Professor George Dei believes that a community “is only as good as we work collectively to make it.”
Prof. Dei has been working for more than three decades in the fight against racism and other forms of social oppression and is the 2014 winner of the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize.
“It’s exciting,” he said, to win the award. “It is a recognition of my work, but also of others in fighting to build healthy and social communities. I see this as a challenge because there is more work to be done.”
Prof. Dei was the inaugural director of the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies at OISE. He has been a pioneering voice whose research and academic work contributed in no small measure in the establishment of the africentric school with the Toronto District School Board.
He recently won the Distinguished Teaching Award at OISE, teaching courses on racism and social oppression, and how to make schools inclusive. “We need to start thinking about doing things differently in schools,” he says.
Another area he focuses on is international development. “Canada is not an island. “Everything that happens globally has implications here, and vice-versa,” Prof. Dei says.
Racism, he says, can manifest itself in different and complex ways in society; it includes skin colour, anti-Semitism, and the ways race intersects with sexism, classism and homophobia.
The Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize was established in 1995 in memory of two Polish educators who risked their lives during the Holocaust to rescue Jewish people. They believed deeply in the moral value of human beings, irrespective of race, nationality, class or religion. The award is presented to a faculty, staff or student member of the University who has made a positive and lasting contribution to education and action against discrimination.
Prof. Dei, who was born in Ghana, has written 29 books and 70 articles in refereed journals. His most recent work addresses the epistemological divide between African traditional knowledge production and the western educational models.
He is an extremely popular and engaged teacher, serving as a mentor and role model within and beyond the classroom. He has served as a supervisor for 36 completed PhD students and 35 Masters students.
Prof. Dei received his doctorate at U of T and has been at OISE since 1991. His current research focus and scholarly partnership on Africa is partly because “I believe in giving back. It is not just a cliché, I want to acknowledge the sacrifices my family, colleagues and country made” that helped him become the teacher he is today. Besides, onto those who much is giving we must give back.
The Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence. A complete list of this year’s recipients and their citations can be viewed on the Awards of Excellence website. This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.
Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.
Prof. Dei and other 2014 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 1.