Black flourishing holds significance not only on an individual level but as a collective experience. As Christina Sharpe notes, achieving Black flourishing necessitates “the practice of regard,” which “creates the conditions by which we might bring others and ourselves together towards something akin to freedom. It's a practice of attending that we can extend to others in a way that makes something more than individual freedom possible. If you can extend [that] to those around you, then that, to me, marks the beginning of building ways in which we might not only conceive but also make some other kind of world possible—one that is antithetical to the one in which we currently live."

5. What figure in Black history (past or present) inspires you most and why?

There are many major figures I could point to, but I want to highlight Black individuals who inspire me on smaller scales through their dedicated work for the Black community. One such individual is Jovanté Anderson, a Jamaican writer, poet, artist, and researcher whose focus centres on Black queer life in the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica. Additionally, he is the founder of the Jamaica Conversation Project (JCP), which commenced in 2022 as an initiative to document and preserve both the oral and material histories of queer life on the island.

Beyond his academic contributions, Jovanté inspires me through his advocacy for vulnerable queer people, specifically Black queer communities and individuals. His activism sheds light on the challenges faced by queer communities in the Caribbean and the diaspora, including Canada. I am grateful for the impactful work he has been doing to combat the various forms of social injustices that persist.

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

I want to invite the SFU community to engage with the work of Black artists starting here in Canada: Lillian Allen, Cecily Nicholson, Wayde Compton, Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand, D.M. Bradford, Linzey Corridon, David Chariandy, d’bi.young anitafrika, Chantal Gibson, Chelene Knight, Robyn Maynard, Suzette Mayr, Rinaldo Walcott, Katherine McKittrick, Harrison Mooney, Mustafa the Poet, Juliane Okot Bitek, Tolu Oloruntoba, Olive Senior, Junie Désil, Kaie Kellough, Nadia L. Hohn, and so so so many more.


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.