Yannick Marshall, Caribbean Studies program alumnusDescribe yourself in 100 words or less

I’m a writer interested in radical anti-colonial thought – both theory and the aesthetics of anti-colonial culture. I’m also a critical Pan-Africanist, an Afrikan, and from the African and Caribbean diasporas.

What are the accomplishments (personal or professional) of which you are most proud?

As Professor Arnold Itwaru replied to my response on the necessity of cultural pride in his third year Caribbean Thought course: pride is a problematic. I am, however, very happy to have written two collections of poetry: Empress and Old Friend, We Made This for You. Also to have graduated from UofT with a BA in Caribbean Studies (I double-majored with Political Science) and to have completed my MA in African American Studies at Columbia University.

What is your fondest memory from your time at the UofT?

I loved and miss my times at Robarts. I haven’t met many other students that feel the same way about that library, but for me the stacks were a wonderful world. I use to go to the PR and PQ sections with no particular book in mind but just to run my finger over the literature titles. It was that wondering that allowed me to get familiar with the works of Professor George Elliot Clarke, Derek Walcott, Toni Morrison, Kamau Brathwaite, D’bi Anit.Afrika, Motion, Patrice Chamoiseau and others. After skimming through the lines or borrowing a book I’d go downstairs to the second floor and sit on the bench outside of the cafeteria where I would be sure to meet like-minded students. Sitting there I met African and Caribbean Studies students, students interested in indigenous sovereignty movements, Palestine anti-colonial projects, radical Marxists, Indian Maoists, radical feminists, etc. Those conversations definitely helped shape my own political philosophy.

Why did you choose the Caribbean Studies program?

I chose the Caribbean Studies program late in my UofT career. I initially chose to major in Political Science and minor in English and World Literature, but I realized quickly that my more radical views could not sit comfortably among the dominant perspectives in many of my Political Science courses. I soon found that Caribbean Studies were as much about the Caribbean as they were (and with my selection of courses for e.g. Caribbean Thought courses, The Capitalist Press and Caribbean Feminisms, more so) about Race, Colonialism, and Political Philosophy. As such, I found my questions and interests were addressed and expounded upon in ways that the Political Science program did not. As much as I was and still am interested in issues unique to the Caribbean, it turned out that the most significant part of the Caribbean Studies program for me was its role in providing me the space to think through politics, and political questions from the margins.

Did your experience with the program influence your career path after graduating? If so, in what ways?

My experience with the program influenced my decision to pursue graduate studies in programs that were similarly open to questions of radical political thought. I joined Columbia University’s African American Studies program because I thought (correctly) that it would extend the space of questioning that UofT’s Caribbean Studies program allowed, but with matters pertaining to the African American experience. I then continued and am currently enrolled in the doctoral program in the Middle East, South Asian and African Studies department here. This department explicitly takes up the challenges of critical scholarship against the dominant “categories of knowledge and understandings of history derived from Euro-American experience.” I view the decision to pursue studies in these types of graduate programs as both stemming from and made possible by the Caribbean Studies program at UofT. The literature, New College events, and critical philosophy I read during my time at UofT also influenced my work as a writer and I expect it will influence my work as a theorist as well.

Do you have any advice for future students who may be considering the Caribbean Studies program?

My advice to Caribbean Studies students that have similarly left of liberal political leanings is to be aware that although the university is one of the best places to pursue wide philosophical questions and knowledge, it does not treat all questions and knowledge equally. It is important to recognize that the university is a site of struggle and replicates the tension between the margins and the centre that is true of wider society. Students have often felt that they had to organize themselves into groups to find their interests and questions to better represented at the university while simultaneously having to fight to defend incursions on courses, professors and programs like Caribbean Studies which offer spaces to take up these interests. Do not take these spaces for granted, expect to fight to keep them and allow them to grow, and be always critical of the spaces themselves. Never allow yourself to be indoctrinated, be critical always, and if you notice that a space for your way of thinking is getting narrower do not wait until it’s gone to begin fighting for it.

Anything you’d like to add?

Enjoy what opportunity you have to “think on these things” (as Professor Itwaru would say.)