Dr. Malinda Smith honored for contributions to education
Dr. Malinda Smith has never been afraid to break down barriers, punch through walls or take on Goliath. Her remarkable doggedness led her to tackle divisive issues such racism, colonialism, gender prejudice and equity bias. Her activism over the last two decades is one of reasons she was selected as the 2018 International Studies Association (ISA)-Canada Distinguished Scholar.
The award honors exceptional scholarship accomplishment and contributions to the development of the study of international relations in Canada.
Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, where she teaches in the fields of international relations, comparative politics, and gender and politics, has always been ahead of the class.
“A recipient of many national awards for her equity and community-engaged scholarship, Smith’s record is a testament to her commitment to the collaboration with scholars across the country and globally,” ISA-Canada said through a statement.
“This award also recognizes Professor Smith’s generosity as a mentor, as well as her work in challenging systematic oppression in the university in order to work towards the goal of achieving a more equitable academic profession. This innovative combination of scholarship, activism and mentorship make her a significant asset to the ISA-Canada community, and indeed to the academy more broadly.”
Malinda said the award is a great honor. She credits her Bahamian upbringing as the foundation for her success in academia.
“When I reflect back on the decades that I’ve lived outside of The Bahamas, I know I am who I am, and have accomplished what I have in life and in my academic career because of my upbringing and education in The Bahamas,” she said.
“I derive much of my strength, determination and resilience from the example of my late mom and dad, Inez and Elvin Smith. I have always enjoyed the unfailing support and encouragement of my siblings who check on me often and, from time to time, I call them for their wisdom.
“I am always inspired by my talented nieces and nephews and now new grand nieces and nephews. Just seeing their pictures make me smile – and keep fighting for a better and more equitable world for the next generation.
“My parents had an abiding commitment to getting a good education, which I did at Yellow Elder Primary School. I am especially indebted to the mentorship of teachers like Mr. Marshall. It’s funny but even today I do not know his first name, but he changed the course of my life by encouraging me to study hard and to love learning. I was one of five students from Yellow Elder Primary who obtained a government scholarship and I chose to attend Queen’s College. This was on the advice of my godfather, the late Sir Leonard Knowles, who later became the first Chief Justice of an independent Bahamas.”
Professor Sherene Razack, who teaches at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), described Smith as the most outstanding feminist and critical race scholar she knows.
“A role-model for a new and diverse generation of students, her work has opened up opportunities for women and visible minorities in the university community, locally and nationally,” said Razack.
“Dr. Smith´s extraordinary leadership potential as an influential innovator in the pursuit of gender and racial equity at the University of Alberta already manifested itself when she began her career in the early 1990s. I have stood on the sidelines watching with astonishment this “force of nature”, as she pushed universities across Canada to produce equity policies, and to pursue inclusion in any way possible, from same-sex benefits to the advancement of women and to human rights.
“It’s Dr. Smith’s remarkable commitment and energy that astounds. She has advanced institutional initiatives that focused on education and mentoring in order to ameliorate barriers and bottlenecks to the hiring, promotion and scholarly advancement of academic women, and, especially, visible minority and Aboriginal women.
Razack said Smith’s contributions to the improvement of diverse women’s prospects in and beyond the university community were especially noteworthy.
Smith is also the recent recipient of the Equity Diversity and Inclusion Award and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Equity Award. She is set to receive similar awards later this year.
At age 15, she graduated from Queen’s College — two years ahead of the students she started with. She went on to receive an athletic and academic scholarship from the University of Idaho before transferring to Western Michigan University. A powerful field hockey player in her day, she excelled in the sport, which was dominated by caucasians.
Smith subsequently entered another field where blacks were scarce: political science.
She is one of two black professors in her discipline in Canada. But Smith, who grew up in Yellow Elder Gardens, has never been afraid to bet against the odds or to stand alone.
When her siblings slept, she was under the covers reading. A flashlight illuminated the words on the page. She was the only one of her seven siblings with her own room. She needed a quiet space to study.
Her sister, Yvonne Rolle, said she was not surprised that her sister’s accomplishments are so widely celebrated. And though more relaxed now, she said Smith was always ardent about education and social justice.
“She was a very focused girl and very serious about education,” said Rolle. “Though she was five years younger, we went to the same university for one year. My friends always asked whether we were really related. She was always a 4.0 [GPA] student. I was the life the party. She didn’t go to parties ever. They’d ask, ‘you sure that brain box is your sister?’ She never came out except for class and hockey. She was great at both.”
Smith’s published research examines questions in critical African political economy, critical terrorism studies, and global inequality and poverty.
Smith is the author of numerous articles and chapters on African societies, covering poverty, inequality, race, gender, sexuality and diversity. She is the coauthor of “The Equity Myth: Racialization and Indigeneity at Canadian Universities” (UBC Press 2017). Additionally, she has edited multiple publications, including “Securing Africa: Post 9/11 Discourses on Terrorism” (2010) and “States of Race: Critical Race Feminism in the 21st Century” (2010, with Sherene Razack and Sunera Thobani).