Jan. 17, 2023Print | PDF
New to Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Communication Studies, Shaunasea Brown began her role as an assistant professor in the past year. Brown earned her PhD at York University, with research focusing on art practices of second-generation Black Caribbean-Canadian women. She looks forward to continuing this research at Laurier. Brown recently took time to answer questions about her scholarship, teaching style and life outside of the classroom.
This question is a bit tough for me to answer only because I don’t want to sound cliché or disingenuous or just plain corny. However, outside of the standard facts of me self-identifying as a Jamaican-Canadian Black woman of African descent who uses she/her pronouns, I’m not only new to Laurier but the city of Waterloo more broadly. With that said, I really look forward to meeting students, faculty, staff and wider community members in various spaces both on and off campus.
I am very much a people person who is passionate about building community and safe spaces, particularly for those who are most vulnerable in our society. It is for these reasons that my research is centred around the capacious field of Black Studies. I am happy to be a part of this interesting moment where I join a cohort of Black and Indigenous scholars at Laurier. I sincerely look forward to collaborating with them and other members of the Laurier community to contribute to their legacy and shape our futures for the better.
Lastly, music is my first love. If I could meet any musician dead or alive, I would likely choose Bob Marley first, but Garnett Silk also comes a close second.
My interest in communication studies stems from my own experiences as an undergraduate student and surrounds the various kinds of courses that I was drawn to, as well as those that I look forward to teaching here at Laurier. They are courses where we are invited to start with the cultural productions that we might take for granted. Whether it is a viral tweet or Instagram post, songs we stream on Spotify, videos on YouTube, or even the annoying ads that interrupt our listening and viewing experience, they all have important stakes. By this I mean they are useful entry points to have important conversations about the ways our societies function and why.
At the same time, as a Black Studies scholar whose research is interdisciplinary, I would say that my approach to studying communication is very much undisciplined. The kind of work required to think differently about ourselves and each other, which to me underpins Black Studies scholarship, necessitates creativity and a willingness to think and operate outside of disciplinary boxes.
My interest in Black feminisms and womanisms very much stems from who I am as a person, the community spaces that have shaped me, and our collective aspirations for the future. There was a recent clip of Trevor Noah’s departure speech from The Daily Show where he raised the importance of listening to Black women since they have a lot of equitable solutions to ongoing issues worldwide. Their intersections of race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, you name it, all reveal important stories which ultimately tell us about freedom and its limits. With my work, I am interested in the different ways we might share those stories, particularly through the arts. This is why my research puts Black women artists at the centre to talk about Black life in nuanced ways that, while centred in Canada, simultaneously speak to the Caribbean and wider African diaspora.
I believe that the very things that make Black life possible always already require resistance given the state of the world that we are situated in. By that I mean this climate that we have inherited which has long-been driven by the legacies of transatlantic slavery and settler-colonialism. What resistance looks like, or how it is defined, is a complex conversation as there is no one answer or cookie-cutter method to create the kinds of safe spaces required for Black communities to thrive.
While complex, I choose Black feminist and womanist lenses as a standpoint from which to tell a particular kind of story. While largely motivated by the intersections of race and gender, this story goes far beyond those two categories by allowing for Black women’s self-definitions to be brought to the forefront. The lived experiences that often get overshadowed by white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, and so on. Black feminist and womanist approaches intentionally challenge those societal constraints by encapsulating those transformative gestures made by Black women and their wider communities to create more livable futures.
Some recent texts that immediately come to mind are Andrea Davis’s Horizon, Sea, Sound; Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s Rehearsals for Living; and Téa Mutonji’s Shut Up You’re Pretty. It is also important to go beyond just reading. This is why I encourage my students to be self-reflective and check one’s privilege.
Lastly, I think we would all benefit from cherishing our historians, in all the forms they come in. By cherish, I really mean to listen more attentively. Whether our griots, family storytellers, poets or archivists. The more you look into the past, you will see that the current conversations we have about our communities are not new.
For my future research, I will expand my role as an artist-scholar by engaging oral histories, archives and grassroots organizing to show how Black music offers something else for understandings of Black being in the Americas, particularly in the United States and Jamaica. This is my way of bridging my love of music with my Black Studies research and is inspired by the future possibilities posited by some of the Black women artists I’ve studied closely: Kamilah Apong, Sandra Brewster, Anique Jordan, Brianna Roye, Camille Turner and Shi Wisdom.
My teaching style is one where I am committed to helping students do their best while inviting them to be brave and open-minded as we explore the class material together. I am flexible with the kinds of class sources we use as students are often invited to suggest additions to our weekly reading schedule or wider class themes for discussion in classes like CS412: Black Popular Culture. I also understand that we all come to campus with varying perspectives and worldviews which I think offer useful opportunities to have difficult yet necessary conversations about the very ground we walk on. This is why I look forward to also teaching other courses like CS413: Beyond Multiculturalism in winter term.
In the future I hope to teach courses that prioritize Black experiences outside of North American contexts to think about how Blackness functions globally, as well as offer courses that specifically centre Black women’s arts practices.
I am grateful for the advice of the Black women mentors in my life both within and outside of the academy. They have taught me how to lead with integrity while finding ways to survive what scholar Christina Sharpe calls “the weather.” A good portion of my scholarship prioritizes the importance of self-love and care for Black women and thus stresses the importance of cultivating a sustainable work-life balance.
Adria Kain, Corinne Bailey Rae, Skeng, and Asake.