Teshawn Smikle knows what it’s like to experience racism, both on and off the football field.
And now, the master’s student in Brock’s Social Justice and Equity Studies program is hoping to make a difference in how Black athletes are treated at Canadian universities.
While completing his undergraduate degree at another Ontario university, Smikle and fellow Black players on the school’s football team were often the target of racist behaviour.
“Sports are supposed to be about so much more than winning games,” he says. “It’s about being part of a team, working through obstacles and towards common goals together. But the inequality that some of my teammates and I experienced removed the joy from sports for me. I was constantly questioning myself and my place in the university.”
That experience drove Smikle to want to create change in university sports in Canada. While pursuing his master’s degree at Brock, he is examining how stereotypes of Black male athletes influence their educational experience.
Smikle says there is little research on this topic pertaining to Canadian athletes and the majority of scholarly work focuses on student-athletes in the United States.
“I am passionate about sports and their benefits; however, I am also passionate about race and how social institutions work against people of colour,” he says. “My goal is to provide awareness on the subject of race-based issues in Canadian sports so that future student-athletes can better prepare themselves for a difficult environment that relies on them to perform as a commodity, and ultimately reinforces systematic oppression toward People of Colour. I hope to be able to inspire cultural change within university athletics.”
Smikle’s passion for equity also extends past his graduate research. He works with Brock’s Office of Human Rights and Equity as a Sexual Violence Peer-to-Peer Mentor. He helps to facilitate workshops and events that focus on sexual violence prevention, racial injustice and gender-based violence. He completed one of his co-op work terms under the supervision of Mary-Beth Raddon, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology, as a Student Outreach and Engagement Assistant.
“His effectiveness in this role stems from his genuine warmth and friendliness, and also to his awareness that the racial climate at predominantly white institutions like Brock can often detract from the first-year experience of Black, racialized and minoritized students in particular,” Raddon says. “New students appreciated Teshawn’s friendly welcome. His Instagram messages set department records for ‘likes.’ Months later, our first-year students remember their contact with Teshawn and the confidence he inspired during a time of high anxiety.”
Smikle is one of 20 inaugural winners of Brock’s Horizon Graduate Student Scholarship, a fund that will provide $1 million to high-achieving graduate students from Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) and other under-represented groups over the next 10 years. Twenty students from research-based programs will be chosen each year to receive a one-time award of $5,000. The scholarship is intended to help Brock attract top researchers and students from various fields while building a diverse and inclusive university community.
Smikle says the scholarship appealed to him because he has both witnessed and experienced issues of inequality that stemmed from factors beyond his control.
“My hope is to make a difference in my community by providing people with a chance to live a life that is not founded on discrimination, but rather one that is filled with equal opportunities.”
Smikle expressed his appreciation for receiving the award and to the University for introducing the scholarship.
“This award shows that Brock is aware there is work to be done and is actively working towards creating change.”